Chris Hilleary Interview: Aerotech Shafts

There are times when you find something different as a clubmaker that really lives up to the marketing hype. I decided to go and find some of the guys responsible for real changes in designs of clubs and shafts.

Q: Chris what is your background? Have you always been a shaft designer?

A: My background includes a BS in Manufacturing Engineering Technology (MET) and I have worked previously in the Ski and Windsurf industries before starting with Aerotech in January 1997.

Q: I ran across these shafts middle of last year while I was in the USA and all the clubmakers were just raving about them. What makes them so different?

A: The SteelFiber shaft is very unique, it's constructed with a graphite core and a steel fibre surface layer (Fig 1) giving it the control and consistency of a steel shaft yet it has the lighter weights and the vibration dampening characteristics of a graphite shaft. It is also visual technology as you can see the steel fibre on the surface of the shaft, which makes it easier for the clubfitter to show their customer what sets this shaft apart from the rest.

Q: Have you had any success getting these shafts into competition golfing hands and why do you think those golfers even looked at your technology (Fig 2) as opposed to the myriad of other shafts out there?

A: We are having good success on Tour and continue to build momentum out there. We have really separated ourselves from the other shaft manufactures because this technology is so unique.

Q: Do you see your shafts as a half way house between graphites and steels or as totally new ground?

A: This technology is not a compromise between the Steel and Graphite and therefore I wouldn't call it a half way house. Steel shafts tend to have better control and consistency while graphite shafts are lighter weight and have vibration-dampening characteristics. The SteelFiber shaft incorporates the best of both worlds by combining these performance benefits in one shaft (Fig 3).

Q: The product line seems pretty comprehensive with many golfers swing speeds and strengths being catered for. When starting up a line of shafts what decision making processes do you go through?

A: This product was foremost designed with the goal of getting the performance of steel and graphite in one shaft. After we successfully designed the first shaft we then create several models with varying flexural profiles to accommodate each player category.

Q: A shaft is a long pipe. How do you manufacture your shafts to produce different launch angles and so ball flight choices?

A: When designing a golf shaft you vary the angle of the fibre within the structure to achieve different flexural properties. When fibre is run straight down the shaft it gives the shaft its longitudinal (bending) stiffness and fibre run at 45-degree angles to the longitudinal axis give the shaft its torsional stiffness.

By changing the shafts stiffness (torsional and longitudinal) along its length and its weight and balance point you get different playing characteristics. Shafts that are heavier and are stiffer in the tip section tend to produce lower more boring ball flight, while shafts that are lighter and have softer tip sections will allow the slower swing speed players to get the ball in the air easier and maximize distance. We design several shaft models to accommodate different types of players so everyone can benefit from the SteelFiber technology.

Q: Spinning is very popular at the moment. How do your shafts stack up in terms of having a spine to find?

A: Our shafts are produced using a proprietary winding process (Fig 5), which applies a continuous tow (thread) of graphite fibre (and steel) back and forth onto a spinning mandrel. This produces a seamless golf shaft, which exhibits more uniform bending characteristics than almost all other shafts on the market. This uniform bending allows the golfer to deliver the head to the ball more consistently swing after swing. While spinning is more beneficial in traditional sheet wrapped shafts any shaft can be spun, as it is impossible to produce a perfectly symmetrical shaft.

Q: We all know that there is always a golfing nut holding onto a golf club. Some have a traditional type of swing and others have the hitters look like a Trevino or a Palmer. How do you consider the way those two types of motions load the club and so which shafts would be more suited to a swinger or hitter?

A: To me a swinger is someone who loads the shaft up more smoothly where a hitter tends to load the shaft more abruptly. Therefore, swingers can get away with a softer shaft and take advantage of the loading and unloading to feel the timing of the swing and get more out of the shaft. Because hitters load the shaft more abruptly they require a stiffer shaft, both torsionally and longitudinally, and have to relay on sheer strength to generate club head speed.

Q: Have any OEMs found their way to your door?

A: Aerotech started producing shafts 11 years ago and was strictly an OEM supplier until about three years ago when we launched our own branded shafts. We have supplied such OEMs as Cleveland Golf, Adams Golf, Fenwick, Lynx, Zevo, Jazz Golf and Pure Spin to name just a few. We supply or have supplied these companies with standard shaft offerings without the Aerotech graphics.

Our SteelFiber shaft (Fig 6) is currently offered as a custom offering at Cleveland, Adams Golf and Nicklaus Golf with other OEMs soon to jump on board.

Q: Any glimpses of new materials coming into your product lines to improve what is already an interesting technological effort?

A: I could tell you but I'd have to kill you. We continue to work with new materials and flexural profiles as well as improving process technology to enhance shaft performance and we have new shaft designs coming soon. Unfortunately, I cannot say anymore than that at this time.

We will also continue to grow the SteelFiber family as we see this technology as being a new category of shafts. There is Steel, Graphite and now SteelFiber as options for every golfer.

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