People have been playing with shuttlecock for a millennia. In the mid-19th century, the British created the game of badminton, in which players hit a shuttlecock back and fort over a net. Made of feathers and cork, the shuttlecock predates badminton by thousands of years. Many players are familiar with plastic shuttlecocks used in backyards everywhere. But serious players use the original feather shuttlecock.
Many manufacturing facilities use duck feathers to build their shuttlecocks. Workers start by aligning them with the feather side up and storing them in cups for the next phase of production. Having the feathers aligned make it easier for the workers to feed them one by one into a specialized sorting machine. This devise has 26 different sensors that measure each feather. The feathers must be a specific size and have a precise angle. The machine sorts the feathers of the same size and angle into different bins. Sometimes the sensors are unable to measure certain feathers. Those feathers fall into a separate bin. A worker uses a special chart to measure them by hand. The tips of the shuttlecocks are made from cork and synthetic foam covered by white leather.
Now it’s time to start assembling the shuttlecocks. Each shuttlecock has 16 feathers which all must be precisely the same length. The punching machine begins the assembly process. It starts by punching 16 holes in the perimeter of the shuttlecock tip. The worker feeding the feathers into feeding devise must keep pace with the machine. A worker uses flat nose pliers to adjust the angle of each feather. She then places the shuttlecock into a wind tunnel to see if they are properly balanced. On some shuttlecocks, each feather might have a slightly different angle to maximize balance. Once the angle of the feathers has been adjusted, they are transferred to a machine that applies a bead of glue around the shuttlecock tip. This secures the feathers in place.
To further stabilize the feathers, workers place the shuttlecock in a specialized sewing machine that binds them securely together with two rows of thread. The threads stitch each feather to the next. This process strengthens the shuttlecocks helping them maintain their strength even when they are getting slammed back and forth over a net. When the machine is finished stitching the shuttlecock, a worked ties off the thread to keep it from unraveling and cuts off the excess. Finally she evens out the thread rows. With the threads in place, the shuttlecocks must undergo a final tuning. A worker once again adjusts the feathers to ensure proper balance.
A machine applies glue to the threads of the shuttlecock locking them in place to give them the necessary rigidity. The thread is made to quickly absorb glue. A worker applies a green stripe to indicate a slow speed shuttlecock. Medium speed shuttlecocks get a blue strip and fast ones are red. It’s time for quality control testing. A machine with a badminton racket like arm fires the shuttlecocks to a waiting worker. Shuttlecocks can travel at speeds up to 300 feet per second. That’s twice as fast as a pitcher can throw a baseball. Once the shuttlecocks pass the quality control test, a worker inserts 12 at a time into long cardboard shuttlecock tubes, similar to those used to hold tennis balls. With 16 feathers, it’s no wonder that the shuttlecock is also known as a birdie. These high quality shuttlecocks are ready to fly!