Their Own Words Mitsubishi Rayon

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Editors note: The Mitsubishi Rayon Co., Ltd. (MRC) was founded in 1933 as a manufacturer of rayon staple, used primarily in the textile industry. Since that time, the company's interests have diversified and expanded to include the manufacture of chemicals, plastics, fibers, and numerous specialty products. MRC has more than 9,000 employees and consolidated revenue of nearly $3 billion for the global group.
 
The Graphite Shaft division has been operating worldwide for over 20 years. The company prides itself on a comprehensive vertical integration approach whereby they are in control of the design and manufacturing process from raw material through to finished product.
 
Larry Bischmann got his engineering degree from the University of Illinois. He realized early on that engineering for the sake of engineering wasnt going to cut it for him. Having been introduced to golf after college by his father, he got hooked. Larry says he was thinking about golf so much, it was an easy decision to try and find an engineering job in the golf industry. He started at TaylorMade in the R&D group in the mid 1990s and has been with Mitsubishi Rayon since the inception of its U.S. division three years ago.
 
A Conversation with Larry Bischmann, Director, North America, Mitsubishi Rayon Graphite Golf Shaft Division.
 

Casey/Q:
So, Larry, you got so hooked on golf you had to work in the golf industry?
 
Larry/A:
Thats exactly right. I was spending so much time thinking about golf I was probably going to lose my job anyway. I figured, either I better get a job in the golf industry or I was going to lose the job I had.
 
Casey/Q:
You started at TaylorMade and you were there at kind of a unique time in the golf industry and in that companys history.
 
Larry/A:
I was very lucky to be there when I was and I was also very lucky to work with some extremely talented people. I learned a tremendous amount during that period about golf club design and engineering. I was also exposed to the PGA TOUR side of things as well as the marketing side of the business.
 
Casey/Q:
Is it kind of unusual for a design engineer to wear all those hats?
 
Larry/A:
Maybe a little bit. For about three years my role was the tour engineer for TaylorMade and basically I was the link between the R&D group and the PGA TOUR. So, I was exposed to metal wood, iron, hybrid, putter, and wedge and shaft projects right when TaylorMade was establishing its number one position in metal woods on tour.
 
Casey/Q:
When did you make the move to Mitsubishi Rayon?
 
Larry/A:
I came to Mitsubishi Rayon almost three years ago. Thats when we started our U.S. graphite golf shaft division in Carlsbad, California, to work with OEMs and in the aftermarket and on tour.
 
Casey/Q:
Larry, just to clarify, this is the same Mitsubishi that we are familiar with in this country for, lets say, cars?
 
Larry/A:
It is. Its part of the Mitsubishi group of entities which includes automotive, electric, heavy industry, materials, chemical, bankingthese are all part of the corporate group. Of course, these all operate as separate companies. The Mitsubishi Rayon Company (MRC) is Mitsubishis materials company and we specialize in acrylics and in engineering carbon fiber products.
 
Casey/Q:
Where are the golf shafts actually made?
 
Larry/A:
The shafts are made in our facility in Toyohashi, Japan. We do have other manufacturing facilities, but, thats our main R&D, engineering and manufacturing location.
 
Casey/Q:
Most people will never get to go and see what its like there. What would they see?
 
Larry/A:
Toyohashi is kind of like its own complex of buildings that looks like an industrial campus. You can walk from building to building and see where all the different operations take place. Theres an R&D building. Theres an administrative building. Theres a chemical facilities building. In one building youd see just the pre-preg. They take the carbon fiber and they lay it in the resin and make the pre-preg sheets. And one whole building is dedicated to doing this. The pre-preg sheets then go to a different building, and there youd see the manufacturing of the final product. Also from this building, youd see the pre-preg sheets that we manufacture for the aerospace industry being readied and shipped out.
 
Casey/Q:
Define pre-preg for us.
 
Larry/A:
Pre-preg is like the building block we use to make shafts. The advantage that Mitsubishi Rayon has, in my opinion, is that because we have the capability to adjust and select our materials as we create the pre-preg, we have a significant leg up in our ability to make different materials and special materials to provide shafts with unique performance characteristics. Aldila also makes its own
Pre-preg. There arent too many of us that do. Its very complicated.

