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Sunday, May 19, 2013
Reshaping the Surfboard Business
by Linda Dela Cruz
What happens when you go on vacation to surf in Australia and some folks ask if you can help create something thats better than whats already out there? If you are Jimmy Freese, you end up combining your computer programming skills with your passion for surfing to create a full-fledged business of your own.
That fateful day during a surf vacation was in 2001, and three years later Aku Shaper machines were born. The Aku Shaper is a machine that shapes surf-boards in an efficient manner so theres more time spent out on the ocean in the waves than in shaping the board.
Or you could use the time to shape more boards and make more money, explains Freese.
His Aku Shaper machines have been selling since 2004, and they are in places such as Japan, England, Peru, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, California, North Carolina and Hawaii.
Everyone likes the cutter concept, and they get really excited, says Freese, noting that almost all of his surfboards were made with the cutter. It uses a circle cutter the size of a dinner plate and about 12 millimeters thick. And the machine spins in both directions.
Once the machine is done with the board, putting on the finishing touches is all that is left. The companys YouTube video shows that a board can be cut in about 18 minutes.
Jimmy Freese is changing surfing one gigabyte at a time.
Freese says one of the challenges is getting the word out about what the machine can do. Some ways have included word of mouth, attending trade shows and getting publicity, such as the Aku Shapers recent feature in the February 2009 edition of Surfer Magazine.
Surfing is a small industry, so you kind of know everyone, says Freese, a Kailua resident and Punahou graduate who has been surfing since he was a child.
Once shapers understand that you can make more boards in a shorter amount of time, theyre interested.
The Aku Shaper business is a three-way partnership that uses the computer programming
skills of Freeses father, Ralph, a math professor at the University of
Hawaii at Manoa, and engineer Mike Richard, who specializes in manufacturing
machines for the automotive and pharmaceutical industries. The companys
future includes other related products they are developing with the software.
Chemical engineer, computer programmer and surfer, Jimmy brings a variety of
expertise to the development of the machine and computer technology. With an
undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University,
and a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas
at Austin in the area of Process Control. Jimmy has extensive knowledge about
surfboard materials, manufacture and construction, hydrodynamic forces and computer
modeling. He spends many hours debugging the software, from both code bugs and
usability bugs along with finding the perfect fit between the software, the
cutting machine capability and design from a shapers perspective.
Ralph Freese has been a professor in Mathematics at the University of Hawaii
at Manoa for over 30 years. He is extremely respected in his field, Lattice
Theory. He also harbors world class computer programming skills. He has solved
several long-outstanding problems, including one of importance to computer theory.
He is routinely invited to give addresses at international conferences. He was
recently awarded The Regents Medal for Excellence in Research, a very
prestigious award. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California
at Santa Barbara and a doctorate from The California Institute of Technology.
Mike Richard has had a lifelong passion for automation in the manufacturing
industry. He has tertiary qualifications in industrial electronics, engineering
and mechanical design, microprocessor based software programming, CAD CAM systems
and fifteen years experience as owner/managing director of a successful engineering
company which designs and manufactures complex automated machines for both the
pharmaceutical and automotive industries. This company has clients throughout
Australia and overseas, including Robert Bosch, Siemens, Toyota, Ford, GMH,
Astra Zeneca, Pfizer and ITW.
In 2001, Mike restructured the management of this Melbourne-based business and established a new company to design and manufacture shaping machines for the shaping industry. This Gold Coast based company has successfully designed and manufactured over 30 APS3000 and Aku Shaper shaping machines for local and overseas shapers.
Mikes company is now working with the APS3000 software developers, Jimmy
and Ralph Freese to build a superior steel-framed shaping machine with a world
class controller system to provide shapers with a even more reliable and accurate
system. The Aku Shaper is a new design with patent applications for Australia,
the US and Europe. With over six years experience in designing and manufacturing
a variety of shaping systems, Mike has a unique and detailed knowledge of these
systems. He has also completed many machine installations and provided technical
support on site or by phone to customers around the world. As a surfer, Mike
has a keen interest in continuing to improve and develop the Aku Shaper and
he is now happily relocated on the Gold Coast with his wife and three children.