SAN DIEGO - Graphite golf shaft manufacturer Aldila Inc. began making its own prepreg last year in an effort to control its raw material supply and now plans to bolster that effort further. The firm began in-house prepreg production using standard-modulus carbon fiber. Aldila, the leading supplier to original equipment manufacturers of golf clubs, aims, by late 1996, to produce its own intermediate-and high-modulus products.
In late 1993, Aldila decided it was time for ``backward integration,'' Peter Piotrowski, vice president of engineering, said in an interview at corporate headquarters in San Diego. By manufacturing its own prepreg, Aldila aims to better control its supply of raw material for shafts and possibly reduce the impact of future material price increases.
The company hired composite industry veteran Roy Tiley as production manager and invested about $2.5 million in equipment and $1 million in building improvements to establish the prepreg operation in 20,000 square feet. Prior to joining Aldila, Tiley was director of opera-tions for Cape Composites Inc. in San Diego.
At Aldila's request, Century Design Inc. of San Diego built two lines to make 24-inch prepreg, and Kroenert Corp. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a unit of Maschinenfabrik Max Kroenert GmbH of Hamburg, Germany, assembled the machine that deposits film on release paper. Aldila uses a Shell Chemical epoxy resin system that cures at 250§ F and Hercules Inc.'s AS4C carbon fiber. Aldila launched the operation in Poway, Calif., in October 1994 with seven machine operators and now has 15 operators and three production supervisors.
``We were making good product in the first week,'' Piotrowski said.
Previously, ICI Fiberite, still a supplier, manufactured the bulk of Aldila's prepreg at a Greenville, Texas, plant.
John McKnight, director of sales and marketing for Tempe, Ariz.-based ICI Fiberite, commented: ``Aldila had a dominance, and that is no longer true. The market has expanded dramatically, and everyone is building golf shafts. We have spread that [Fiberite] golf shaft base among a dozen or more companies today.''
Piotrowski said it ``may be too early to say if the [Aldila] dominance has gone away.''
Aldila made about 4.4 million graphite shafts last year and reported profit of $11.7 million on sales of $79.8 million. The 1993 profit was $7.1 million on sales of $62.6 million. At peak times, the company employs 1,000.
Piotrowski said Aldila seeks to reduce manufacturing costs by:
Adding automation to its San Diego area plants. In early 1994, Aldila's board approved a three-year plan to spend as much as $10 million for automated equipment and $2 million in building improvements.
Moving product to its maquiladora in Tijuana, Mexico. Aldila's first Tijuana facility opened in 1992 and employs 250, and the company will add two more locations there by year's end. Aldila closed its original San Diego facility in July.
Establishing another low-cost plant by mid-1996, probably in Shanghai, China. Aldila aims for the broad sporting-goods market and needs to reduce costs to compete with small shaft makers in other low-cost markets such as South Korea and Taiwan.
Encouraged by success with standard-modulus fiber, Aldila hopes in the next year or so to also make intermediate- and high-modulus products and may consider more integration later. ``We may buy a fiber plant or do a joint venture in which we would commit to buying hundreds of thousands of pounds,'' Piotrowski said.
``Aldila is a great company but is in a tough situation with all the golf club companies looking to control costs and play the graphite shaft suppliers against each other,'' said John Mahoney, analyst with Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla.
``Callaway seems to be able to find new suppliers who can meet its strict quality specs, delivery schedules and competitive pricing,'' Mahoney said. ``In the past, only Aldila seemed capable of doing all three.''
Mahoney sees Aldila's entrance to prepreg as ``an effort to drive down costs'' on graphite shafts. ``Historically, no one could make large quantities of shafts with consistently high quality, [but] Aldila's competitors have improved their quality and consistency and are willing to meet Aldila's price.''
Aldila has embarked on an era of cost-cutting in an effort to remain the largest golf-shaft maker.