Casey/Q:
And youre manufacturing materials in this plant for more than just golf application?
 
Larry/A:
Oh, yes. The pre-preg we make is also used in the manufacturing of pressurized tanks and bicycles, for example. Quite a few other industries take advantage of our materials production capabilities.
 
Casey/Q:
How scientific is the R&D? White lab coats and computers and all that?
 
Larry/A:
The R&D is extremely scientific in nature. The manufacturing side of things is quite industrial, as you would expect. The manufacturing itselfthe cutting, the grinding, the paintingit has a very industrial feeling. The designing is extremely technical. We have our own software that we use to design our shafts. It is proprietary in nature and it was created to enable us to use as many variations of materials as possible. The possibilities are almost limitless for us because we are making everything from scratch ' starting at the molecular level actually ' and the R&D side of the equation is highly sophisticated. So the design is not only concerned with performance, its concerned with the materials we are working with to achieve that performance.
 
Casey/Q:
Are your R&D guys dedicated to shafts or shared with other design operations at the company?
 
Larry/A:
We have both. We have a number of engineers that are specifically dedicated to designing new prototype shafts for the tour, for aftermarket and for OEM projects. Thats all they doshafts. We also have engineers that overlap and do other composite application projects. One of the advantages of having Mitsubishi as our parent company is the scope it has in composites. We get to draw upon advancements made in other industries with other applications that we then apply to advancements in shaft performance.
 
Casey/Q:
Your experiences out on tourwhat did they teach you about shaft design for tour level play and then, how does that inform you regarding making shafts for everybody else?
 
Larry/A:
The great thing about working with tour players in regard to shaft performance is that they are the most demanding golfers and they are also the most sensitive to differences to design. Tour players have a much more advanced ability to detect differences. As far as making us smarter when it comes to making shafts for all the rest of us to use, the two are connected. What we learn from the tour we apply to all of our shafts.
 
Casey/Q:
Most of us are just trying to hit it square, let alone really feel what is going on when we do hit it. What do tour players feel?
 
Larry/A:
Some subtle differences include overall feel, feel at impact, the dynamic reaction of a shaft during the swing ' the loading and unloading ' and how stable and consistent it feels when they swing it. I think thats where our company excels; being able to use the variety of materials that we have come up with in prototypes that we then make available to the most demanding users. The feedback we get then allows us to find designs that really work. Its the sensitivity of the tour players that helped us weave our way to the final design of Diamana Blue Board.
 
Casey/Q:
And these guys dont mince words, do they?
 
Larry/A:
Not at all; they tell you exactly the way it is. The only reason they are going to put a shaft in play is if they think it is going to outperform what theyve got. And thats an exciting situation. First of all, to have the confidence in your product to put it in play, and then to have the success that weve had over the last two yearsIm really proud of our designs and also proud to have had the results weve had. Its great to see players having success with our products.
 
Casey/Q:
What was your strategy when you entered the U.S. market?
 
Larry/A:
I thought if we could please the best players in the world and get a bend profile that worked for them, we could then iterate from that profile and change the weight and the overall flex so that it worked for a larger variety of players and slower swing speeds and different needsand thats exactly what weve done. I worked on a couple of designs that were successful for PGA Tour players and then we basically made them softer or lighter or heavier to expand the application.
 
Casey/Q:
Were you successful from the start?
 
Larry/A:
I can tell you when I first started working with prototypes on tour with Mitsubishi, I brought out a number of different profiles. And there were some profiles we made that on paper looked like they would work and should have worked, but, they flat out didnt work. So, what we did with our first aftermarket product ' Diamana Blue Board ' that is kind of a combination of the best characteristics of the prototypes. Thats when we thought we had first struck gold, so to speak. It was embraced in a big way on tour and that was very exciting.
 
Casey/Q:
Amateurs dont load shafts like tour players load shafts. How do you back down from a tour profile to a consumer profile?
 
Larry/Q:
I think the reason our softer flexes, which are iterations of the tour flexes, have been so successful is because of one of the characteristics of this profile. It is extremely stablethe first profile that we call Blue Board. The fact that it is very symmetrical and very stable throughout the swing, even when you make the whole shaft softer, it still allows even slower swing speed players to take advantage of the stable nature of the shaft and allows them to maximize their abilities with the golf club.
 
