Lamborghini and Callaway, the American maker of high-end golf clubs, jointly develop a new form of carbon fiber–“forged composite”–that will be used first on a new Callaway driver and later in a future Lamborghini automobile.
Today at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, Lamborghini not only unveiled its wild Sesto Elemento concept car but also announced its new partnership with Callaway, the American golf-club manufacturer, to produce a new form of carbon fiber. Lamborghini President and CEO Stephan Winkelmann and George Fellows, President and CEO, Callaway Golf, inked the deal right on the Lamborghini stage in front of the assembled media.
Afterward, we spoke with Tim Buckman, senior director of global communications for California-based Callaway as well as Alan Hocknell, an expatriate Brit who is Callaway’s senior vice president of R&D, about their collaboration with Lamborghini. Why Lamborghini? I asked. Was this just because you wanted an excuse to drive hot Italian exotics? Hocknell chuckled and then explained:
“Our goal in developing forged composite was to be able to retain the strength, lightness, and low density of traditional carbon fiber, enhance that, but also have a more precise forming process so we can form shapes that the precise amount of strength and weight in the areas that we need it, and not the areas where we don’t.
“When you start with a laminate carbon fiber material, it starts out as a flat sheet, and it doesn’t really like to bend into a three-dimensional form, so forming complex shapes is actually quite difficult; and this is actually the same issue that the folks at Lamborghini have in making the structural elements of a car: they are complex three-dimensional shapes, and they want to form those very precisely for the same reasons of having strength and weight where they need it and not where they don’t. The opportunity is compatible.
“We had to learn about the material before we could apply it to any product. It was our efforts to characterize the material; to understand how it behaves in the forging process; to understand what its strengths were. If the fibers were all randomly arranged, could we rely on that random arrangement to be strong in all directions all the time? Questions like that. We used some lab facilities at the University of Washington in Seattle and the folks from Lamborghini were interested in using the same lab facilities to do some similar work. It was at that point that our paths crossed.
“The guys at Lamborghini realized that we had been working in that area for maybe about four years now, so we had already gathered some experience in how the material behaves in different forming process parameters….that knowledge we brought to them, and
“We have a driver product that launches within the next month. The crown, top surface, this entire top piece of the driver is made of the new forged composite material, which makes it substantially lighter. We can do a number of things: we can take weight out of the overall head, which allows us to make the club longer, so people swing with higher head speed, which translates to more ball speed, more distance. But we only really want to do that if we can retain all the other performance properties of the head, even if we make the head lighter. So we are improving the power-to-weight ratio in the head by using this material.
“The driver is called the Diablo Octane Black and will cost $299 in the U.S. It’s quite accessible, bringing multi-material technology into a price that people normally associate with single material, like titanium.
“This is effectively an omnidirectional material. The randomness of the fibers is something we’ve had to look at statistically to ensure that when they’re allowed to flow randomly in the matrix to this location….in the case of the driver, you’re looking right through the paint at the material: every one of these drivers is going to be unique; it’s going to have a different random arrangement of fibers from the next one; visually they will be subtly different. It’s like technology meets art. We’ve done the homework on understanding the strength distribution; that it can be random, yet strong in all directions.
“It’s significantly better than laminate carbon fiber. The investment is slightly different in that the tooling required to form these precise final shapes is more expensive, but the cycle time is lower, so you need fewer replicates of the same tool. So, overall, the economies are there potentially. We’re still at the beginning of that journey.”