One Company's View

Golf-equipment manufacturer cuts strokes off its process.

When Taylor Made Golf Co. opened its 203,000-sq-ft corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility in Carlsbad, Calif., this year, executives were quick to draw comparisons between their current capabilties and "the way things used to be."

Like numerous discrete-products firms, the golf-equipment manufacturer has reduced lot sizes to accommodate a more streamlined "flow" process in its final assembly operations. "Ten years ago, we were a batch-processing company," says Dick Rugge, Taylor Made's director of research and development. "But today we are a cellular manufacturing/flow company. And that change has made a huge difference. In the past, it took five days for any club to get through the entire process in our plant. And most of that time was spent waiting for the next operation. As a result, we had a sea of inventory in our plant."

Today, he notes, the assembly process takes about 20 minutes -- from start to finish. Each of the plant's 14 assembly cells -- working with shafts, clubheads, grips, and other components supplied by outside vendors -- can make any type of club in the company's product line. And the multiskilled production workers in each cell can switch from one type of club to another "in a matter of minutes."

That flexibility is important, he notes, in reacting to changes in marketplace demand. "This is a volatile market and customer orders can change very quickly," he points out. "If a professional using Taylor Made clubs happens to win the British Open on a Sunday [as Mark O'Meara did this year], we might get a sudden influx of new orders for our irons the next week. And we have to be able to respond to that."

In addition to changes apparent on the factory floor, the reality for most technology-savvy companies is that new product-development activities are more closely linked to production, thanks to tools such as advanced CAD/CAM systems as well as early consideration of manufacturing capabilities and requirements. Increasingly, companies have applied such methodologies as design for manufacturability and design for quality. By employing state-of-the art computer technologies, Taylor Made has shortened its new-product-development cycle from 18 months to about eight months in the last decade.

And that has made a "gigantic" difference in adapting to trends in the market, Rugge says. Using ProEngineer CAD software -- and customized software to simulate the performance of club designs -- along with rapid-prototyping technologies, Taylor Made has slashed the time needed to develop a physical prototype of a new club from 40 days to just five days. CAD design files can be quickly converted into machine files and transported over the plant's fiber-optic network to a machining room where CNC-controlled equipment produces models of new clubheads -- called "masters" -- either out of wax or metals such as aluminum and stainless steel.

"Five years ago, it took two to three months to get a prototype that we could test," Rugge notes. "Now it takes about a week." As a result, Taylor Made now can experiment with as many as several hundred club design variations -- and physically test each one -- before settling on a particular version. "We no longer have to depend on luck to get good results," Rugge stresses. "We don't have to settle for something that is just O.K. Now we can refine and refine and refine our designs." The new plant's "lights out" manufacturing capability also slices time from the prototyping process. Machinists can program the computer-controlled equipment to shape prototype masters -- a process that takes from two hours to eight hours, depending on the material -- and then let the equipment continue to run after they leave for the day.

Once a master has been created in metal or wax it is typically sent to a foundry, which uses investment-casting methods to create a version that can be physically tested (by robots at the company's on-site test facility or by human golfers) to verify the performance characteristics of the club. If the casting house uses ProEngineer software, Taylor Made can further save time by sending the CAD design files over the Internet -- and let the supplier create the master.

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