In Their Own Words Aldila - Part 2

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Aldila, Inc. designs, manufactures and markets high performance graphite golf shafts used in golf clubs assembled and marketed throughout the world by major golf club companies, component distributors and custom club makers, and is a leading shaft brand among consumers and on the PGA TOUR. Aldila also manufacturers hockey sticks and most recently hockey blades, in addition to composite prepreg material for its golf shaft business and external sales.
 
John Oldenburg started off working for General Dynamics in 1986. He worked for them for seven years before moving to Aldila. Oldenburg received his bachelors degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Illinois which led John in to aerospace. He received his masters degree in engineering and technical management while working for General Dynamics.

 
A Conversation with John Oldenburg
Vice President, Engineering and Product Development, Aldila
 
PART TWO:
 
Casey / Q:
John, before we get back on the technology track, lets talk about Paula Creamer and her pink Aldila shaft. Whats she using?
 
John / A:
Right now, Paula is using a 55 gram NVS in her driver and its painted pink. Its the same NVS that is available to the consumer in the standard orange color; its just painted pink for her. Everything she uses of oursshe uses our shaft in her driver and 3-wood; they are standard NV and NVS products. I think Paula has an NV 65 gram shaft in her 3-wood. But, theyre the same as the regular green and orange shafts, just painted pink for her. And it just worked out for us to have the affiliation we have with Paula.
 
Casey / Q:
How did the association come to pass?
 
John / A:
We were messing around with some pink paints. And the ladies market is intriguing because it is one market segment that is actually growing in the United States. An article was written somewhere about Paulas love for the color pink. And we also knew at the time she was using a green NV in her driver. So we put two and two together and painted up a couple of NV shafts pink to see if she would like that. At the time, she was not a staff member of ours. It was just a whim. Make Paula a couple of pink shafts because she likes the color pink. Within two weeks of getting the pink shafts to her she won her first event. And it just went through the roof after that. About three months later we did sign Paula to a staff contract and she is a member of our professional staff now.
 
Casey / Q:
OK. Back to technology. Does the golf shaft work as one unit, or, does it work in sections?
 
John / A:
As far as storing and releasing energy the shaft works as a single unitas a whole. The bending of the entire shaft is what stores the energy. Some parts of the shaft bend more than others. But, the energy stored in any part of the shaft that is being deflected is storing and releasing energy. What you try and do as far as differentiating between what the butt section of the shaft is doing versus the tip section is actually in manipulating the attitude of the head coming through the ball at impact. This is referred to as dynamic loft. Whether it flexes higher up towards the hands or it flexes lower toward the club head you can change the dynamic loft at impact depending upon how the golfer attacks the golf ball.
 
Casey / Q:
So, youre referring to plane?
 
John / A:
Yes. Some golfers sweep upwards, some of them come through on a fairly level plane, some of them still have a slightly descending blow through impact. And its this angle of attack versus the angle of the club face which has a lot to do with the spin rate and launch angle. That combined with where you hit the ball on the club face and then the mass properties of the club face. So you can manipulate different sections of the shaft to change that effect on the club head. As far as storing and releasing energy, that really depends on the overall flex. Thats why a slower swing speed is best off, in most cases, using a regular flex. So the shaft will load more, it will store more energy, and the player will get a release of more energy coming out. But even within a regular flex shaft you can manipulate where the shaft bends. If it bends more towards the tip chances are youre going to get more dynamic loft at impact. Other players do not need more dynamic loft at impact. So then you would want a shaft that bends a little less in the tip.
 
Casey / Q:
Do you look at overall flex first in fitting a player?
 
John / A:
Its the most obvious place to start. Youre looking at the overall flex in order to fit the golfer ' their swing speed, their ability to load the shaft and store energy in the shaft. Then you look at the exact launch parameters youre trying to optimize: the launch angle, the spin rate, where on the face the player is making impact, how is the transfer of energy from the club head to the golf ball, etc. Thats when you begin to segment the shaft. You can say, OK, even though the shaft is a regular flex, I need a little more active tip. Or, a little less bend in the butt section. And it does have a fairly dramatic effect. If you look at all the different graphite shafts on the market ' as far as what I refer to as flex profile ' theyre very different. They can actually have the same frequency, but, youre not going to get the same performance out of those shafts because its not necessarily how much it bends but where it bends.
 