Casey/Q:
The profile is the same for the tour player as it is for consumers, but, youve iterated it to fit different loading and unloading conditions?
 
Larry/A:
Thats it in a nutshell. What we do is we take the same bend profile but we make it softer overall and usually lighter. The majority of tour players that we have using driver shafts with Diamana Blue Boarda lot of them are in 73 grams or 83 grams and most of them in the X flex. For amateurs, our most popular SKUs for the aftermarket are 63 gram S and 63 gram R. Those are basically 10 or 15 or even 20 grams lighter than what they guys on tour are using. They are matching bending profilesin other words, its flexing in the same manor, but, it takes less load to flex it.
 
Casey/Q:
Diamana Blue and Diamana Redhow do the design and construction profiles differ?
 
Larry/A:
When we were talking about the bend profile for Diamana Blue, it is extremely smooth feeling so that as you load it the shaft feels very stable. The Red profile gives someone an option of feeling more of a kick at that the ball. It has a more active tip section so that when you swing the Red profile you actually feel the head kick more. The part about Red that is the same is that they are absolutely the highest quality materials that we can use.
 
Casey/Q:
MRC talks about having a material difference in its development, design and manufacturing process. What do you mean by that?
 
Larry/A:
We make shafts from scratch. Our vertical integration capability makes us inherently different from all of our competitors. While there is some vertical integration found elsewhere in the industry, theres no one else operating at the level of total control that we have. We start with a derivative of crude oil and we control all of the steps from that raw source material. From the raw crude, we make a chain of carbon molecules, we make the acrylic fiber, then heating the acrylic fiber to create carbon fiber, then combine the carbon fiber with a proprietary resin system to end up with pre-preg.
 
Casey/Q:
Are a lot of different materials used in making a particular shaft?
 
Larry/A:
We use more than 20 different and unique types of pre-preg to make our shafts which allow us to do things in design that are costly, but, make a real difference to the very demanding golfer as well as the good amateur. Getting back to your question about Red versus Blue, I just want to make sure Im clear on that. The shafts share similar technology and manufacturing technique. In bend profile, however, they are almost like opposites. Blue is very stable in the tip and Red is more active in the tip.
 
Casey/Q:
You launched here with just Diamana Blue Board. Did you feel you were limiting your chance for success by not offering more models?
 
Larry/A:
Well, in the first line we wanted to have one message with one bend profile that would be a good fit for not only the best players in the world but also for the consumer as well. And in fact, with even just one model of a bend profile that works as well as Blue Board, we can still fit a tremendous number of players. We accomplish this by offering a wide range of flexes and weights to choose from. In Diamana Blue Board, we offer six weights ranging from 53 grams to 103 grams. In these weights we offer between two and four different flexes. There are 18 different options you can choose all with the same bend profile. So, you still have a tremendous opportunity to dial in the right specs for your swing.
 
Casey/Q:
You established a foot hold with Blue, and then came Red Board. Even though you started with one, you knew you would expand the line?
 
Larry/A:
Absolutely. Golf swings are so unique, that, for a variety of reason, players need different designs to give them the best chance to optimize performance. We came out with Blue Board first because we developed that shaft with a very stable tip section which is what the tour wants. We knew all along that once that shaft was proven successful, we would add to the line with another shaft that had a different bend profile. For us, that was Diamana Red Board.
 
Casey/Q:
And most recently, youve added Bassara?
 
Larry/A:
Wow, you actually do your homework. Yes, weve recently added one more bend profile with Bassara. There are fancier ways to say it, but for me, I think of Bassara as Blue Board but a little bit friendlier. OK? Its a little softer bend profile than Blue Board and its a little more forgiving and it feels a little smoother.
 
Casey/Q:
Three models under the Diamana brandare your bases pretty well covered now?
 
Larry/A:
With these three different bend profiles, but taking in to account the great range of weights and flexes, we believe we can fit just about any type of player in to a shaft that will help maximize performance and let people play up to the best of their ability.
 
