FRANCOIS MORDASINI, FOUNDER OF NTPT “I have an image of a visionary in the composite market, but I also managed to realize what I envisioned”
Can you tell us the story of the creation of NTPT?
The story begins among friends who sailed together on Lake Geneva. Edouard Kessi and Gerard Gautier, founders of CREATEX, invented Thin Ply Technology. They were working on a new sailmaking-technology, introducing a radical change: a sail made with Thin Ply Technology with a wing shape under pressure while being foldable, they solved an impossible equation!
How did you become involved in this venture?
I have been integrated to Createx to finance and find a commercial avenue for this great invention.
How did the collaboration with the America Cup team Alinghi began?
I knew that a patent (a concept) is almost impossible to put a value on so we decided to make a prototype sail and to show it to Ernesto Bertarelli (Team Alinghi owner). Some time later, while on a pontoon boat after a regatta, we handed the prototype sail to Ernesto Bertarelli, He was immediately amazed by this sail which was 40% lighter than usual. He immediately thought of using it for the America’s Cup, which would take place three years later. We got to work, but it was an almost unreasonable reaction on his part to anticipate such an event with such a new technology. He took a serious risk.
This led to our encounter with North Sails, the world leader in boat sails, as much of the team came from there. We then approached them to work together on the development of this technology and create a contract between us.
Despite everyone’s doubts, we progressed quickly and eventually Team Alinghi won the trophy.
How did the collaboration with North Sails evolve?
By the end of 2008 we had accomplished the industrialization of the new process at North Sails and Gerard and I decided to keep the company’s employees and diversify into rigid materials, including skis, snowboards, boat masts, and even material for the construction of the Solar Impulse plane. A significant project for us.
North Sails was very intrigued by our improvements on boat masts. Since they also manufactured them, we formed a joint venture: North Marine Group and Createx. We thus became North Thin Ply Technology or NTPT for short.
This laid the foundation for our company with patents, processes, machines, and knowledge of very high-quality carbon composites.
How did NTPT develop, and what were the preferred areas of activity?
We were approached constantly and were involved in many projects worldwide: anything and everything that could use carbon.
And then, finally, we returned to what we knew how to do and focused on a few chosen areas, including watchmaking with Richard Mille, Formula 1 leader teams, as well as electric planes and drones. And then, I explored the market more broadly: what were the biggest markets for carbon fibers and thin plies? Almost unanimously, people around me came back with two sectors: fishing rods and golf.
How did you ultimately choose golf?
I went to China with my small suitcase to study these two markets and see the manufacturing processes. In conclusion, assembling the fishing rod requires so much labor, particularly in attaching all the rings to the rod, that it is almost impossible to do it outside of low labour rate countries. However, the golf shaft looked promising as the better opportunity.
Finally, having a deep passion for pushing the boundaries of technology, we found the perfect canvas in the field of golf shafts. Today, no other carbon tube surpasses the level of advancement achieved by a golf shaft. It stands as the most meticulously scrutinized tube globally, surpassing even on some aspects the tubes developed for aerospace or Formula 1 applications. Furthermore, the subtleties of golf shafts extend beyond technical specifications because they also depend on the subjective aspect of feel.
The main challenge was to automate and eliminate most of the manual work to make a product from start to finish. It’s a simple object at its core: 80 grams of carbon around a mandrel. At NTPT, we weren’t used to working on a finished product, let alone in a sector that didn’t know of us. So, we created TPT Golf.
What was the biggest challenge for TPT, and how did you overcome these obstacles?
The biggest challenge we had was to keep the golf department in investment mode for six years, with significant process challenges to overcome, all while believing in it. Defending the fact that such a technological break-through would need time to take its market share I was convinced that TPT shafts was the biggest need for the golf industry. Time has been the octal in everything from the beginning. I had to sell a dream to open doors and buy time to get to the final product. I have an image of a visionary in the composite market, but I also managed to realize what I envisioned.
Today, our process automation and the homogeneity of our material has allowed us to create truly unique products. I never wavered from the belief that we could accomplish our goals.
How did you address the specific needs of golfers?
The golf shaft is the most advanced composite tube on earth. Golfers are so sensitive to their needs, they know so well what they need, and their needs are so well defined and measured by current technology. They know exactly what they want.
Another challenge for me: everybody claims to be a specialist in the golf world, but they don’t all come from the same background. They all tell you their stories. It was necessary to translate everything from all of those sources and focus on the key aspects to get to the TPT shaft. When people ask me, “But you don’t play golf? It’s not possible, you must feel things,” I tell them that the worst would be if I started playing golf and began to have certainties about the needs. I prefer to listen to people, understand what is true, what is false, what is marketing, what is a real need, and analyze the information. I then translate this into a comprehensive technical composite matrix. I also want to get closer to perfection by using a NO SPINE and hyper-pure process in our manufacturing.
We assembled a team of professionals, like Jon Sinclair, someone with a vision who understands our language. Looking back, it was completely crazy to want to attack the golf market from Switzerland, without knowing golf but it’s a source of pride for me today.
What has been the feedback on TPT products in the professional golf world?
Very quickly, we had players try the shafts who quickly felt the difference. The first professional player to try was Mike Weir, thanks to Jean-Jacques Rivet, who pushed us a lot during in the creation of our shafts. For the record, this shaft was the 17th shaft we ever made on a mandrel. I was on the phone listening to the sound of the balls and waiting for his feedback. He found the product incredible. That’s why our shafts have numbers; this one became the 17. Shortly after, I went to the PGA Show and David Leadbetter suggested to Lydia Ko that she should try the shaft. She burst into laughter after trying it and asked me if she was allowed to play with a shaft like that on Tour. It was her 18th birthday, so that shaft became the 18.
NTPT currently has 18 people in our headquarters and R&D center in Switzerland, 50 people in our production facility located in Poland and 10 people internationally.