Casey / Q:
The NV shafts, for example, taking flex out of the equation, do they have the same performance characteristics?
 
John / A:
Yes, within the NV family. The NV, if you just look at the original green NV, it has a certain flex profile. Throughout the different weights - 55 grams up to 105 grams - the flex profile or the relative stiffness of the butt section of the shaft versus the tip section of the shaft is the same in all the green shafts. The torque does change a little bit. But, youre going to get relatively the same performance out of all the green shafts. The lower torque and the heavier weight tend to lend themselves to higher swing speeds. The lighter weights and higher torques lend themselves towards lower swing speeds.
 
Casey / Q:
When you have a product like the original green NV, and then you introduce the NVS, is that because youve found room for improvement?
 
John / A:
It means weve found a way to expand the line in order to produce a shaft that has different performance characteristics, while still taking advantage of the strength of the NV brand. Were enabling golfers to have a greater ability to optimize. The NVS has a softer tip and slightly higher torque, both of which will tend to give more dynamic loft at impacthit the ball a little higher with a little bit higher spin rate. This can be true for a very skilled player or an average player. Some players need higher launch and higher spin. Nick Price is an example. The way Nick swings, he has a very quick tempo. You wouldnt think he needs to hit the ball higher or that he would need a soft tip shaft. You look at his swing and you think, well, he needs something pretty stiff. But actually he doesnt. Because of the way he impacts the golf ball with the driver he needs a little more dynamic loft at impact to add a little bit of spin and a little bit of launch. So Nick Price uses an NVS. So you can see, regardless of the skill level of a golfer, you need to have a variety of offerings to allow the golfer to optimize.
 
Casey / Q:
Along the same lines as the NVS, you now have the ProtoPype added to the line.
 
John / A:
The ProtoPype has an extremely stiff tip. But again, the ProtoPype, just because its an extremely stiff tip, is not necessarily just for the gorilla type players out there. There were a couple of guys last year ' Corey Pavin used the ProtoPype and Olin Browne ' those two guys are not the longest hitters on tour by any stretch of the imagination. But, they needed what the ProtoPype gives them in terms of optimizing their ball flight. They needed to bring the ball down a little bit, they needed to knock some spin off which the ProtoPype did for them.
 
Casey / Q:
So much of what we talk about comes back to fitting. Because, if they guys you mentioned ' Nick, Corey and Olin ' werent properly fitted they would probably go in a different direction. What seems to be the obvious solution for their ball flight turns out to not necessarily be the right solution.
 
John / A:
There is no question about that. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for a golfer that wants to get the most out of their game, no matter their skill level, to get properly fit.
 
Casey / Q:
Is there a next generation material discovery or process discovery that will dramatically change graphite shafts?
 
John / A:
Its hard to say. There are a lot of different materials out there. Graphite has been around for over thirty years now. Nothing has jumped up to take its place. There are some materials available that have fairly unique properties and properties that are intriguing in terms of making shafts. But, for one reason or anotherit could be strength, it could be processing capabilities, could be general availability, these types of thingsthose materials cant be used to make golf shafts.
 
Casey / Q:
But, I know you are looking toward the future. Otherwise, how could you continue the trend of making better performing shafts?
 
John / A:
We are forward looking. You have to be in this industry. What looks most promising to me right now is carbon nano-tube technology. With nano-technology, unfortunately, the golf business, like a whole lot of other businesses, kind of jumped on the nano-technology bandwagon early and jumped on it mainly from a marketing standpoint. Youve got people out there with product, and they say there is nano-technology in the product. Theyve sprinkled material in there that can be called nano-material, but, it doesnt do anything. Its just in there.
 
Casey / Q:
But nano-technology fully realized, versus the marketing angle, is significant?
 
John / A:
True nano-technology through the use of nano-tubes in composites has great potential. Its in its infancy right now. These nano-tubes, they are truly amazing structures. They are the lightest, strongest structure that can ever exist from a physics standpoint. There can never be a structure ' until somebody finds a new atom that we dont know about ' there cannot be a structure stronger than a single wall of carbon nano-tube. If we can find a way to tie these amazingly small, amazingly strong, amazingly stiff nano-tubes in to our structure, you gain all the benefits they have to offer. The issue is tying them in to the structure; getting them to interact with the rest of the structure. Thats where a lot of the folks out there, unfortunately, have jumped the gun and have kind of minimized nano-technology.
 
