What the World’s Largest Paper Ball Has Got to Do with Documentation

Walking through the rows of machinery on display at this year’s IMTS your head swivels back and forth with near breakneck fury. To your right, a new, enormous metal AM system; to the left a field of coordinated robotic arms, just in front a panoptic interface to mind a host of factories. This scene is repeated over and over through the IMTS labyrinth. But off in the distance, a crowd has been growing, but you can’t make out why just yet. As you approach you hear one attendee remark, as he leaves the throng, “Looks just like my desk”.  You push past row upon row of fellow engineers and finally as you approach the front of the crowd, you can see what all of the commotion is about. It’s the world’s largest paper ball. For a second you’re puzzled. Why, in a room filled with the latest in manufacturing technology, is this ball here?

The world’s largest paper ball, created by InspectionXpert. (Image courtesy of InspectionXpert.)

And then it hits you. You know why this hulking mass of paper is here.

What’s Going on with Documentation?

Documentation is critical for all manner of design. Whether your industry is architecture, fashion, engineering or what have you, every design must come with enough documentation to make it manufacturable or replicable.

Since the time of the first engineers, paper documentation (or maybe it was papyrus) has been the standard for sharing an idea with the manufacturing team that build a design. Depending on the complexity of a design a single sheet may be all that’s needed to communicate the dimensions and tolerances of an object. But then again, if you’re building a rocket, you’re going to need more than a sheet. You’re likely going to be printing off reams of paper… And, like it’s been said, “Mo’ paper, mo’ problems!” (That is what’s said, right?)

Not only does an accumulation of schematic paper take up space, it’s also an inefficient reference tool; it’s terrible for the environment; it hammers the bottom line; and it’s hard to deliver to a job shop if it’s not on site. Fortunately, the design world is moving beyond the paper paradigm and into the realm of digital documentation, where all of the paper’s pitfalls can be eschewed by the behavior of bits.

One company that’s working to transform engineering documentation, particularly in the realm of inspection plans, is InspectionXpert, makers of a self-titled inspection plan software and the world’s largest paper ball.

“There’s a lot of paper in the inspection process,” said Mari Luke, marketing manager for InspectionXpert.”Our customers, who are mostly job shops, are already struggling with their workload, and there’s a lot of inefficiency in paper: it’s hard to reference, easy to lose, and requires a lot of manual work to compile and analyze. But change is hard too; every day we hear, ‘We want to go paperless but…’”

An assembly diagram of the structure for the paper ball. (Image courtesy of InspectionXpert.)

With InspectionXpert, the process of going paperless for inspection planning is painless, and if you’re having trouble transitioning your inspection team to the digital paradigm, the InspectionXpert team have people on hand to help you out. For those who aren’t that into adding another piece of software to their machine, InspectionXpert also has an add-in for SOLIDWORKS called Solidworks Inspection.

Building the World’s Biggest Paper Ball

The framework for the ball was designed in SOLIDWORKS. (Image courtesy of InspectionXpert.)

“Paper creates so much waste,” said Jeff Cope, Founder of InspectionXpert. “We wanted to do something ridiculous to highlight how preposterous paper is in 2018 when there are more efficient solutions.”

Mission accomplished.

Over the course of many weeks, InspectionXpert’s team attempted to build the world’s largest paper ball.

“Jeff, was a mechanical engineer before starting InspectionXpert,” Luke said. Using SOLIDWORKS, Cope created a skeletal model of the final design. From there, the InspectionXpert team began construction on a 1/12 scale model from cardstock to ensure Cope’s design would be able to support enough mass to become the world’s largest paper ball. With the design validated via scale model, full size stencils of the ball’s core were created and the team began assembling the final build.

An animation of the SOLIDWORKS assembly. (Image courtesy of InspectionXpert.)

“The first phase, cutting the[skeleton] pieces, building the core, and then tying the net from brown paper cord probably took over 60 hours of work,” Luke explained.”Then our team spent a few hours each day over the course of a week filling the ball. The core is built from two-inch honeycomb cardboard. The outer netting is made from brown paper cord, and it’s filled with all-recycled paper from our local Wake County Schools.”

But just claiming that you’ve built the world’s largest ball doesn’t make it so. To prove that they’ve reached their goal, the company has weighed the ball and filed paper work with Guinness World Record to validate the claim.

On Friday, September 21, 2018, in a warehouse outside Apex, North Carolina, members of the InspectionXpert team shuffled through the front office and onto the manufacturing floor. The ball was rolled towards its fate. As the paper ball came to rest on the weighing station, everyone in the warehouse gathered around to witness the result:

InspectionXpert’s giant paper wall weighed 576 lbs (262 kg) and measured 9.72ft tall and 33.1ft in circumference, beating the previous record. All that’s left is to make it official. The company has filed paperwork with Guinness World Records to earn the title for “world’s largest paper ball.”

The paper ball that took weeks to build had set a record, and, in some small corner of the engineering universe, a point about antiquated documentation seemed to have been proven.

When asked what will become of the paper ball now that it’s outlived its usefulness, Chaney hesitated for a moment. “We’ve had a lot of people suggest we burn the ball once it is weighed.” After a slight pause and wink he continued,”However, Guinness World Records requires that it is recycled, so we’ll be disassembling it then sending everything to Sonoco for recycling.”

About the Author


Kyle Maxey is a mechanical designer and writer from Austin, TX. He earned a degree in Film at Bard College and has since studied Mechanical and Architectural drafting at Austin Community College. As a designer Kyle has had vast experience with CAD software and rapid prototyping. One day he dreams of becoming a toy designer.

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