Cutting Tool Engineering
January 2010 / Volume 62 / Issue 1

Personalizing putters

By CTE Staff

Kevin Burns is a visionary. Faced with increased competition for custom golf putters, he decided to go a different, more risky route—one-off putters built to each customer’s specifications. To do this, he’s developing a manufacturing system and software for the individualization of putters and to run his 5-axis machine tool.

Burns is president of Kevin Burns Golf, San Jose, Calif., and his love of golf led him to a job early in his career with a business that repaired golf clubs. He eventually opened his own repair shop. Later, he decided that if he was going to be in business permanently, he wanted to produce custom clubs.

Courtesy of Dura-Mill

Kevin Burns, president of Kevin Burns Golf, uses a device (top) to document the angle he holds a putter at and the required shaft length for his stance. That information will be downloaded to a machining center, where a customized putter head is produced to fit an individual’s specifications.

After he designed his first putter, he had a vendor cast, machine, grind and polish a run of them. Although the putter design was unique, it wasn’t fitted to the golfer.

Feeling he could do a better and cheaper job than his vendor, Burns opened a manufacturing plant, hired a part-time plant manager to help him with the machining and programming and bought a milling machine.

Burns learned from his plant manager how to run machine tools, and his business grew to eight employees and eight Haas machining centers.

“Then my plant manager left, and he left me nothing,” Burns said. “The machining information was all in his head, and much of it was [self-taught]. I had to figure it all out. So I bought Mastercam software to help me with it.”

Burns received a contract from Bridgestone, an Asian company, for his putters. He said: “I was building thousands of them for the Asian market. Before this, I was producing 60 putters per day on two shifts. Then I increased production to about 128 by changing the workholding setups. I used modular tooling for the workholding, allowing me to produce more putter heads. It only took me 2 months to produce 5,000 putters.”

Burns eventually realized that having employees and their constant complaints and problems really wasn’t for him. When he didn’t renew his putter contract with Bridgestone, it was an ideal opportunity to start customizing putter heads.

But first he needed a suitable machine. “I looked at many different machine tools,” Burns said. “I could see that a 4-axis mill could do 90 percent of my putter, whereas 5-axis equipment could produce the entire putter head. Along with using tombstones for my workholding and a pallet changer, I would have the perfect manufacturing system.”

He traded in his used machining centers for a new Mazak Variaxis 5-axis horizontal machining center and laid off his employees. He bought a building and installed the machine with a pallet changer and 12 pallets with tombstones held in a tiered rack.

“There was a pretty steep learning curve for the equipment,” Burns said. “The biggest thing was learning the center of rotation to get the parts to be cut properly. We have a rather special program for this.”

While experimenting with the cutting of his putter head from a 303 stainless steel extruded bar, Burns discovered a unique endmill for roughing. He worked with Mark Jacobson, a tooling salesman at Tool Technology Distributors Inc., Fremont, Calif., who informed Burns about the WhisperKut endmill from Dura-Mill Inc., Malta, N.Y.

“I was able to run extremely fast,” Burns said of the ½ "-dia., 5-flute, solid-carbide tool. “Comparatively, it’s light years ahead of anything else I’ve used, as far as the way it cuts and sounds. I ran about 12 parts with it and the edges of the cutter were still like new. It’s given me about a 30 percent increase in cutter life over what I was using.”

The endmills have an asymmetrically designed variable helix. “Because of their patented design, they don’t chatter,” Burns said. “Any time you get chatter, you can break a tool.”

Burns uses a shallow step-over, a 0.100 " radial DOC and a 1.250 " axial DOC for roughing the part. The feed rate is 100 ipm, or 0.0033 ipt, and the spindle speed is 6,000 rpm to achieve a cutting speed of 786 sfm.

Burns noted that companies that customize putters typically only bend the shaft or add or decrease a putter’s weight. “I wanted to make a putter that was designed for its user, which brings me into mass customization,” he said. “But currently, I’m still 2 years away from doing this.”

To develop a unique putter, Burns developed a kiosk using a computer that will capture the customer’s customization information at retail stores. A patented device will capture the angle a golfer holds a putter at and the required shaft length. This information will automatically be sent to Burns after the purchase. It will be downloaded to the machining center and a custom putter will be produced within 2 weeks.

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