In Their Own Words Aldila

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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 ONE:
 
Casey / Q:
John, we just saw a player win the Masters using two drivers in his bag. And, one of those drivers had a longer shaft in it46 inches. Can you explain for us exactly why a longer shaft helps generate extra club head speed?
 
John / A:
From a physics standpoint anytime youve got a rotating mass thats on the end of a lever arm ' which is the shaft itself ' if you rotate that entire system at a constant speedyou know, if your center of rotation remains constant, the farther away you get from that center of rotation the greater your tangential velocity. So, by making a club longer youre moving the club head farther away from that center of rotation thus increasing your tangential velocity. And that tangential velocity measured at the club head is swing speed.
 
Casey / Q:
Before we started rolling on this interview, we were talking about the trade-off; longer shaft and more distance versus accuracy. And you mentioned that a longer driver shaft isnt always going to lead to an increase in yardage.
 
John / A:
Thats right. Because, going to a longer shaft decreases the chance that youll hit the ball dead center on the sweet spot of the driver face. So, there might be a trade-off there. A PGA TOUR player who hits the center of the club face most of the timeyes, he can count on an increase in distance almost as a rule. But, a mid to high handicap player, not necessarily. It still depends on how squarely you strike the ball.
 
Casey / Q:
What allows graphite shafts to perform at the level they do today?
 
John / A:
Primarily, the materials are getting better. There have also been some advances in both the design, but, primarily the materials. The types of materials that youre able to use to make things stiffer, lighter and stronger, lower torquethe design window has opened up. Previously, with less advanced materials, the shaft often ended up being brittle structurally and felt a little on the brittle side as well. As the materials have advanced, and as the knowledge on how to utilize those materials has advanced, we have been able to get much more aggressive in design. When you can use new materials it allows you to do different things.
 
Casey / Q:
What types of things are you referring to?
 
John / A:
You can adjust your tooling to tooling shapes that werent possible. I dont think even five or eight years ago youd be able to make a shaft at 60 grams and under three degrees of torque that would have felt very good or been very durable. But, with the materials today and the tooling designs today you can do that. And, its not just the fibers. The fibers play a big part, but, its also the resin systems. The entire composite matrix: the fibers that go in to it, the resin system that goes in to it and also the processing. People are also a little more technically savvy today. Were learning how to take advantage of the technology better than we ever have.
 
Casey / Q:
Is graphite a general materials category and then there are sub-categories?
 
John / A:
Id say thats the case. Graphite is kind of a general term for a large family of materials. Any material that is considered a carbon fiber is lumped under graphite. Because of the way carbon fibers are processed you can make carbon fibers with different properties. Its kind of like when you talk about steel. People think steel is steel. But thats not true. There is a myriad of different types of steel. With steel you do it through alloying. You alloy steel with nickel; you alloy steel with copper, with a variety of other metals and even, these days, non-metals. And you can change the properties of the steel. Its the same thing with graphite. But, youre not alloying it with something else. Youre not necessarily adding something to the carbon matrix, but, youre changing the carbon matrix itself so that the fibers, the characteristics of the fibers come out different.
 
Casey / Q:
What are the main differences between types of carbon fibers?
 
John / A:
Essentially the biggest difference between one carbon fiber and another within the general family is the stiffness and the strength of the fiber. We tend to lump graphite or carbon fibers in to a few broad categories: standard modulus fiber, intermediate modulus fiber, high-modulus fiber and ultra-high modulus fiber. By modulus, we simply mean the stiffness. So standard modulus, or standard stiffness graphite fiber or carbon fibers will have a tensile modulus of 30 to 35 million psi. The next step up is intermediate which is 40 to 45 million psi. And then high is 50 to 60 million psi and ultra-high is 65 to about 80 million psi. Theyre all still carbon fibers. Its still basically a carbon atomic structure, but, because of the way its processed you can get different stiffness characteristics out of those carbon fibers.
 
Casey / Q:
Aldila NVwhat if anything is unique or special about the NV manufacturing process?
 
John / A:
The manufacturing process itself stays pretty much the same. It doesnt change for, Id say, 95% of what we make. The NV falls in to what we would call standard manufacturing processes. Each shaft has to be treated a little bit differently in the way you roll the shaft, in the way you finish the shaft. But for the most part it stays the same. Whats different about the NV is in the tooling and in the materials.
 
Casey / Q:
Would that involve your Micro Laminate Technology?
 
John / A:
Yes. Micro Laminate Technology refers to the material we use. We use laminates that are much thinner than the laminates that are normally used to make graphite shafts. Ninety perecent of the graphite shafts made in the world today use a technique called table rolling. Table rolling utilizes sheets of graphite; actually, its sheets of prepreg. Prepreg is essentially pre-impregnated carbon fiber. Its a mixture of the carbon fiber with an epoxy resin or with different types of resins. These prepregs are cut in to patterns and then the patterns are wrapped around a steel tool. The sheets of prepreg can be made with various properties. Most of whats done in golf shafts is an epoxy resin system.
 