Casey/Q:
Do you think that, perhaps, there are so many SKUs or choices in golf equipment, shafts and otherwise, that it can be confusing for the consumer?
 
Larry/A:
Golf equipment, the shaft world as part of that, has changed so much in even just the last few years. Not that long ago, you went in to a store and you picked the driver you wanted to buy and you were a stiff guy, a regular guy or an X guy. And whatever shaft came with the driver, thats what you got. Its so different now. All the top manufacturers are making great heads now. Pick your favorite brand and youll have a head that will work for you. But, you better take the time to make sure its got the right shaft in it or youre not going to maximize the performance of that driver, no matter how good the head is. It can be confusing if you dont take the time or make the effort to do your homework or seek help from people that know fitting. But, if youre ready to be fit properly, then all the choices out there become a good thing.
 
Casey/Q:
Obviously, you are a big proponent of proper fitting.
 
Larry/A:
Its extremely important. You have to have a good combination of your club head, the golf ball and the shaftthese have to match your swing to create good launch conditions.
 
Casey/Q:
Other than seeing the ball go far, what do you mean by launch conditions?
 
Larry/A:
By good launch conditions I mean theres a range of launch angle, ball spin and ball speed that are going to perform well on the course. Going to a launch monitor will allow you to pick a head and pick a golf ball and then make sure that the shaft that you have will fit your swing and the club head to create good launch conditions.
 
Casey/Q:
But, make sure youre getting a proper fit.
 
Larry/A:
No doubt. Ive seen cases where a proper fit can add 20 or even 30 yards to a players driver distance. Or, more importantly, Ive seen bad fits rob players of distance. Its actually kind of a good and bad thing; all the choices, I mean. Because there are so many options you can get a bad fit. There are heads that are designed to be low spin and there are heads out there that are designed to be high spin. The same is true of launchlow launch heads and high launch heads. Depending on what you choose for a head, choosing the right shaft can mean the difference between getting good launch conditions and getting bad launch conditions. And, of course, the golf ball you choose can make a huge difference as well. However, Im confident that if players take the time to get a good fit, they will see their performance maximized.
 
Casey/Q:
Talking about driver fitting, have you seen Callaways OptiFit Driver System?
 
Larry/A:
I certainly have. We are so happy to be included in that system. First of all, what a great thing Callaway has developed there. The opportunity to try different shafts in their Fusion FT-3 driver head ' different lofts and draw and fade bias combinations ' and to change shafts out in a matter of seconds but to have the driver perform just like its a glued head on therethats a fantastic system.
 
Casey/Q:
People can try a lot of different shafts with that system.
 
Larry/A:
They really can. You know, also for us, were such a young brand here in the States, its really important for people to be able to try our products. Its hard for us to say to the consumer, hey, heres an expensive shaft youve never heard of but you just have to trust me, it really is a great product. But, when people can try it, like they have an opportunity to try it in the OptiFit system, they invariably like it and then that word of mouth is what helps grow a brand like ours.
 
Casey/Q:
You talk a lot about stability in a golf shaft. What do you mean by that?
 
Larry/A:
Its very difficult to describe in words what I mean when I say a stable shaft. I think sometimes it is difficult to quantify what that means. When you swing a shaft and, you know, its loading, it still feels very consistent and balanced. You can just imagine that as the club head speed increases and the load on that shaft increases, stabilitya lack of torquebecomes more and more critical. That is, I think, why we chose to work with tour players first because once we could establish a profile that works for them, we believed we could slow things down and the shaft would still be balanced. It is still going to work for slower swing speeds.
 
Casey/Q:
Where does the name Diamana come from?
 
Larry/A:
Diamana comes from a combination of the abbreviation of the word diamond - the Mitsubishi Rayon logo is three diamonds ' and diamonds, of course, being super strong. And mana is a Hawaiian word that means power or force. So you put that together and it represents diamond power. Its not an accident that mana is a Hawaiian word. The Diamana logo is a surfboard shape and the first prototypes, as well as our current Red Board model in the U.S., have this logo. Also, the entire Japanese Diamana product line has flowered lei around the grip end of the shaft.
 
Casey/Q:
What about Bassara?
 
