BRIT MOLDER SEEKS U.S. BACKERS FOR GOLF SHAFT: GAS-ASSIST GIVES FORM TO NYLON PART

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SAN DIEGO — Customers of Tamworth Plastics Ltd. expect precision in their customized industrial parts.

But now, the England-based injection molder is embarking on a less-precise course, ramping up production of gas-assist injection molded shafts for golf clubs.

``We work to fine tolerances in serving molding customers,'' Luther Bradbury said in an interview in San Diego. ``But in the golf business, there are little or no standards.''

Bradbury is sales director of Jordan Golf Ltd., a new Tamworth subsidiary that seeks to establish business relationships with manufacturers of golf clubs and shafts, particularly in the United States.

In early April, the subsidiary named Diamond Golf Ltd. in southern England as distributor of its new Jordan shaft in Europe. A year earlier, Robert Basso, president of equipment maker Century Design Inc. of San Diego, signed on as U.S. distributor through his Century International Sales Corp.

Tamworth molds a hollow shaft on a 350-ton Sandretto press with a Cinpres Ltd. gas-assist injection molding unit. In gas-assist, the mold is partially filled with resin then injected with gas to press the melted material against mold walls.

Tamworth was the first British licensee, in the late 1970s, of Cinpres gas-injection technology.

LNP Engineering Plastics Ltd. of Birmingham, England, supplies the thermoplastic pellet, which includes nylon 6/6, a carbon-fiber mix and a rubber modifier. The shot weighs about 3.6 ounces, including the sprue and runner.

By the end of April, Jordan Golf expects production to reach full scale, which equals about 1 million shafts a year using one tool.

Said Bradbury, ``We could insert another impression into the existing tool to double the output.''

Other shaft makers wrap pre-impregnated material, usually carbon fiber and epoxy, around a removable mandrel.

The Jordan product consists of the gas-assist injected part and a wrap. The molded piece takes the place of a mandrel but is not removed.

Tamworth contracts with a wrapper that applies the carbon-fiberwrap to its specificiations, ``defining whether the customer wants it stiff, extra stiff, for seniors or for ladies,'' Bradbury said.

Several years ago, inventor and designer Charles Wright found that a shaft made by gas-assisted molding maintains form through the swing and brings the club head back to a squared position faster than a shaft of graphite or steel.

Now Jordan Golf's product development manager, Wright credits the shaft's performance to viscoelasticity of the thermoplastic. He tried briefly to launch the shaft on his own until his investment reached 30,000, about $45,000, and he still had failed to land a serious nibble.

Seeking corporate muscle for the product, in April Bradbury and Wright visited potential customers in the San Diego area, such as golf club makers Callaway Golf Co., Taylor Made Golf Co. and American Brands Inc.'s Cobra Golf Inc. unit; and shaft manufacturers Aldila Inc. and Horizons Sports Technologies Inc.

Within the past 18 months, Steven Mathers, a professor at Nottingham University in England, has tested Wright's concept.

Separately, independent equipment tester Golf Laboratories Inc. of San Diego has used its ball-hitting robot at nearby polo fields in Del Mar, to test golf clubs containing the Jordan shaft. Lab owner Gene Parente noted that, though the shaft is in its ``infancy as a developmental product the ``technology is intriguing, and big [corporate] hitters are interested.''

Though a trend toward lighter golf clubs works against Jordan Golf, proponents believe the shaft's performance will win converts.

Bradbury, 58, envisions the Jordan shaft's customized thermoplastic as the logical successor to the golf industry's historical use of hickory, steel and, since the early 1970s, carbon fiber. He estimates total development costs on the Jordab shaft will reach $1 million by year's end.

Tamworth Plastics employs 110 and recorded 1996 sales of about $9 million, molding parts for the household appliance, automotive and construction markets with injection, gas-assist and structural foam processes. At 51,000 square feet in Tamworth, England, it operates 25 presses from 20-750 tons — 15 of them fitted with Cinpres gas-assist units.

Brothers Bill and Steve Jordan are managing directors, respectively, of Tamworth Plastics and Cinpres. Both are directors of Tamworth parent Jordan Group, whose other British plastics-related holdings include blow molder Barclay Stewart Plastics Ltd. in Luton, England, James Cook Technologies Ltd. in Tamworth and Nottingham Laboratories Ltd. in Nottingham.