SAN DIEGO — Making 3 million graphite golf shafts only begins to describe the 1997 output at Horizon Sport Technologies Inc.
Now, the firm also produces high-end softball bats and components for audio speakers and musical instruments.
Since its founding in 1989, HST has spent more than $10 million on equipment, President Randy Beck said in an office interview.
The investment includes $3.5 million during 1996-97, in part for six custom-made 100-ton vacuum presses with processing capabilities to bladder mold, compression mold or resin transfer mold.
During 1997, HST is using the bladder molding process to make more than 40,000 hybrid $250 softball bats for the Dudley Sports line of Spalding Sports Worldwide.
Co-development work with Dudley in Chicopee, Mass., began in October 1996, and production started in January.
``We do the entire bat — from inception to prototype to ramp up to production,'' Tod Boretto, HST vice president of engineering and technical sales, said during a plant tour.
In a manual sequence, HST lays up glass fabric from the Hexcel Corp. facility in Seguin, Texas, unidirectional carbon tape from Newport Adhesives & Composites Inc. in Irvine, Calif., and carbon fabric from Hexcel in Seguin. An interior bladder expands and presses the composites against a metal sleeve, or barrel, while the bat is cured for 20 minutes at 300°F.
The Dudley Fusion slow-pitch model has a 12-inch-long, 0.065-inch-thick sleeve of Alcoa C-405 aluminum alloy; a Fusion fast-pitch model has a 15-inch-long, 0.055-inch-thick barrel of the same material. Boretto said Dudley plans to add four more versions in 1998.
Annually, about 400,000 bats are sold in the high-end market at prices up to $300. Competing products include the DeMarini-brand double-wall aluminum, Louisville Slugger TPS series aluminum/springsteel and Easton carbon-fiber-reinforced Redline c-core bats.
Golf shafts, however, remain HST's main business. Callaway Golf Co. of Carlsbad, Calif., uses HST's graphite shafts on about 80 percent of its woods worldwide, Boretto said. Other users include Salomon SA's Taylor Made Golf Co. unit in Carlsbad; Jack Nicklaus' Golf Equipment Co. of West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Spalding's Top Flight Golf unit in Chicopee.
In a separate niche, HST molds proprietary components for stereophonic audio speakers and musical instruments. Each component has a face skin of epoxy and carbon fiber over a foamed polyurethane core.
Also, in October, HST planned to begin production of a new foam-injected part using RTM on the vacuum presses.
Strong vendor relations helped HST obtain a steady supply of carbon fiber while other users found sources drying up in recent years. Market supply of carbon fiber remains below demand, Boretto said, but ongoing capacity increases will place a ``significant over-supply of fiber on the market'' around mid-1998.
During 1996, HST used about 650,000 pounds of 12,000-strand carbon fiber. The volume included 400,000 pounds of intermediate-modulus material from Newport, Toray Composites (America) Inc. in Frederickson, Wash., and Hexcel's facility in Lyon, France; 200,000 pounds of high-strain fiber from Grafil Inc. of Sacramento, Calif.; and 50,000 pounds of high-modulus material from Newport. Mitsubishi Rayon Co. Ltd. of Tokyo owns Newport and Grafil.
``In 1998, we expect to use more high-modulus and increase [our volume] in intermediate-modulus,'' Boretto said.
HST employs 400 now but booms up to 550 during the January-through-June peak for golf shaft production. The firm has annual sales of about $40 million.
Rather than go off-shore, the company has chosen to concentrate its resources in a light industrial area of San Diego. Three buildings occupy 136,000 square feet.
Long term, the company may seek a niche making parts for the automotive industry.