Casey / Q:
How much thinner are we talking about?
 
John / A:
Most shafts will use prepreg sheets that are anywhere from about four and one-half thousandths to about six-and-one-half thousandths of an inch in thickness. Most of the material in NVs ' the micro laminate material ' runs anywhere from two-thousandths to four-thousandths of an inch in thickness. So the material is much, much thinner. This allows us to make a much more consistent product. By making the sheets thinner its easier to properly size them to fit the tool and to properly size them to give you the end product youre looking for. When youre dealing with thicker materials and less variety of material thicknesses youre kind of constrained in the way you can shape your patterns and the way you can lay those patterns on the tool. When you use micro laminate technology and you increase the number of material thicknesses and at the same time decrease the actual thickness you can better size your pattern and have a larger design window to size the patterns that make up the shaft.
 
Casey / Q:
What does a larger design window allow you to do?
 
John / A:
That larger design window in terms of pattern designing allows you to be much more precise as far as fitting those patterns to the size of your tooling and to the sizing of your finished product. This is what leads to the consistency. And that consistency is proven to turn out a product that has very good feel. And there is specific reason for this. There are more layers so there is more going on in the shaft in terms of interaction between the carbon fibers and the epoxy. The more interaction you have between the carbon fibers and the epoxy the more material damping you have. The more material damping you have the more of the high frequency, harsh feeling vibration is eliminated between the impact zone and head and the hands of the golfer. So, enhanced feel, better consistency in the product and then the flex profile of the product is designed to give performance parameters that the golfer is looking for. This is all made possible by Micro Laminate Technology.

Casey / Q:
What about the tooling itself?
 
John / A:
Its straight-tapered tooling. Thats one of the biggest differences between the NV and most of our other products. Most of our other products will utilize a parallel butt section and a parallel tip section and some other taper changes throughout the length of the tool. And this is essentially done to optimize grip fit and to optimize hosel fit. In the NV its a straight-tapered tool. So, its tapered in the butt. Theres no parallel section in the butt. Theres a parallel section in the tip built up to fit the hosel, but, its built up on the outside of the shaft not on the inside of the shaft. This essentially eliminates any corners on the inside of the shaft. Generally speaking, when youre engineering a structure, corners are a no-no. We found it works for a graphite shaft, too. Although its not a building or an airplaneyou dont have to be quite as careful about corners ' it seems that you get a much better distribution of flex and energy by eliminating the internal corners and this is achieved by using a straight-taper tool.
 
Casey / Q:
Do you start with an idea of what you want your end product to be, or, do you make scientific discoveries in the process of designing and engineering that then allow you to create new product?
 
John / A:
Its really a chicken and the egg type deal. Sometimes you get an idea and you develop engineering techniques, you modify your materials, you modify your tooling and your processes to make a product that fits that idea. But, sometimes youll be working on another product ' a shaft for an OEM or for the Aldila line ' and youll try something a little different. You cant get the flex just right, or you cant get the weight distribution right so you say, hey, lets try this. And all of a sudden that has, for various reasons, created a very, very good product. So, it goes both ways. Sometimes the end idea is novel and you modify your designs and processes to meet that end idea. And sometimes, its something that comes out of normal day-to-day design work that youre trying to make - what you would consider a basic graphite shaft - but you do something a little different in order to fix a problem and that fix that youve put in ends up giving you a novel flex profile or a novel weight distribution or a novel torque or shape and that becomes a new technology by itself.
 
Casey / Q:
How do you know youre going in the right direction when developing a new productthat you are going to get the result youre looking for?
 
John / A:
The biggest thing you rely on is live player testing. Weve used robots in the past, but, we dont utilize the robot much anymore. The biggest problem with robots is you can make a robot do anything you want it to do. But, the robot cant talk to youit cant give you feedback. You can adjust a robot to hit a ball higher, hit it low, fade it, draw it, move impact around on the head, etc. Robots will hit the ball the way you set the robot up to hit the ball. When we are developing a new product we rely about 99% on live golfer testing. And we use an array of different golfers. For example, the Gamer shaft in our line is a product that was designed for the average market. The 15 to 20 handicap golfer. So, you go out and you test with the appropriate club heads and the appropriate demographic. We watch how the ball flies and we also use a launch monitor to help interpolate data. But since so much of a products success is based on perception, feel and actual performance, we rely heavily on real players testing the shafts. Its not just always by the numbers.
 
Casey / Q:
But surely you use a set of scientifically based parameters to gauge a shafts performance?
 