Casey / Q:
So, there is nano-tube technology present, however, in your opinion, its not being fully realized because the process isnt complete?
 
John / A:
More or less, yes. They take some of these things, the nano-tubes, they pour it in, and it has no interaction with the structure whatsoever. They have not made their structure better. They added nano-material but all the nano-material does is sit in their structure and rattle around. The technology is in its infancy and I will be the first to admit, even what were doing with nano-technology is just at the starting line of what the capability is. We have materials, and weve been working with nano-technology and nano-tubes for two years now. Weve just come out with our nano-shafts because weve been working to make sure weve got better materials and better products because of the nano-tubes. Our first products, the VS Proto and the ProtoPype, with nano-technologyits not just mummy dust poured in there. And then mummy dust written on the shaft. We have double-digit increases in the strength measurements in the materials were making with nano-tubes.
 
Casey / Q:
We may have gotten a little ahead of ourselves. What are the benefits of nano-tube technology?
 
John / A:
The ability to make golf shafts lighter and stronger. Thats the main thing. Because nano-tubes are so light, so strong, and so stiff, it allows us to make the shafts lighter, stronger and stiffer. Again, were just barely passing the starting line. If what people have said is theoretically possible with nano-tubes, once we get farther down the road and learn how to integrate nano-tubes better in to the structures, the theoretical possibilities are just about endless. It would be theoretically possible to make a ten gram shaft with about one degree of torque if you could get enough nano-tube in there. Thats kind of the ultimate you could achieve. Right now you cant get there. The technology doesnt exist. Single-wall carbon nano-tubes are still very hard to make.
 
Casey / Q:
What are the challenges you face?
 
John / A:
Its very difficult to get the nano-tubes to interact with the structure. Thats the big difficulty right now. They can make these things, they can sell them to anybody who wants them, but you have to know how to get the nano-tubes themselves to interact with the structure. Because, if you just pour them in to your composite matrix, and you dont do the other things necessary, all theyre going to do is stick to each other. Thats what they naturally want to do. They dont want to stick to anything else. So theyre going to clump up in certain areas of your composite matrix and theyre not going to do you any good. Youre just going to have this big clump of mummy dust thats bouncing around inside your matrix.
 
Casey / Q:
And you guys have been working on this for a while?
 
John / A:
Its taken us two years and were just scratching the surface. Working with experts in nano-tube technology weve developed nano-technology where we can pour it in, it disperses, and we have an even distribution of nano-tubes throughout the matrix rather than little clumps here and there. It disperses throughout the matrix and it adheres to the matrix. When the shaft bends the nano-tube bends. And thats where you can get some benefit from the stiffness and the strengthif youre actually activating the nano-tube when you bend or torque your shaft then you see the benefits of the properties of the nano-tube.
 
Casey / Q:
What do nano-tubes look like? What are their physical properties?
 
John / A:
Nano-tubes are tiny. Extremely tiny. To put it in perspective, if you take twenty billion nano-tubes and stack them up on top of each other, its the width of a human hair. So thats how tiny these suckers are. So you need billions and billions of them within your matrix and you need these nano-tubes to stick.
 
Casey / Q:
How small is small, and how strong is strong?
 
John / A:
If you were to take strong, high-grade steel and make a cable about the size of a shoelace, you could lift a VW Bug car with that cable. This is fairly impressive. Steel is strong stuff. If you make the same shoelace size cable out of intermediate modulus graphite ' a fairly high strength, high stiffness graphite ' you can lift a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Probably about twice the weight of the VW Bug. So going from steel to graphite in and of itself is a big leap. If you make that same size cable out of single wall carbon nano-tubes, if you were able to make such a cable, which, with todays technology we cant, yet, you would be able to lift two 737 aircraft. Thats how amazingly strong these little suckers are. But again, its finding a way to get these in to your composite matrix and finding a way to get them to correctly interact with your composite matrix. And thats what weve been working on for two years.
 
Casey / Q:
But, you are making real progress?
 
