Oct 9, 2014
Author: interview by John Bryja
The construction of kiteboards is a very technical and labor-intenisve process. Taiwan’s Playmaker factory has grown rapidly in the last 35 years, and has become one of the leading manufacturers of boards for the kiteboarding industry. Taiwan’s stable labor costs compared to China’s, and access to cutting-edge materials and technologies has led to Playmaker becoming a dominant force in the construction of kiteboards today. SBC Kiteboard editor John Bryja caught up with Taylor Chen from Playmaker to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the factory evolved, and is how it is able to work with multiple kiteboarding brands.
John Bryja: How did Playmaker first get into the board-building business?
Taylor Chen: Playmaker was founded 35 years ago in 1975. We started the business by building skateboards. In the ’90s, we got into the business of manufacturing inline skates for Rollerblades, where we made millions of pairs. As time went on, we felt that what we had started and flourished was not stable enough; the business went up and down, and it is this fluctuation that got us into the board building business. Mr. Kent Lee, the president of Playmaker, wanted to find something stable and deeply and technologically rooted in Taiwan. In 1993, Mr. Lee started searching and preparing for the new products. We hired European technicians and designers to work with us on skis, snowboards, wakeboards, kiteboards, surfboards and SUPs. We are especially proud of our kitesurf and SUP manufacturing technology because we successfully incorporated compression molding EPS core into the making of kitesurf and SUP boards.
Explain the difference in the construction process between snowboards, wakeboards and kiteboards.
They are similar in some ways but different in others: snowboard—wood core sandwich construction; wakeboard—PU core compression molded / wood core compression molded; kiteboard—wood core compression molded; kitesurf—PU/EPS compression molded.
How many snowboards, wakeboards and kiteboards do you build each year?
Snowboard—21,0000 pieces; wakeboard—70,000 pieces; kiteboard—22,000 pieces.
Are they all built year-round, or is there a specific time of year for each type of board being built?
We are always sampling and are always producing, so all year round.
You work with a number of kiteboard brands; can you tell us who?
Naish, F-One, North, Airush, Takoon, JN etcetera.
Are there a lot of exclusive construction techniques? How are they kept proprietary?
There are always some degrees of exclusivity in construction techniques between the models and the brands. If a certain technology belongs to a certain brand, then we will keep it that way for a very long time. We do not disclose proprietary information of one brand to other brands. For example, we developed a different ABS construction for one of our snowboard brands we work with, and it is well-received by the brand and the consumers. It minimizes delamination in the ABS. This kind of 360-degree ABS technology is only for that brand.
Another material we developed is called RTPU [rigid polyurethane], a revolutionary material purely developed by Playmaker in Taiwan, and we let all the snowboard brands use it. In the snowboard industry, everyone can use it, but in the watersports industry we only allow certain brands to have exclusivity.
What is the difference in the construction process and materials between a price-point construction board and a high-performance board?
For high-end products, you would utilize materials like carbon, honeycomb, sinter base, UV lacquering, etcetera.
Explain the main areas in high-end construction that are different from model to model and brand to brand.
Some brands put a lot of thought and technology into the products. They are all very different and very detail-oriented; what they consider high-end may not be considered the same by another brand. For example, a snowboard brand uses Koroyd plus carbon in one of their items, and the result is its product is 500 g less than boards from another brand. In this industry, every gram counts.
What is the biggest challenge in working with multiple brands?
Every brand or customer has their own different request. Some requests are harder to meet than others, but we always try to come up with ways and the technology to fulfill them. It all comes down to how flexible we are with the ways we manufacture and the ways we work with the customers.
Describe the systems you have in place to keep their trade secrets a secret.
We have been doing international business for 40 years, and we have worked with, and are continuing to work with, many brands. It all comes down to the mutual trust we have for each other, and that’s why we can work with so many different brands in various industries. We do not disclose the secrets of one brand to another brand. We are in this business for long-term, and we plan to keep it that way forever.
How does the board-buying process for brands works?
R&D (eights months to one year), prototyping, sampling, sales samples and production order.
Can they reorder throughout the year? Is there a long lead time for orders?
Yes, they can reorder throughout the year. The lead time is generally three to four months for the first order, and for reordering we try to keep it to one to two months.
How often do the brand managers visit the factory? What do they do during their visits?
It depends on the brands and purpose; some brands come all the time, and some brands don’t need to come at all. Generally, for a brand, they come three to six times a year. Every trip has a different purpose (R&D, molds, prototypes, graphic approval, QC, and talking about future plans).
How much and what type of R&D does Playmaker do? Is there much sharing of construction techniques between the brands?
We are always searching and developing new materials and construction methods. We developed RTPU, and we let everyone use it in the snowboard sector. We developed our own ABS material, and it is open to use by everybody.
What is the biggest challenge for Playmaker?
I would say continuous R&D and supplying customers with high-quality products would be among the top challenges for us on a daily basis. As a company and a factory, trying to balance production between summer product and winter product is a great challenge for us. From February to October is our hot season, and from November to late January is our slow season. In the last few years, we have been eagerly exploring products like wakesurf, kitesurf, surfboard and SUP with different brands from all over the world.
Do you see any big changes in construction techniques for the future?
It’s hard to say, but there is always something new as the product develops. The brand is, and we are, always looking for lighter product, stronger product and more environmentally friendly product. As product matures, someone out there will come up with something, and we will come up with something innovative.