In the world of golf, precision is everything. Players stand with it, move with it, and are especially conscious of it when hitting the ball. To those who play the game seriously, precision matters even when it comes to their equipment, especially golf clubs.
Enter COBRA R&D Machine Shop in Carlsbad, California, part of COBRA Golf, Inc., a leading golf club and equipment manufacturer committed to high-quality, high-performance products. At this 2600-square-foot shop, designers and machinists spend countless hours creating perfect irons, ideal drivers, and superb putters. Whether it is a prototype for a golf club that will be produced by the hundred thousand, or a few custom irons for a golf champion like Rickie Fowler, the shop pays strict attention to the minutest of details that go into making the clubs.
“Our work is wonderfully innovative, and at the same time, it is very exacting,” said Mike Yagley, VP of Innovation for Cobra PUMA Golf.
The shop is mostly R&D-focused, working on prototypes for proprietary COBRA clubs that are two or three years out from large-scale production. It supports the company’s small production department that makes special-order custom clubs and assists the marketing department with one-off clubs used as props for trade shows and other projects. If that is not enough, the shop handles fixturing for COBRA’s R&D and production and madematerial test samples used on the International Space Station for proprietary research studies. It supports company engineers who make and test the clubs, developing around data and feedback, working with different ideas, designs, features, and materials.
“Mostly it’s golf clubs but we also help our production facility team members troubleshoot, repair or modify their machinery, and sometimes help them create new types of processes,” said Manny Garcia, CNC programmer and machinist.
Two machinists are employed by the shop: Luis Hernandez, who is a manual machinist, and Garcia, who works mainly on CNC machines. Shop equipment includes two Haas CNC mills (a 3-axis mill and a 3-axis plus a trunnion, converted into a 5-axis mill), a manual lathe, two Bridgeport mills, grinding machinery, and 3D printers. All CNC equipment is programmed with Mastercam® CAD/CAM software (CNC Software, LLC).
“Once I review a prototype design, I start programming the CNC equipment,” said Garcia. “After milling, the piece goes to the manual machinists who do the finish work by hand.”
Because of strict weight specifications, the finishing phase can recur several times before a part is ready for testing. The variety of part materials used by COBRA adds to the challenge of weight and tooling considerations. Machinists work with a wide range of materials including carbon steel, tungsten, copper, brass, and aluminum. They also use materials that mimic those used in the actual club, like 303 stainless steel, 17-4 stainless steel, 1018 carbon steel, and titanium.
“Usually, the designers choose the material the club will be made of, with considerations for weight, strength, malleability, and shock resistance,” Garcia said. “There’s no limit to designs, features, and materials combinations but, in the end, it comes down to what the club is needed for.”
While most COBRA clubs offered through mass market retailers are made overseas, namely China, all customized clubs—those ordered through Pro Shops or through COBRA’s website—are assembled at the production facility next to the shop. This is where speed and responsiveness are fundamental and Mastercam is particularly valuable.
“Because I can view the process through the software, I’m able to create code quickly and efficiently,” said Garcia. “Stock Modeling allows me to see what the machine is going to do before I do it and Tool Verification makes it easier to go from idea to actual cutting.
“Mastercam allows me to take these really complex shapes and give the machine the exact instructions I want. It makes it all seamless and efficient, which is important because we have to be quick. The faster the shop can make the club, the faster engineering can complete a test, get an answer, then go back and either make material or construction changes or move on to the next phase of design or development.”
For Garcia, Dynamic Motion technology is another key feature of the CAD/CAM software. Compared to traditional cutting methods that use just the nose of the tool, Dynamic Motion technology uses the entire flute, yielding faster cuts, reduced machine vibration and wear, and extended tool life. The cutting technology enables Garcia to create multiple toolpaths from one original toolpath. For example, for one application, Garcia starts with a high-speed OptiRough toolpath, which removes large amounts of material and creates a fully roughed part in less time than with traditional machining methods. Next, dry surfaces and fixtures are laid out and Garcia simply copies and pastes that specific toolpath instead of selecting others within the menu. This programming feature speeds up the process and reduces machine start-up time. Once machining begins, Mastercam’s Solid Model Editing helps optimize workflow.
“With Mastercam, I don’t have to go back to an engineer to have him redesign or give me new specs; I can just tweak the 3D model in my software,” Garcia said. “I have a Push/Pull function, a Move function, and Modify feature, all within Model Prep. These features simplify the editing process and eliminate additional programming time.”
Once Garcia makes the changes he wants, he gives the updated file back to the engineers. “I want them to have the finished part looking exactly the same as mine so if the piece gets cut again, or if the engineers need to do some analysis within their software, they know exactly what’s what.”
The last thing Garcia wants is to make an edit that the engineers do not want. “They might have a reason why they designed it a certain way,” he said. “So, it’s nice to have any changes right there on the Model Prep tab.”
Garcia has been using Mastercam for two years, and says he is always learning about new capabilities. He credits MLC CAD Systems (San Diego, CA), COBRA’s Mastercam Reseller, with providing helpful product training in addition to great ongoing support.
“Something I learned from Trevor Bailey at MLC CAD Systems that I do now in Model Prep is to color code my model by feature,” he said. “Sometimes with a golf club, there are a lot of entities within the model. If I select fifty different surfaces to create a toolpath, for example, and I don’t like the way the toolpath came out and want to try something different, I just select new features in one click, instead of re-clicking and reselecting everything individually. It’s another way that Mastercam helps me save time.”
Yagley described a custom job that the shop did for Rickie Fowler, a PGA tour player known for his personal style and impressive play.
“Rickie wanted a custom set of irons engineered for him, developed from his input,” said Yagley. “He wanted very specific line grooves in the club head, grooves that would be visible to him, that maybe the average golfer wouldn’t notice, but he would. He also wanted the clubs to be a specific weight and to have a certain texture.”
According to Yagley, making the special club for Fowler took a lot of back and forth with the customer, but thanks to the features of CAD/CAM software, COBRA completed the job. The manufacturer produced the exact clubs specified by Fowler.
COBRA’s R&D shop has another dimension to its design and fabrication work: 3D printers. Garcia said the shop uses this new technology for selected prototypes or for sections of prototypes, referencing a job making one of the company’s newly designed putters. Because Mastercam accepts STL files, Garcia can integrate models designed for the 3D printer into the software and view size and shape.
Having recently programmed a file into Mastercam, Garcia found what he needed with the OptiRough toolpath. “Within the OptiRough menu, I used the Waterline toolpath, Horizontal strategy, and Raster toolpaths because, more often than not, we’re cutting a block of steel down—we’re subtracting.”
For a part that already has a 3D printed shape, he may follow the shape, create multiple toolpaths, and offset them. In addition, Garcia may use more stock in certain areas because when a putter is cut, it could be a bit larger than the actual model due to tolerance factors of 3D printing.
Thanks to the capabilities of CAD/CAM software, programming and milling challenges of all sizes and types abound in COBRA R&D Machine Shop.
“The very nature of R&D prototyping means it almost always involves something we’ve never seen before,” Garcia said. “Meanwhile, there’s a lot riding on these projects. Even if we can cut parts quickly, they must be accurate as well. Once we get prototypes back to the engineers, testing will determine whether their ideas worked—or didn’t.”
Photos & Article Supplied By – Gorman Pompili Communications LLC