First phase of automation nearly complete. Speeds up this part of the process by a factor of three. Gives a very closely toleranced weight and therefore speed. There is some variation in weight due to the extra processes involved in the Flight assembly but most of the variation comes from the cork bases and this part of the automated line resolves this.
Anyone involved in volume manufacture knows the old adage ‘if it aint broke don't fix it’; because any slight change in a process seems inevitably to cause an unforeseen problem, and problems in volume manufacture means expensive junk or loss of reputation. We have certainly had both of these trying to develop processes and increase output but it is essential to move forward.
One of the dilemmas has been ensuring the durability of the flight section of Bird2. This is the most vulnerable part and is the thinnest and most difficult to produce. In theory the patented principle of dividing the flight into two sections makes an easier moulding with a faster cycle but there has been years of tool changes and trials to get this right. Once in production the problem has been the level of inspection necessary to ensure quality. Perfectly good looking mouldings moulded under set conditions can still be brittle, sometimes only apparent after several days by which time the product is out there. Tests that should indicate durability have proved unreliable and destruction tests obviously can only be performed on a small sample of mouldings which statistically should work but in practise are problematic.
Luckily we have managed, through speeding up one of our in-line processes, to monitor the eventual strength of the flight moulding in a simple way. This means that we now have immediate 100% inspection integrated into the moulding process at no extra cost which means I can sleep soundly for the first time in two years.
Thermoplastic nylon used in shuttlecocks is hydroscopic and the brittleness is affected significantly by changes in air temperature and, in particular, relative humidity (RH). There will have been a very large difference in durability of any kind of shuttlecock, including feathers, from December to January. December is often wet and this year broke all records, with RH values of above 60% at room temperature consistently. Recently with an anticyclonic weather system prevailing, as is common in January, the RH has been about 35%. At this level of minimal saturation, any kind of shuttle will last less than half the time than it would in average conditions. The only way to be sure of comparative durability of different products is to store them together and trial them in parallel.
However, a suggestion to improve was to steam or mist shuttles, but this can affect them in a number of ways. It could affect the crystalline structure of the plastic making it more brittle or less resilient which affects the feel and also can affect the glue. There is little one can do as the very thin sections which are vulnerable absorb or lose moisture to the atmosphere very quickly. Keep them in the tube with the lid on as long as possible; they leave the factory in ideal condition. Try not to store shuttles where they will see extremes of temperature or humidity, high or low.
Finance is holding us back at the moment. Sales are increasing as planned but the business plan required an injection of cash at this point to automate the assembly line and develop multi-impression mould tooling. Our bank took a long time to agree to a loan but then only half of what was needed and I had to guarantee that personally. Once we have a year’s accounts and further proof of escalating sales this should not be a problem, but in the mean time, with the existing equipment we cannot get any organic growth to scale the business. We have introduced a few new processes to improve the product in a number of ways and this is showing in the consistency and durability of Bird2 but has pushed up costs in the short term. We have struggled to keep the price down, covering costs only in production and not factoring in advertising and marketing costs. This has squeezed the distributor and retailer’s margins still further and caused them now to raise prices. They are obviously confident in the qualities of Bird2 to warrant this increase. The original market research suggested than people would not pay good feather prices for a synthetic product. However now people have got used to the unique qualities of Bird2 they can see the justification for the premium price. Nylon shuttles have always been seen as a cheap down market product. Bird2 is nothing of the kind. It involves four completely new processes and purpose made machinery developed over 8 years and has qualities that make it an all around better product than standard nylons and superior in most respects to feathers. The extra cost to a nylon user over an evening’s play is negligible compared with the improvement in control they get from Bird2. The cost to feather users is still only 10-20% the cost of using goose feathers so isn’t an issue. With present forecast of increasing sales we will get the finance we need on our terms sometime in the new year and will then get on track with scaling the business which will allow us to bring back the prices a bit towards the end of the year.
Goode Sport have posted a video explaining some of the Bird2 features with an introductory offer for a tube of Bird2 shuttles: http://goode-sport.co.uk/buy/bird-2-composite-trial-pack/
We have had lots of good feedback from early sales. The most common comments refer to the much more feather like feel and performance. Players appreciate the extra precision and control on all shots, notably around the net where one has to work a bit harder than with a regular nylon shuttle as Bird2 doesn't ping off the racket so easily. Some nylon users take a while to get used to this but feather users appreciate the extra control which allows them to keep the net shots tight. Most people are getting about 4 games before small splits occur in the top of the flight, however they remain usable as this has little affect on performance. We feel this level of durability is about right; we can improve durability further at the expense of a little bit of control around the net but we will probably introduce another product to the range for general use which will be more durable.
It has taken 3 months to fine tune the new mould tools in order to get the process capability right and get a shuttlecock with the playability and durability we were looking for. The result is exciting; lighter and more consistent, giving more stability on net shots and better all around durability. We have identified eight different process factors which affect the impact and flex resistance of the flight mouldings and now we are confident to scale up production for high volume. For retail sales go to www.centralsports.co.uk who will be relaunching the new Bird2, and talk to Nick Goode at www.goode-sport.co.uk for wholesale and overseas distribution.
The new mould tools are due to be resampled this week (4 Sept ’14). Difficult to see on the pictures @ https://twitter.com/BirdDesignLtd 18 Aug, but there are a number of detail changes which improve the processing and the on-court performance. Whilst the radical two-piece design enables the unique support ring to be added inside the skirt, the success of the Bird2 design is largely due the attention to detail and optimization of every feature from the tips of the flight to the means of securing the base. In terms of design, this approach means a large number of small, often incremental, changes add up to a large leap forward in performance which is very difficult to emulate.
This ‘Kaizen’ approach to design, processing and quality management runs throughout Bird’s entire business. A concept developed in Japan more than 60 years ago, it has never been fully understood in other countries where the ‘big idea’ or a philosophy of ‘if it ain’t broke don't fix it often prevails. At Bird Design it drives the continuous improvement of existing products and new designs aimed at the standard shuttle market and enhanced, more feather like, products which are due to be launched in 2015.
Hi, I'm the designer of the revolutionary Bird2 shuttlecock. Let's change Badminton for the better, together; all comments and feedback are essential to perfecting our products.