Though golf is one of the most traditional sports in the world with rules and folklore that stretches back to Old Tom Morris, the research team at Cobra Puma Golf are using additive manufacturing to design the shapes and surfaces of golf clubheads – and they say the results are a great leap forward for their company and for the game.
When brought into play by the best in the game, the strength and precision required of a golf club is at a premium. Material strength and club design are tested by enormous forces and clubhead speeds of up to 120 mph. 3D printing is finding a place at the forefront of the game in rapid prototyping.
“Before 3D printing, prototypes were made off of what was called a ‘master.’ This master was machined – usually by hand – by a master craftsman,” says Andy Curtis, a Senior Research Engineer for Cobra Puma Golf. “The master was then used to create an investment casting tool that would produce the waxes needed for the investment casting process. A machine called a Deckel was used to create the tool off of the master. This whole process would take months of work and usually resulted in fairly simple designs as compared to what is on the market today.”
Cobra Puma are no newcomers to the technology. The company has been using 3D printing for more than two decades, and while plastic prototypes don’t fit the bill for actual impact testing, 3D printed prototypes do save time and labor.
According to Curtis, the technology also pays dividends in other ways as well.
“It is extremely cost effective,” Curtis says. “Without 3D printing technology, we wouldn’t be able to create the complex designs we do in the inherent short time frame of the industry.”
But prototypes aren’t the only golf clubs on the scene. Work at the University of Dundee has resulted in the creation of a pair of clubs replicated from their late 19th century counterparts which are laser sintered in cobalt chrome – and you can actually hit shots with them.
In collaboration with St Andrews Golf Co., the University of Dundee’s Mechanical and Engineering division has produced the metal 3D printed club heads – the ‘President’ Water Iron and a ‘Rake’ Iron – which were first scanned using the NEXT Engine 3D Scanner.
The resulting files were printed with EOS Metal Laser Sintering technology in a cobalt chrome material. The entire process took some 29 hours to complete, and the printed metal clubheads were so tough, they had to be sent to the Advanced Forming Research Centre at the University of Strathclyde for finishing.
“The avenues opened up by combining the latest in manufacturing technology with the traditional craftsmanship practiced by St Andrews Golf Co Ltd are exciting,” says Grant Payne of St Andrews Golf Co., a partner in the project. “It was only made possible through our Industrial Partnership with the University, and we hope it will demonstrate to people we’re thinking about the future, whilst being considerate of the past.”
It’s fitting as the St Andrews Golf Co. is one of the few remaining companies in the world still producing golf clubs by hand, and they recognize the future of the game lies in the modern age.
Are you aware of any historically significant items that are being 3D printed now to help us understand the past? If you are, please let us know in the 3D Printing Golf forum thread on 3DPB.com.