John / A:
Absolutely we do. When it comes to materials, the carbon matrix and the actual engineering parameters, we are extremely scientific in our approach. But when a prototype is ready to hit, we want golfers to hit it and five us that feedback. Like the NVthat shaft is geared more towards the better player. It still works very well for your average golfer, but, we tested it using low-handicap players. Weve got a local professional staff that we do a lot of testing with here in San Diego. And, or course, we test out on the tour. And you do prototype after prototype. You take in to account the feedback from the players and the numbers you get off the launch monitor. And you also test side-by-side with other product that has known performance parameters. That might be one of our products or a competitors product. We want to see what it is about that other product that people like so much and see how our product compares. So really, in bringing product to the market, there is a lot of live player testing, feedback, numbers analysis and then iterations.
 
Casey / Q:
And this process youre describing is the process you used for the NV?
 
John / A:
Yes. The NV that were selling now, for example, is not the first Micro Laminate shaft we put out on tour. We had to take a couple of shafts out on tour and people said, hey, this feels good, but, a little too much spin, the ball flight is a little too high, a little too much movement at the bottom, feels like too much torquetheres all kinds of feedback that you get. It really is a matter of iteration. And the tour for a lot of product is extremely important. Having access to those type of players is a lot better than using a robot because a lot of the guys on tour can hit it nearly as consistently as a robot and they can also give you honest feedback. Those guys wont change what theyre doing to make the ball fly the way they want the ball to fly. What they will do is theyll hit it with a swing that they are comfortable with, see how the ball flies, then tell you whether it works or not.
 
Casey / Q:
Most of the guys on the PGA TOUR are about as consistent as robots, arent they?
 
John / A:
You know, they really are. It never ceases to amaze me when we go out of tour for testinghow often they hit it on the center of the driver face. They know what they are looking for. Plus, if theyre swinging half-way decent, it does not take them a lot of swings to give you the feedback youre looking for. And, truthfully, you dont want them to take a lot of swings. With a very skilled player, and even with amateurs, if you have them hit more than about five or six golf balls they will start adjusting their swing to try and get the product to give them what they need by making swing changes. Rather than just making their normal swing and seeing what the product does for them. So, when youve got a tour player who feels their swing is in tune ' hes not struggling to make the right move ' you put a product in his hand and it only takes a couple of hits to figure out if the ball is doing what he wants. Its harder, certainly, with amateurs because they cant hit the ball as consistently as a pro does. But even amateurs, after five, six or seven golf balls, if theyve hit three hooks in row what are they going to do? Theyre going to start trying to hold on to it and keep the club face more open through impact. And thats not what you want from testing. You want a nice comfortable, or normal, swing without having the player adapt to the equipment. Players should not have to adapt to the equipment. You want to adapt the equipment to the player.
 
Casey / Q:
With shafts being so sophisticated today, and with so many varieties and options in shafts, do you think fitting is more important than its ever been?
 
John / A:
There is no question about that. The understanding that shaft companies and club OEMs have now about equipment performance is greater than it has ever been. Take the driver, for example. At a certain given ball speed, spin rate, it is going to give you optimal performance as far as total distance, both carry and roll. By being properly fit we are able to give the player equipment that will optimize his performance. Without being properly fit its very difficult to get the right stuff. Some players have a good eye for spin. Some players can look at a ball flight, their own or someone elses and see that its spinning too much or its spinning too little. Some people have a decent eye for launch angle. But, most players, people who get to play once or twice a month they dont necessarily have a good feel for what is optimal. And whats optimal has changed over the years. So, someone may have a good feel but not be up to date in terms of how the ball should be flying.
 
Casey / Q:
And thats where launch monitors come in?
 
John / A:
Launch monitors combined with well-trained fitters. To have somebody, with the use of a launch monitor, tell you exactly what your launch angle is, you spin rate is and be able to change the equipment to fit your needs, thats what you want. Again, not have you change your swing to fit the equipment. Yes, youll always hit the ball better if you make a better swing. But the only way to work with the swing that a player has and get the most out of that swing ' to optimize a players potential with their natural swing - and thats the goal of equipment manufacturers ' is to go through a proper fitting. It has a lot more to do with than just R, S, or X flex. There are a lot of other things that go in to fitting; more than just swing speed, thats for sure. That used to be just about the only question a pro would ask. Someone is looking for a new driver, whats your swing speed? OK, 90 mph, use this driver. But, it goes well beyond that these days. And thats good news for golfers today. Technology can help you play better golf.
 
Casey / Q:
Can you put a number on ita yardage number on being properly fit?
 
John / A:
It can make a huge difference. It can make a twenty or thirty yard difference for a lot of players. If youre spinning it too much or not enough, if your launch angle is off, thats going to hurt you. The ball will not fly the way it should for your swing. People say thats bogustwenty or thirty yards increase. But, its not bogus. If youre properly fitted, no one shaft is going to give you that kind of increase. But, if youre poorly fitted in to a head or a shaft and then you do get properly fitted, you can gain considerable extra yardage off the tee because you now have the right equipment in your hands.
 
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