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February 7, 1999

6 Min Read
Golf game not on par?  Don't blame the ball

The Wilson Sporting Goods Co. (Humboldt, TN) is one of the top three large-volume manufacturers of golf balls in the world today. It molds "millions of dozens" of golf balls each year, as they say at the plant. Yet its scrap rate is less than 1 percent. In one week in October, scrap was just .06 percent.

The manufacturing systems at Wilson have a lot to do with it, but the company feels a major contributor to such quality production is its workforce. Employee turnover also is less than 1 percent in Humboldt, and the absentee rate in injection molding averages around .5 percent. It is a friendly, family affair out on the floor, and it is tough to find anyone who has been there for less than 10 years.


Rick Matheny, Jesse Parra, and George Parrish (left to right), like all of management at Wilson Sporting Goods, agree the best way they can ensure quality of game for customers with quality golf balls is by ensuring the workplace quality of life for their associates.

"We all pay personal attention to the materials and machines and to R&D, engineering, management, and everything else, but everyone's part of the same team," explains Rick Matheny, the Humboldt plant engineering manager. "The training has a lot to do with our quality, but we've been fortunate enough to find dedicated, quality-minded people who enjoy doing what they do."

Wilson employs 600 at its 232,000-sq-ft plant, working 24-5 in three shifts. During the February to July peak season, the plant can run up to seven days. Its empowered employees are called "associates," and its department supervisors are "coaches."

The facility opened for business in 1985 and has had five expansions since then. Every Wilson golf ball sold anywhere in the world comes out of here. They do it all, art-to-part and start to finish, including shipping and distribution. There is even a test-flight range a couple of minutes down the road where they can combine R&D with a little R&R.

Quality Training
Jesse Parra, the molding production coach and a 15-year Wilson vet, says his associates are shut-down empowered if they spot a quality problem. Formerly a press operator himself, Parra authored the plant's setup manual. Safety is the primary course taught, and housekeeping is factored in as a safety aspect. Technical training activities are supported with Paulson's interactive CD-ROM programs.

Matheny gives special kudos to the plant's maintenance and setup teams. For example, though some of Wilson's injection molding machines are 1970s-vintage presses, total machine uptime is 98 percent plus. The maintenance team runs 60 associates strong, and they put in four shifts, Thursday through Monday.


Wilson's latest Newburys are configured so one operator can handle two machines at a time, loading rubber cores, unloading molded golf balls, and placing them in a trimming station between the two presses.

Maintenance coaches and associates use walkie-talkies to keep in close contact as they move around the huge plant. Their intensive PM programs are supported by Main Saver PM software.

Setup teams have eight associates per shift, making sure scheduled changes run smoothly when switching over to different ball type and dimple pattern runs. James Thomas, a production coach and a 17-year Wilson vet, says his rubber core manufacturing department works three shifts ahead of injection molding.

Thomas adds that the air-conditioning for the entire plant was put in as much for the people as for the machines: "We listen to our associates here, and we act on what they think is important." Management at Wilson cares about the quality of life for its working family because it has learned such care follows through into quality products. So don't blame Wilson's golf balls when you have trouble on the course. And don't blame the people who make them, either . . . not that you'll ever have to.

Wilson runs vertical-clamp/horizontal-injection molding machines, all 150 tons and all Newburys from Van Dorn Demag. They have never run anything else. Barber-Colman Maco 4000 controls are another company standard. First-stage injection is closed loop.

The molding areas are well lit by bright Mercury lights. They make it easy to spot any cosmetic defects on white golf balls. Quality checks are performed during each phase of the production process, and SPC is fully computer-integrated.

The molding machines are mostly standard-model Newburys with standard features like fixed-volume proportional Bosch hydraulics. Its newest machines are covered by VDD's new three-year leak-free guarantee. All of Wilson's programming, plumbing, and layout is custom.

It also uses screws and barrels from Canterbury and Westland with Xaloy corrosion-resistant bimetallics. The screws and barrels are shipped directly to VDD for assembly. They are designed to fit right into the Newburys' thrust bearings.

Fast Cycles
Wilson's 14 newest Newburys are Mono-Toggles. The others have double-toggle clamping. All are single-station machines with no rotary or shuttle tables. Goodyear polybutadiene rubber cores manufactured in another area of the plant are insert molded inside shells of DuPont Surlyn ionomer. Wilson sources believe they run at the fastest cycle in the industry. Most others run anywhere between 45- to 60-second cycles. Wilson runs well under 45.

Harder grades of Surlyn for high-distance balls are run even faster in a top-secret, fully-automated area of the plant. Operators had difficulty keeping pace with the machine cycles, so Wilson equipped its Newburys with Automated Assemblies servorobots. Loading and unloading is done manually in the rest of the plant.


Brenda Adams, a quality technician and a 10-year Wilson vet, performs final quality testing to make sure Wilson's golf balls meet the company's exacting requirements before they are shipped.

Wilson has about 50 active, cold-runner, eight-cavity molds. They are manufactured by its wholly-owned moldmaker, Hye-Precision Products of Perry, GA. D-M-E #7 mold steel is used. Cores and cavities are in stainless steel. After every 30 days, each mold is cleaned and run through PM. Some of Wilson's tools, like many of its associates, have been running for more than 10 years.

Environmental QC
Golf balls are molded with true and false gates. The false gates ensure proper seating in the company's buffing machines. Until 1992, such buffing was accomplished manually. Then the associates had things automated to proactively prevent repetitive stress syndrome problems.

All molding material is in sealed gaylords. The molding room temperature and humidity is so tightly controlled that there's no need to dry the Surlyn. The controlled atmosphere also helps to prevent mold sweat. Surlyn can compound corrosion problems, but Wilson's processes are engineered for short residence time to minimize material degradation.

Wilson's material transports, gravimetric blenders, loaders, and granulators are almost exclusively from Conair. Wilson recycles all its runners and rubber cores. The company has found regrind improves the durability of its golf balls even though a little extra whitening concentrate has to be added into the mix. Why give golfers another excuse?

Contact Information
Wilson Sporting Goods Co.
Humboldt, TN
Phone: (901) 784-5335
Fax: (901) 784-5338
Website: www.wilsonsports.com

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