How We Went from Making Golf Balls to Making PPE

Titleist Ball Plant 3Titleist Ball Plant 3 in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

For more than eight decades, the Acushnet Company has been designing and manufacturing golf balls in its facilities in the Greater New Bedford area.

Over such a long period of time, serious challenges and interruptions are inevitable. Yet through wars and hurricanes, depressions and recessions – and now the COVID-19 pandemic – the people of Acushnet Company have continued to face each obstacle with energy and resourcefulness.

As far back as the 1930’s and 1940’s, Acushnet associates designed and produced innovative gas and oxygen masks for soldiers at war, while also banding together to rebuild most of our manufacturing operations after the 1938 hurricane put the first floor of the golf ball plant under eight feet of salt water. 

The current pandemic has illustrated once again the resiliency and compassion of our associates in times of need. Here are just a few of those stories… 

“How can we quickly produce medical supplies for front line workers utilizing resources readily available to us?”

That was the question posed in early March by Bill Frye, Senior Vice President, Titleist Golf Ball Operations, to all the technical groups under his management. The challenge was answered by the Advanced Engineering Department, led by Kevin Carando, Senior Director, Titleist Golf Ball Engineering and Technology.

Ian Coberly, a Sr. Associate Mechanical Engineer, already had been developing the use of 3D Printing for component prototyping, and immediately started searching for readily available prints for face shields and suitable materials to be used for this part.

 Ian Coberly, Sr. Associate Mechanical Engineer for Titleist, 3D prints face shields for frontline workers.

“Once the ear relief straps started to become a need to Health Care providers, Ian took the initiative to research different strap designs available and tried two different options,” Carando said. “He handled all aspects of implementing and optimizing the 3D printing process to maximize ear relief straps printed per session.” 

The 3D printing of the face shield holder and the ear relief strap are taking place in the Advanced Engineering Department located at Titleist Ball Plant 3 in New Bedford. To date, over 250 face shields and 300 ear relief straps have been printed, assembled and donated to Brockton Hospital, Mass General Hospital, Warren Center (Skilled Nursing Rehabilitation Center), Mattapoisett Police and EMS, and UMass-Dartmouth.

“Being able to leverage the technology of 3D printing for certain applications has been something I have been working on since the printer was brought into the group,” said Coberly. “As days turned into weeks, the need for alternative methods of producing PPE became very real. As an associate that has family members in the health care industry I am thankful that Acushnet Company has been able to help out healthcare providers in these trying times.”

Continuing to Aid Frontline Workers

As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic spread, Dr. Brian Comeau, Director of Materials Research for Titleist and his team went to work trying to determine how they could best help frontline health workers and first responders.

Comeau believed they could formulate elastic strap material from a similar thermoplastic urethane formulation (TPU) used in the development of golf ball covers. By screening materials already on hand in the lab, the team quickly identified an ESTANE® TPU material from Lubrizol Engineered Polymers that would work. Lubrizol graciously donated material to support the cause.

“I knew the material could be helpful in making PPE,” said Comeau. “It does not contain any latex or natural rubber, which is not desired by medical workers for skin contact. It was also ideal because we could make the elastic strap in a wide variety of widths and thicknesses, and as flat tape or round cord.”

Developing their own formulation, Comeau’s team re-engineered a lab extruder to produce elastic strap instead of plastic pellets and generated over 15,000 feet of ¾” face shield strap. The strap has been donated to O’Sullivan Films in Winchester, Virginia, and is being used in conjunction with their Press Polish product to produce face shields for the COVID-19 cause. The face shields are being donated to first responders and healthcare organizations in need of PPE. The R&D team is still actively looking for additional outlets for their elastic strap material.

“This is another of example of Acushnet associates stepping up and trying to figure out ways they can help during this time of need,” said Mike Sullivan, Senior Vice President, Golf Ball R&D. “We appreciate the effort and initiative by Brian and his team, and we are working across the company on additional opportunities to help the cause.”

 Dr. Brian Comeau is Director, Materials Research, Titleist Golf Ball Research and Development, based in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

Community Based Initiatives 

Acushnet Company is continually focused on supporting the communities in which its associates live and work across the globe. At the outset of the outbreak, Acushnet implemented multiple initiatives, including the donation of more than 100,000 masks, as well as other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies such as coveralls, lab coats, gloves, socks and face shields, to local hospitals and those in need.

Among the facilities receiving donations of masks were Southcoast Health and Lahey Health.

“Southcoast Health is most appreciative,” said its Chief Operating Officer, Renee Clark. “Acushnet helped meet one of our urgent needs and that was to obtain additional surgical masks.”

The sentiment was echoed by Steven Pekock, Lahey’s Director of Philanthropic Initiatives: “One of the amazing things to see during challenging times is how neighbors find unexpected ways to make a difference. We have always appreciated our relationship with Acushnet Golf. Now we are grateful that you are standing with us in an hour of community need.”

 Nurses at Brockton Hosptial in Brockton, Massachusetts utilizing face shields made by Titleist.