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Detroit Tigers: Reverse-Engineered World Series Trophy Honors ’68 Tigers

By 3-Dimensional Services Group
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The 3-Dimensional Services Group primary build team for the replicas of the 1968 Detroit Tigers World Series Trophy: Left to right: Ed Croswell, operations director; Brad Peterson, technician; Patty Bilsky, technician; David Krajci, director of operational excellence.

Technology came to the aid of Detroit Tigers management when they hoped to recapture some of the magic of the 1968 Detroit Tigers’ World Series-winning season. The 50-year anniversary celebration, held September 7-9, 2018, included on-field festivities in which the 16 surviving members of the 1968 team were presented with replicas of the World Series’ trophy.

To make those replicas, Tigers’ management turned to the 3-Dimensional Services Group (Rochester Hills, MI), a provider of rapid manufacturing services that allow them to design, engineer and build production-intent prototypes, as well as low-to-medium volume production parts with on-demand efficiency.

Creating the replicas that the Tigers requested, however, was easier said than done. “The original trophy had been made by a jeweler and his craftsmen, and, of course, there were no CAD drawings back then and little in the way of other documentation,” said David Krajci, director of operational excellence for the 3-Dimensional Services Group. “The trophy is large, very complex, and no one knew exactly how it had been made.”

Mike Healy, Tigers’ vice president for park operations, kicked the process off by taking the trophy out to the 3-Dimensional Services Group’s Rochester Hills facility in June for three days so they could inspect it.

“Since we had essentially no documentation, we had to begin by reverse engineering it,” said Krajci. “First, we white light-scanned the trophy to get reference points and fed that data into our CAD system. Then we disassembled the trophy in order to closely inspect the components to figure out how to reproduce them.”

“The toughest part was trying to figure out how we were going to efficiently make each component and maintain design integrity to make sure it looked good,” said Ed Croswell, operations director. This challenge was complicated by the fact that there are 134 individual components on each trophy.

Fortunately, Croswell and the 3-Dimensional Services Group had plenty of tools in their toolkit with on-site capability for nearly all modern manufacturing processes. Included are CNC machining, stamping, laser cutting, and welding, plastic injection molding, robotic and spot welding, waterjet cutting, hydroforming, tube bending, vibration welding, casting and pattern fabrication, RIM tooling, and SLA and SLS rapid prototyping.

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The 3-Dimensional Services Group created 20 replicas of the 1968 Detroit Tigers World Series Trophy to be presented to the surviving members of the 1968 team, who were celebrating the team’s 50th anniversary. The original trophy is on the left and one of the replicas is on the right.

The 1968 trophy is 12″ (304.8 mm) in diameter and 24″ (609.6 mm) high. The plan was to build the replicas to a 0.635 scale. The project, however, proved to be more complex than simply reducing trophy components to size in a uniform manner. Croswell noted: “The trophy, which was made by jewelers, was not built to the tight tolerances we typically work to, but we wanted it to be perfect, so we ended up having to tweak it a little to make the tolerances uniform.”

In addition, the 3-Dimensional Services Group engineering team determined that the 20 rods used for the flagpoles, one for each of the era’s major league teams, would be too flimsy if made to scale, so they needed to be slightly bigger. “We made the press pins almost full scale for the simple reason that if not they would be too small to read,” Croswell said.

The rods were first milled to the needed specifications. To speed the work, several of the group’s CNC mills were used, including a Haas, Makino, Roeders and a Hermele five-axis C400 machining center. Each end of the rods then had to be threaded, one end to screw into the crown—the part of the trophy which sits on the acrylic, wood and brass base—and the other to accept the 20 team flags.

The flag profiles were first machined from brass, then laser-cut on a Trumpf laser. The names of each of the 20 major league baseball teams—one name per flag—were etched with a Keyence laser marker. For the curve in the flags, simulating their fluttering in the wind, a hydraulic press was used. A die had to be created and polished so as not to leave tool marks on the highly polished part. Similarly, the two dies used to form the two brass bands, which together circle the crown, had to be highly polished. Once formed, the bands were laser welded with a Rofin laser.

Naturally enough, among the elements of the 1968 trophy was a baseball. A simple round form, in theory, should have been easy to reproduce. In reality, this proved to be more difficult than one would have thought. Technician Brad Peterson explained: “We did a high-definition scan of the baseball to get an SDL file in order to create a machining program.”

But the 3-Dimensional Services Group team was every bit as concerned with aesthetics as were the jewelers who created the original trophy. “We tried machining, but it just didn’t look right. Fortunately, we had other production techniques at our disposal and we ended up creating the baseballs out of aluminum-filled epoxy using stereolithography,” Peterson said.

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Brad Peterson (left) and Ed Croswell (right) review more than 130 components that went into the building of the replicas of the 1968 Detroit Tigers World Series trophy.

The 1968 trophy had representations of two press pins. These were the souvenir-quality pins that had been issued to the press in place of the usual nondescript press passes. “In some ways, the press pins were the most difficult components,” said technician Patty Bilsky.

The pins had been scanned in order to create a machining program, but the text on the pins, being nearly flush with the pin surface, did not accurately register. The solution was to create models of the press pins, exact but for slightly raised text, and to scan those. When this task was completed, a program was created that enabled the 3-Dimensional Services Group to machine them from an acrylic plate. The individual pins were then cut from the plate with a FANUC wire EDM. The needed color was supplied by using thin brushes and model paint.

The project, which required over 400 man-hours, was completed on time and the trophies were delivered to the Tigers in late August, roughly two and a half weeks before they were presented to the surviving 1968 Tigers in an emotional ceremony at Comerica Park. “At 3-Dimensional Services Group, we’re proud of all of our work, but this project was beyond special. We were emotionally invested,” said David Krajci.

For more information from the 3-Dimensonal Services Group, go to www.3dimensional.com, or phone 800-959-0804.

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