John / A:
Weve got it, but, only to a certain extent. There are still limiting factors as to how many nano-tubes you can put in and what types of materials you can put them in. The material were making with carbon nano-tubes and the material were using to make our VS Proto shafts and our ProtoPype shaftsthat material has better properties than our standard material. Its lighter, its stronger and its stiffer. Were a materials company also, not just a golf shaft company. So, we have lab capabilities where we can measure these things. Were working very hard on this project. Hopefully, next year, well be able to put more nano-tubes in and have them work even more effectively. And five years down the road well be that much more advanced in the technology. So, I think that single wall carbon nano-tube technology is the best bet for a significant new technology in golf shafts.
 
Casey / Q:
Simply put, lighter is better? The lighter the shaft is, all other things being equal, the faster you should be able to swing the golf club?
 
John / A:
From a physics standpoint, if you put the same amount of effort in to the swing youre going to be able to move a lighter club faster than a heavier club. Every time you go to a light golf club you should be able to swing it faster. Its over simplified because there are other factors: you lose the feel, it changes the dynamics of the club as far as having a heavier head, and that type of thing. But, yes, the basic principle is the lighter it is the faster youre going to be able to swing it.
 
Casey / Q:
Should golfers be looking for the lightest shaft they can swing properly, and, will that help them create more club head speed?
 
John / A:
Bottom line - yes. When you simplify fitting down to basics, we would like to see golfers play the most flexible, lightest product that they can comfortably control. Because, by doing that, they should get the most benefit out of the properties of that shaft. Most golfers play shafts that are too stiff for them, especially male golfers. A lot of it is an ego thing. But, some people just dont like the feel of light shafts. They feel they lose the head at the top, or they get quick, or various other things. But, if a golfer can maintain his control, maintain his tempo and his rhythm ' still feel like hes making good swings ' and drop down twenty grams in shaft weight, theyre going to see an increase in swing speed. It might not be huge. I wont say going from an 85 gram shaft to a 65 gram shaft that youre going to go from 100 mph to 120 mph swing speed. But, pure physics dictates you will be able to swing faster. And, if you swing faster, and you have everything else optimized through proper fitting, youre going to hit the ball farther.
 
Casey / Q:
Youve had some success with NV Iron shafts. But, we dont seem to see the same wide acceptance for graphite shafts in irons that we do in all the other clubs. Why is that?
 
John / A:
I think there a couple of things that keep the penetration of graphite shafts in irons lower than it really should be. Some of it is ignorance or misconception on the part of golfers. Years ago, graphite did not perform as consistently as it does today. When the first graphite iron shafts came out on to the market a lot of them werent very good. Back then you had to use heavier heads with graphite shafts for irons, or, you had to make the clubs longer. For many people, this threw off the whole dynamic ' using a club thats one inch longer, and the heads heavier. Unfortunately, a lot of that stigma has carried forward.
 
Casey / Q:
In todays graphite world, this is an unfounded stigma?
 
John / A:
Its no longer true today. Thats what Im saying. But, its hard to break perception. Most golfers grow up playing steel shafts in their irons. So, youre not dealing with something that theyre used to. Youre trying to get them to change to something new. In reality, you should be able to do all the same things with a good graphite shaft in your irons that you can do with a good steel shaft in terms of flighting the ball, working the ball, and hitting consistent golf shots. If you keep the torque the same, if you keep the flex the same, you can work the ball with graphiteno doubt about it. Somehow, we have to break the misconceptions that people still have about graphite shafts in irons.
 
Casey / Q:
Ive been under the impression that the biggest challenge is weight; matching the weight and therefore the feel of steel.
 
John / A:
Weight in the past has been an issueand, what a golfer is used to. If were talking about a skilled golfer who played high school golf, for example, and then went on to play college golf and maybe mini-tours ' that type of golfer ' for the most part they came up playing steel. To get them to change to graphite, well, the club doesnt feel the same to them. And we say, OK, we can make you graphite that is as heavy as steel. And we have an NV Iron that is 130 grams, the same as Dynamic Gold. The question from that type of player then, is, why switch to graphite if its the same weight? So, youre fighting that. A lot of guys dont want to go lighter because its a feel thingits a balance thing. And if you take away the weight advantage of graphite and go back to the argument of why change, its tough to get the better player to play graphite in irons.
 
Casey / Q:
But, obviously, youre making the case there are other benefits.
 
