The process of designing, prototyping and eventually producing a golf club that Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter are happy to put in their bags can take months of time and energy, and cost a lot of money.
Many of these designs or prototypes may never make it to the market. Thus, golf companies are looking for ways to speed up the process and cut down the cost of producing prototypes.
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing 3D Printing!
Used by an array of industries and manufacturers, 3D printing can quickly, easily and carefully produce almost any shape, object or product. Golf club manufacturers are one of those industries, and Cobra Puma is one of those manufacturers.
Andy Curtis is a Senior Research Engineer and has been with Cobra Puma since 2010. He is the master mind behind Cobra Puma's 3D printing. Here's our discussion with Andy about the background, benefits and costs of 3D printing golf clubs.
So Andy, when did Cobra Puma start using 3D Printing?
Hi guys, thanks for interest. We bought our first 3D printer in the early 1990s. We are currently on our 7th 3D printing machine.
Wow, who knew it had been going on so long. How many other brands/companies are using 3D printing?
Several companies, even outside of golf, are using 3D printing to create prototypes and even consumer products.
So, why 3D Printing? What are the benefits?
The main benefit to 3D printing is for rapid prototyping purposes. These printers enable designers to iterate with a much higher frequency as compared to traditional methods of prototyping.
What was life like before 3D printing? What are those traditional methods?
Before 3D printing, prototypes were made off of what was called a "master." This master was machined (usually by hand) by a master craftsman. The master was then used to create an investment casting tool that would produce the waxes needed for the investment casting process. A machine called a Deckel was used to create the tool off of the master. This whole process would take months of work and usually resulted in fairly simple designs as compared to what is on the market today.
Interesting, so can 3D printers print all types of clubs?
Yes absolutely! We have even printed a part on a 3D printer and used it as the wax core in the investment casting process.
What is the process of getting a product designed, created digitally and 3D printed?
The process starts with a 2D sketch drawn by a designer. This sketch is then used by an engineer to make a CAD model. This model is then printed on a 3D printer and tweaks are made until the designer is happy with the 3D part. 3D printing was used to develop the latest Cobra AMP Cell Driver using the stages shown below.
Once you have the prototype how is it then used? Can it be hit?
The prototypes that come off of the 3D printer are mainly used for verifying a design in CAD. The polymer used by our 3D printer is very weak and brittle, therefore we can't hit any prototype club head that comes off of the machine. However, other nondestructive measurements and tests can be performed on the prototypes that come off of the machine.
Ok, obviously 3D printing is only part of the process, so what is the complete design process?
A high level of the design process is as follows:
Technology concepting - 2D rendering of concepts - 3D rendering (CAD) of concepts - prototyping of approved 3D concept - testing of prototypes - create production tooling - create 1st article parts off production tooling - testing of 1st article parts - modifying production tooling (if needed) - mass production.
The 3D printer is a tool we use in the 3D rendering phase of the process. Without 3D printing technology we wouldn't be able to create the complex designs we do in the inherent short time frame of the industry.
This all sounds great, but costly. What does a 3D printer cost?
3D printers can vary widely in cost. A low end model will retail for $50,000 to $60,000 all the way to a high end model for $250,000.
Is that cost effective for a golf company?
Yes, it is extremely cost effective. The benefit really is in opportunity costs that are saved due to the speed of prototyping.
That makes sense. What about the future, what is the future of 3D printing in creating golf clubs?
There is definitely a future in 3D printing for golf. We are always looking for ways to make our processes better and more cost effective.
Thanks for your time Andy. We look forward to seeing some Cobra Puma 3D designed clubs hitting the market in the coming months.
So there you have it, 3D printing in golf. Who knew!
We would like to thank Andy and Cobra Puma for giving us a behind the scenes discussion of how the 3D printing process works, and we encourage anyone that is interested in Cobra Puma equipment and news, to visit our exclusive Cobra Puma Zone.