Larry/A:
Bassara is a Japanese word that is also related to diamonds. It has to do with diamonds, but, its not a direct translation of the word.
 
Casey/Q:
How long was Blue Board in the design and testing stage before you ventured out to tour with the first prototype?
 
Larry/A:
It was a very involved, time consuming project. Mitsubishi Rayon had been experimenting on the Japanese Tour and had done some projects on the PGA Tour for at least three years. Diamana prototypes in general were kind of refined over a three year period and then I took the final prototypes out on tour and worked with them for about another year after that before we had what we know now as Diamana Blue Board.
 
Casey/Q:
At what point did you know you had a shaft that would not only be accepted out on tour, but, one that would also work at the consumer level?
 
Larry/A:
When I noticed that tour players were putting it in play consistently I knew that we had a bend profile that was exceptional. I was confident that it would work for a wide variety of players at all different playing levels as we made it lighter and softer. I was actually pleasantly surprised how well the shaft performed for people with slower swing speeds. Middle handicap players were really responding well to the shaft and I was getting great feedback.
 
Casey/Q:
Did you ever doubt that the shaft could work for amateurs once you saw it working for the tour players?
 
Larry/A:
Im being honest with you; I was very pleasantly surprised that our premium product, designed for the best players in the world, has the kind of a bend profile that works for a much wider group of players than just the tour. The Blue Board was not necessarily designed with mid-handicap players in mind. It was just eventually iterated towards them with lighter weights and softer flexes and proved itself to be a wonderful feeling and performing shaft.
 
Casey/Q:
Do all products out there make that bridgetour to consumer?
 
Larry/A:
There are certain products that I dont think make the translationtour player to average playerno matter how well they are designed. Tour size blade irons, for example. Youre happy to play a certain brand, but, why play with a model within that brands line that was literally designed for a tour player? I always kind of chuckle when I see mid to high handicap players who are still playing little head forged blades, because, you know there is no way they are hitting those blades consistently on the sweet spot. Consequently, they are robbing themselves of distance and accuracy. But, for whatever reason, they dont want to switch to friendly game improvement cavity back irons. Why kill yourself as a mid to high handicap player trying to make those products work for your swing when those same OEMs offer products in their lines that were designed much more specifically for your game?
 
Casey/Q:
Weve talked about all the choices players have today in terms of trying different shaftsthe volume of choices and options. You seem to have a pretty streamlined brand story.
 
Larry/A:
There are so many choices in shafts and one of the things that were trying to do is to make the story about our product offerings straightforward so you can make the best decision about what shaft to try. But, it works both ways with players. Having a lot of choices, different models to try all the time, new bend profiles being introduced in to the marketplace all the timethere is a segment of the buying public that likes that. Other people like to keep it simple. Just a few good choices and easy to understand explanations about what a shaft does, or, who it is intended for. For us, especially being such a young brand in the United States, a streamlined SKU story was the way to go. Now, as we get better and better known here, we will expand our offerings. In fact, were getting ready to offer a new Diamana profile in addition to Red and Blue. In the next couple of years, youll see Bassara grow with a couple of different bend profiles as well. Well keep the stories easy to understand, however, we may grow the number of different types of bend profiles we offer to satisfy that end of consumer demand as well.
 
Casey/Q:
Considering the size of Mitsubishi Rayon as a global company, the shaft division of the company must be pretty small. Why golf shafts for a company that probably doesnt really need to make golf shafts?
 
Larry/A:
Well, youre right about our sizebarely a single digit percent of Mitsubishi Rayons overall revenue. I think the company started with golf shafts because it became so clear to the decision makers that our ability to make materials was going to really give us such a competitive advantage in this particular application. They got to the point where it just made sense. For so many years, Mitsubishi Rayon was selling our raw materials to the great majority of golf shaft manufacturers. We started as a supply company. But, 20 or so years ago, they decided to get in to the market as a shaft manufacturer. Its escalated now to the point where we not only make golf shafts, were making them for the best players in the world. And I think youll see Mitsubishi Rayon expand its activity here in the United States in next few years, in terms of product offerings and in terms of market share, on a pretty aggressive level.
 
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