John / A:
I try to make the case. We try and make the case. You have to try and explain to them what the other benefits of graphite would be. And, quite frankly, a lot of better players just dont want to listen. They dont want to hear that we can make a 100 gram shaft that has just the same torque and feel as a steel shaft. Theyll save 30 grams and can actually hit the ball farther. And when you look at the tour players who are out there pounding balls day after day after dayits a known fact that graphite is easier on the joints. Graphite damps high frequency vibration much better than steel does. So it is much easier on the joints. Plus graphite is considerably easier to tailor to a players needs than steel. I can do thingswe talked about segmenting the shaftdoing different things with different sections of the shaft. Making the tip stiffer, the butt softer, softening it up through the middlethings you can do with graphite you cant do with steel.
 
Casey / Q:
This isnt a knock on steel, is it?
 
John / A:
No, its not a knock on steel. I understand the attraction to steel that players have. Its been the mainstay for a long time now. However, steel is steel. Its a homogenous material. The tip has to be a certain thickness because it has to be able to stand up to the pressures exerted on it. It has to have the strength. The shaft has to be a certain weight because steel has a certain density. So, as far as the customizable aspect of shafts, you can do so much more with graphite going back to optimizing and fitting because you can change so many more parameters. You can change the way a graphite shaft flexes, the way it torques, the balance point, things you cant do with steel.
 
Casey / Q:
So, youre convinced of the benefits, but, its not an easy story to tell?
 
John / A:
There is still that big hurdle to get over. And, unfortunately, its that better player ' those guys are the key influencers to the market ' people look at what these guys are playing. Whether its the PGA Tour players or your home PGA professional at your course, if theyre playing steel youre going to say to yourself steel must be better. What we have to do is get those better players switched over. Until that happens, its still going to be a struggle. Its constantly on our minds. It is a huge market segment and graphite does not have the penetration in irons that it could or should. Its the only market segment where graphite does not dominateirons and putters. We just have to figure out how to get the better player to play graphite so then the average consumer will follow suit. Because, Ill tell you thisfor most players, high quality graphite shafts for irons will give people better overall playability than steel. I couldnt say that five years ago, but, I can say that now. And, its only going to get better.
 
Casey / Q:
Irons not withstanding, is it gratifying to see your product used so successfully on the professional tours?
 
John / A:
Absolutely. Having tour players play your product, especially the number of players that play Aldila, it really validates your efforts. It says, yes, you have designed a quality high performance product. Its not marketing hype. If you can get your product in to the hands of many of the best players in the world and they have success with it, your efforts have been validated from a performance standpoint. People can make a shaft and throw huge amounts of money at the marketing and sell shafts that way. But, if you can have success selling a lot of shafts because the product is simply that good, its actually a better product, and that performance is validated on tour, that is very gratifying.
 
Casey / Q:
Whats on the cutting edge horizon from Aldila?
 
John / A:
Id say Next Generation Micro Laminate Technology. Were using that in the VS Proto. Weve taken the technology from the NV and weve expanded it. Essentially, weve added three things. Weve added the carbon nano-tubes to the composite matrix which make the shaft stronger, lighter and stiffer. Thats number one. Number two, were a materials company and we make our own materials. Not just the carbon fiber but the resin system as well. So, weve developed a proprietary golf-shaft-only resin system. Golf shafts are a little bit different than other structures. Theyre certainly different than airplane wings, theyre different than baseball batstheyve got certain requirements. This resin system, together with our carbon fibers, works fantastically well in golf shafts. Essentially, this new resin system makes our shafts more durable. By making them more durable it allows us to make the shafts lighter.
 
Casey / Q:
And the third thing?
 
John / A:
The third thing weve added is the use of ultra high modulus graphite fibers. We discussed the range of modulus earlier. This is extremely stiff. The problem in the past was that they were also extremely brittle. You couldnt use the material in consumer shafts because they just wouldnt hold up over time. But because of the new resin system weve developed and because of the addition of carbon nano-tubes we can now use the ultra high modulus carbon fiber in the VS Proto and still have a very durable shaft. These shafts are extremely low torque with excellent feel and performance characteristics up to the standard of our other Micro Laminate Technology shafts. Thats the technology story in the new VS Proto, and, its quickly becoming our number one tour shaft.
 
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