Ahead of the Game

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Ahead of the Game

By Alliston Ackerman - 10/01/2006

The roots of Ping can be traced back to the summer of 1959 when G.E. Mechanical Engineer Karsten Solheim, fed up with his putting game, set out to create a better golf club. After spending countless hours tinkering in his garage, the Norwegian-born pioneer combined his passion for engineering with his passion for golf to invent the world's first heel-toe balanced, perimeter-weighted putter.

Solheim's passion for making things better laid the groundwork for a company he came to call Ping, a name derived from the sound of the putter hitting a ball. Today, Ping is among the most respected producers of quality golfing products, used by PGA, LPGA and amateur champions everywhere. As a privately-held, family-managed manufacturing firm headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, Ping is best known in golfing circles for pioneering the concept of custom-fitted golf clubs.

Stiff Competition

When you're up against global competitors like Nike, Callaway and Titleist, you need to the ability to respond to market changes and customer requirements with breakneck speed. But up until five years ago, Ping did not have an effective product development process in place to do so.

"We were able to bring one or two major projects to market each year," says Dan Shoenhair, director of engineering at Ping. "We would have a good year and then a couple of lean years while we were still working on the next product, and then a good year and then another couple of lean years."

In order to bring products to market more quickly, Ping needed to implement new ideas faster and have a more robust flow of ideas into the marketplace. But bringing products to market faster means little for your competitive advantage if you don't deliver competitive quality as well.

Ping's ultimate goal is to have every club in the golfer's bag customized to fit his exact personal specifications. To achieve this goal, it means Ping must design and create a staggering number of clubs. For example, a recent new family of putters was designed to fit a player's club weight and cosmetic preferences by creating 36 different configurations -- for just one putter model. Every club must be created in dozens of different variations to provide a custom fit for any Ping customer. The number of variants, iterations, prototypes, tests, modifications, rework and redesign is staggering.

A Custom Fit

In order to consistently deliver innovative, high-performance, customized golf clubs and accessories that not only raise the standard, but enable golfers to improve their game, Ping spent five years fine tuning its product development process. The key to managing so many variants and iterations came in 2001, when Ping installed PTC Pro/ENGINEER to enable designers to create better products; empower team members to easily collaborate on product development projects; and enable project managers to control all digital data throughout each stage of the product development process. Ping relies on Pro/ENGINEER to deliver the depth of 3D modeling technology, precise geometry and model visualization that designers and engineers need to create high-quality, high-performance designs.

Incorporating Pro/ENGINEER into the product development structure has resulted in significant time savings at Ping. In fact, Shoenhair estimates that efficiency has improved an astonishing 2,400 percent since rolling out Pro/ENGINEER.

"What it took three people to do in three months now takes one person to do in one month," says Shoenhair. Efficiency gains free time for designers to experiment more freely, which leads to performance improvements in Ping's customized equipment.

To ensure fast and easy data access, Ping also implemented Windchill ProjectLink, a comprehensive project management tool that enables the team to generate input into the design. Team members not only have access to digital model files created in Pro/ENGINEER, they also have access to other data files regarding design criteria, product marketing plans and forecasting. In addition, Ping relies on Windchill PDMLink to provide a repository or data warehouse. It also controls the workflows for the review, approval and engineering change processes.

Real Results

With PTC Pro/ENGINEER, Windchill ProjectLink and Windchill PDM Link, Ping is meeting important business objectives, most notably increased product performance, reduced cycle times and faster time-to-market with new product introductions. Here's a sampling the company's enhanced capabilities:
Increase in the number of products taken to market in a year from between two and three in 2001 to between 12 and 14 in 2005
Reduction of time-to-market from 24 months or more to nine months or less
Three to nine-fold increase in design productivity

"Over the course of five years we took ourselves from a situation where we couldn't bring enough new products to the market to the point where we can bring as much product to the market as dictated, and we can do it in a much shorter period of time," says Shoenhair. "Had we not been able to do that, we'd have this feast or famine arrangement, so this has really brought a lot of stability and growth potential to our organization."