Flexdex Skates to Success
This San Diego, CA-based company combines field tested design expertise engineering with manufacturing ingeniuty to manufacture its line of Flexdex skateboards.
By Karen Koenig
Theyre performance skateboards with a twist or a flex, as the case may be.
|Twice a year, Flexdex adds new designs to its line of skateboards. New in 2000 is the KS40, which is endorsed by six-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater (pictured below). According to Flexdex President Elliott Rabin, not only did Slater have input into the design of the board, he also had the task of field testing it down the hills and streets of Santa Monica, CA. The original prototype was autographed by Slater and auctioned at the Watermans ball to raise money for charity.
The skateboards are designed to be flexible and be able to twist like a snowboard, says Elliott Rabin, president of both Flexdex and its parent company Ridout Plastics. Theyre designed for performance. The pros use Flexdex for freestyle and open road skating.
The boards get their flexibility from a specially formulated five-layer fiberglass/plastic resin material which is pultruded into sheet for Flexdex by the Virginia-based division of Strongwell. Pultrusion is a manufacturing process whereby continuous lengths of reinforced plastic structural shapes are pulled (vs. pushed) through a heated steel die. At a temperature of about 400F the sheet becomes a composite plastic material with approximately 30,000 psi strength.
Five years ago, we were selling a similar material (through Ridouts sales network). But I always thought it would make a good skateboard material. So I rough cut some of the material on a bandsaw and rode around on it. My kids rode around on it. And I thought, I really should sell these.
Rabin took the jump and by February 1996 had samples of the skateboard on display at the Action Sports Retailers Show. I came back with $50,000 in orders. It helped that we had the infrastructure in place and the company history with Ridout, he adds.
Today, the company offers 21 styles of the Flexdex skateboard; 14 models are made of the fiberglass resin material and seven are made from wood, typically pressed maple plywood or birch. The wooden skateboards are more traditional. Theyre inflexible so theyre better for ramps, compared to the (flexible material) boards which are more like snowboards more free and better for using on roads, Rabin says.
Skateboards range in size from 17 inches up to 60 inches, which Rabin says may be the longest board available on the market today. Standard length for the boards is 30 inches. The skateboards are available in three thicknesses: 1/4 inch, 5/16 inch and 3/8 inch. Widths range from 83/4 inches for the Flexdex material to 10 inches for the wooden models.
All the boards differ from one another, either cosmetically or in the ride characteristics, Rabin says. The (Flexdex) material is specially made for us to be a cosmetic-looking sheet we dont want it to look like fiberglass, he adds.
With his background in art and years of experience in surfing and boarding, Rabin knows which designs will work best, both from an aesthetic and mechanical perspective. He often takes a hands-on approach to designing the skateboards.
Ill make a sketch of a design and cut it freehand on the bandsaw. Ill then take it home and test it out, he explains. Once he has the board designed to his specifications, Ill give it to my people to refine and put it into CAD for mass production.
The goal at Flexdex is to add new designs twice a year. Artistic touches can be simple, like die-cutting the grip tape or changing the artwork on the underside of the board. In some instances, creative input is given by professional skaters, surfers and living legends, such as Kelly Slater and Wingnut, who endorse special models of the Flexdex boards.
The trucks and wheels on the skateboards also get scrutinized. The larger the wheel, the faster you go, but it also means you cant turn as quickly, Rabin explains. Wheels are offered in urethane, a material which Rabin calls a miracle plastic because of its versatility in hardness, density and color.
The truck size is often an individual choice which can also affect the performance of the board. In general, Rabin said that men seem to prefer a larger truck than do women. Men tend to put a lot of weight on the board and are more aggressive, which needs a larger truck, he explains.
Flexdex offers the option of purchasing either a fully assembled skateboard or allowing riders to customize the boards by buying the trucks and wheels separately from the decks. All are sold through Flexdexs distributor network or can be purchased over the Web, at www.flexdex.com.
The Manufacturing Process
Machining the skateboards is a relatively quick process. Flexdex shares its machining, fabricating and assembly areas with parent company Ridout Plastics. Five years ago when we came up with this idea, it was because we had excess capacity on the machines. We then used Ridouts infrastructure to help develop Flexdex, Rabinsays.
The plastic composite sheets come in 4-foot widths from Strongwell or can be cut to smaller sizes on the Schelling CNC panel saw. Next, decks are routed to shape on the Motionmaster dual-table CNC router using high-speed steel bits for a clean edge on the plastic composite material.
The design is then silk screened onto the bottom of the board. Currently, this work is outsourced, although Rabin says he plans to bring this work in-house once the plant is expanded.
Since deck shapes can be similar, We try to work on one model at a time. That makes it easier for tracking, Rabin says.
Flexdex is literally on the fast track to success. It currently, accounts for 20 percent of the Ridout Plastics multi-million annual sales figure. And the marketing potential for skateboards is still growing, Rabin says, especially in the United States and Japan, its two biggest markets.
Flexdex continues to capitalize on its opportunities. In addition to promoting its products through print ads in sporting magazines, over the Web, and through distributors, Flexdex broke into the ad specialty business with the manufacture of promotional skateboards for products such as Yoohoo drink, special events including the recent Warped Tour and for top bands like Garbage.
Its been no mean feat, adds Rabin, for a man who enjoys skating through his work.
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