On-screen control of the whack factor: Golf-club heads can now be designed by computer program instead of laboriously by hand, reports Clive Davidson

GOLFERS tend to be traditionalists, at least when it comes to choosing their favourite mashie niblick. Although the wooden shafts and iron heads of yesteryear have been replaced by steel and aluminium, the clubs used by the players in last week's Open, for example, were designed and produced in a way that has remained fundamentally unchanged for years.

But for ordinary golfers' clubs, computer technology may soon oust the laborious process of hand-crafting prototypes which are then mass-manufactured. Golf-club heads are now mostly manufactured in Asia. For a British- based club maker such as Dunlop Slazenger International this poses problems of how to retain control over design and an edge on competitors.

Dunlop Slazenger's golf division in Normanton, West Yorkshire, has found a solution in a computer-aided design (CAD) system that keeps design and testing in Britain but allows the company to take advantage of the economics of manufacturing in the Far East. The system is improving the speed and accuracy with which the company can create a co-ordinated set of clubs.

Golfers are notoriously fussy about the feel of their clubs. In a recent international tournament Gary Player went back to using a putter he had owned for more than 25 years to correct his play. Since the weight of club heads is more or less standardised, differences are determined largely by the design.

It is in the 'irons' - the clubs used between driving off from the tee and putting on the green - that most variation in design is found. By increasing the 'loft' - effectively the angle between the club face and the ground - the ball will lift higher into the air when hit. Changing the 'lie' - the angle between the club head and the shaft - affects the swing. Power and precision are controlled by the distribution of weight in the head.

Dunlop Slazenger's new range of clubs, called Synergy, is the first to be designed with the company's CAD system. To begin with, a wireframe model of a generic club head is created on the screen of a graphics work station. Then a designer working with a programmer uses a mouse input device to move the lines of the wireframe to the desired shape.

'Having developed the shape we can get the computer to calculate the volume,' says Mike Shaw, works director of Dunlop Slazenger International's golf division. 'We can then calculate the weight and check if it is satisfactory. If not, we repeat the process, or use the computer to make adjustments.'

Once the shape is acceptable the computer examines the 'sweet spot' - the hitting area of the club head. The sweet spot is dependent on the the point of balance around which the head can be rotated. Concentrating the weight of the head behind it decreases its area but increases the club's power. On the other hand a larger sweet spot makes for a more forgiving club but lessens its whack factor.

Weight is distributed about the head by creating a cavity behind the club face. By altering the shape of the cavity metal can be taken from the centre to the periphery. The more metal at the edges the less the club will be inclined to rotate if the ball is struck off the centre of the sweet spot.

'CAD allows us to make weight changes and assess the impact in terms of how they affect the moment of inertia without actually having to make a club,' says Mr Shaw.

The CAD system has other advantages. 'We can use it to assess things such as strength,' says Mr Shaw. 'We can design to strength thresholds so we don't over-engineer clubs.'

The system also handles the aesthetics of the design. The software does surface modelling - the wireframe can be covered with textured and highlighted surfaces so the designer can play with the look of the clubs.

'Finished cosmetics have an influence on the end user,' says Mr Shaw. 'The clubs have to look attractive as well as play well.'

The CAD system not only produces the design but also generates the tool settings for the machine rooms where the clubs are manufactured. It is not necessary to send drawings to the Far East; the tool-setting data can be sent via a modem link direct to the factory machines.

Dunlop Slazenger claims to be at the forefront of computer-assisted golf- club design. But other manufacturers are following suit. One United States golf-club maker, Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, recently discovered a different benefit of CAD - combatting copycat designs.

The company has patents covering the design of its Ping golf clubs, but its legal department suspected that a new club marketed by one of its competitors infringed Karsten's patents. Superficially, the rival's club looked very different, so convincing a jury of non-experts of their similarity might have been a problem.

To uphold its contention that the two designs were similar, Karsten created a three-dimensional computer model of its rival's club. When the rival company's lawyers saw this superimposed on an existing 3D model of the Ping club, they agreed to a settlement.

Although Dunlop Slazenger started with a commercial CAD package called Duct from the company Delcam, it is adapting this to its own requirements. Chief of these is ease of use.

'Traditional designers are hands-on people,' says Mr Shaw. 'They take a block of steel and by hand and eye they conjure up a head. The problem is how to convert that man to someone who works with images.'

Mr Shaw hopes that by making the computer interface as intuitive as possible, within two years the designer will be able to operate the system without the aid of a programmer.

The software runs on a 4D/25 Personal Iris high- performance graphics work station from Silicon Graphics. Mr Shaw says Dunlop Slazenger is planning to build up a library of computer-generated head shapes that could be used as the starting point for other designs. He and his colleagues are still exploring the ways in which the system can assist the design process.

'There is no reason why having designed an iron you couldn't have the computer fill out the spec for the rest of the set,' says Mr Shaw.

However, this kind of automation is a long way off, and clubs produced by this system have yet to win the endorsement of professional players. But for the meantime, says Mr Shaw, Dunlop Slazenger is freed from having to 'shop out of our supplier's basket, where the choices don't give us the product differentiation or performance we are looking for'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'