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Board Factory Tour

Jan 12, 2009

Author: Mark Shinn

No one can deny that snowboard manufacturing techniques have revolutionized kiteboard technology. 90% of the twin tips on the market now feature ABS sidewalls. The benefits in weight, riding comfort, strength and durability are legendary. Lets take a look at the board building process at the Nobile factory with Mark Shinn.

Nobile currently make boards for a number of leading kiteboarding brands. Nobile is one of the largest snowboard manufacturers in the world making in excess of 500 boards a day and was one of the first companies to become involved in transferring that technology into kiteboards.
    One of the big advantages of this construction technology is the specific control available over the flex in the boards. There is a lot of talk about flex by which people are really talking about generally “soft” boards. The purpose of using these specific manufacturing techniques (core build up, laminate control and 3-D moulding) is to take control of the flex in a precise and replicable way, not only in the overall amount of flex but also the speed of response, reduction of vibrations and across different zones in the board.

Wood Cutting
This is the first stage of production. The three main core materials used are wood, airex (high density PVC foam) and more recently Honeycomb (also known as Nomex). These materials can be used either on their own or in conjunction with each other to produce a composite core. The wood is prepared into large blocks with the grain direction carefully placed before it is delivered to the factory. Before anything else can be done with it though it has to be cut into board sized pieces. (Small note for the environmentally conscious….the off cuts and the shavings from this process are taken to an incinerator and burnt to  heat the factory and provide hot water water.)

Core Preperation

Once the wood is cut to the right thickness the process of preparing the core can begin. The materials are cut by CNC and all the pieces arranged like a jigsaw to achieve the desired build up of the core. This is a crucial area of the boards design process, all the different core materials have different properties and strengths but of course all have their weaknesses as well. Varying the materials in the core is one of the key ways to alter the flex characteristics of the board and thus it’s performance.
    The CNC also cuts the holes so that then inserts can be placed into the board before it is laminated. By inserting the inserts from the underside of the board you literally have to pull the deck of the board off to pull them out.  Once all the pieces of the core are assembled they are held together with special tape and staples and the core is ready for laminating..

Before the board can be laminated and put into the press, the graphics are prepared and printed. The graphics are printed onto the reverse side of a transparent Duraclear foil. Printing the foils is a time consuming business, as each colour needs time to dry before the next one can be added. The more colours the longer the process takes. Once the screen-printing is finished everything is ready for the board to go to the press.

Laminating and pressing.

The exact lay up of glass cloth in the board is another one of the factors that affects flex, strength and weight. The specifications for the board are established during the prototyping phase and are often different for every board size and type.
The cloth is laid out and laminated away from the core. When both sides of the boards cloth are properly wetted out everything is in place for loading into the mould.
    The mould is the last of the three factors that controls the flex in the board. There are two types of mould available in this construction process….CAP and 3-D.
A CAP mould is essentially two flat plates of Aluminum that are pressed together. In this mould type the ABS sidewall is normally profiled (thicker in the centre and thinner towards the ends) in order to provide more flex control.
    The other type of mould is 3-D. In this case the deck (or hull if you want shaping in the base of the board like channels or concaves) of the board has a series of steps and cuts into it. A 3-D mould provides many more options to control the flex throughout the board but requires significantly longer to build and is more costly.
    Both mould types are made from the highest grade of Aluminum available. During the pressing process around 90 tones of pressure will be applied to it and it will be heated to over 80 degrees Celsius so anything but the highest grade mold material will distort.
    The mould is cleaned, prepared and lain open. First in goes the Duraclear top sheet with the graphics. Next comes the laminated cloth and then finally the pre assembled core. When all is set in the right place the mould is closed and placed into the press.
    The rocker table for the board is already loaded into the press so that when the pressure is applied the board is formed onto the rocker permanently taking it’s shape. The press takes around 15 to 20 minutes and then the board is removed. All the excess resin and foil has been pushed out the sides and is still attached leaving the board roughly rectangular in shape and with very rough edges.

Cleaning and grinding.

The pressed boards are then taken back to the CNC machine. The machine cuts all the excess material from around the board and opens up the fin screw holes. At this point the board starts to look like the finished product. The edges have to be ground down to give a smooth finish (the machine does not cut a perfectly clean edge) and the inserts have to be opened up (they are already in the board but are still covered by a thin layer of laminate and Duraclear top sheet. Once this has been done the boards can be washed to ensure they are clean. At this point the final Quality Control check is also made making sure every board is as close to perfect as possible and is ready for packing to it’s final destination.

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