rozboonThis attitude is partially to blame for the decline of the USA as a manufacturing leader globally.
Do you really, honestly think that the quality and consistency of a hand-made product is going to exceed that of something built primarily by incredibly precise machines?
While there are small brands turning out some exceptionally good products, with quality close enough to the major brands to not really matter, to suggest that a hand-made small-volume product is better made than a mass produced one is completely and utterly false.
Here is my long winded, biased context for these comments as I have experienced them building a indie ski brand from within the past 7 years, and how they relate in particular to ON3P. I would argue that there are a select few small manufacturers who are putting on a product on the level of the majors. Not saying better, but without question in the same ballpark. I easily see as many blems come out of major ski factories as I do the minor ski factories. I spent time every year walking around SIA checking out other companies show skis and find all sorts of blems, cosmetic issues, skis with materials visibly showing incorrect pressure, mostly by some of the largest ski companies out there. And these are show skis - meant to look good and represent your best.
Every Time I am in a ski shop? Same thing.
Building skis is hard, whether it is one pair in your garage or 1000 day in a mega factory. Lots of places where a minor thing going wrong will ruin a ski.
Also, contest matters here. What are we defining as handmade? Some guy with a router in a garage factory (aka ON3P when I was in a college garage in Tacoma)? No question.
At a real ski factory though? If it is a good ski factory, steps are in place to standardize and control the production, regardless of the size of production. Many of the precise, computer controlled processes of the big brands are used by the small. All the cores at Atomic/Rossi/Volkl/Etc are done on a CNC. Guess what...same at ON3P, Moment, Praxis, etc. Our CNC tolerance here is under 0.004", which I am sure is comparable to what the megafactories use.
Our edge treatment process? Automated.
Epoxy mixing and dispensing? Automated.
Sidewall flame treatment? Automated.
Sidewall production? CNC.
Core production? CNC.
Are their machines larger and capable of much more volume in less time as ours? Absolutely. But they are building more skis per day than we do in a month, so the capacity isn't what we need. It's the tolerance and consistency.
Furthermore, MUCH of the process in both large and small factories is done by hand.
Band Saw to remove flash (excess material post layup)? Hand.
Deflash to clean ski? Hand.
Final QC? Hand.
One difference we have, that I strongly believe favors ON3P is that we don't use mega-lines of automated ski grinders to flatten and tune are skis. I see so many issues, both in flatness and consistency, from major factories. Some are pretty consistent, but there are a few that I see constant issues with. We've invested well into the 6 figures in our finishing equipment to give us the machine capacity to finish skis the right way. One of our biggest labor requirements (both in time and skill) is a long, very labor intensive finishing process where ski flatness is checked at 4 different stations and ski structure and consistency is paramount. Each ski is looked at individually. Our standard work cycle time for base finishing is much higher than larger companies because I believe our skis, at our volume, should leave the factory with a raceroom level base finish. That doesn't matter to the masses, but it matters to us and our customers and 100 times out of 100 I would put us base finish up against any ski pulled from a ski shop wall. Euro raceroom ski builders have a huge amount of respect from me in regards to both build and base finish, but besides that, I don't see anyone putting out a ski as well finished as we are (and we are told as such by other brands every year). This, again, doesn't really matter to a lot of people, but it does to me.
Those tooling marks from the sidewall bevel? You'll never see those on an ON3P, as we take the time to not only remove them, but then put the ski through a buffing process to ensure the sidewall is as smooth and well finished as any I've seen. Not reason to remove those are most megafactories because most people don't know or don't care.
Building good skis is about developing a properly maintained and controlled production line, training the right people in the right way to build skis, and upholding those standards for every ski.
Finding the right people to do the building is hard. We're small. We have 8 people on the floor building our skis. Most have been here for years. Finding the right person to bring in who can uphold the standards we've set is probably one of the more difficult challenges we face.
rozboonThis is sophistry and pure speculation.
With all due respect to ON3P, and I do have a lot of respect for them in particular, on a percentage basis who do you think has more failed skis?
And if you think that a product is inherently better made if it comes out of North America you are completely deluded.
Chinese robots don't get hungover and make up a shit batch of epoxy.
I have no idea the warranty/fail rates of other factories, but our warranty rate is below 1% each year the past 5 years. Blem rate is about the same, and most of the time, it is cosmetic - a scratch in the base, a slightly shifted topsheet - resulting in the ski being designated as a demo. This year, I think we've had to pull only 7-8 skis from our entire production run for blems that were beyond the demo quality (I know because our Sales Mng just reviewed them to decide what needed to be done to them). As I said, I don't know the majors warranty rates, but I cannot image they are much better than >1% annually.
As for Chinese Robots.....I get it. More automation there. Only, many, many of the ski building processes as stated above are still done by hand. In regards to epoxy, hungover workers don't mix our epoxy here at ON3P. A machine does it. That Chinese "robot" laying up the ski is still going to be a person capable of the same issues someone here is capable of. Here, too, everyone knows that even one screw up is unacceptable. They happen, for sure, but here the margin of error for consequences is much smaller. I was recently talking to someone running a Chinese factory that was blemming 70 pairs PER DAY. If that were us, we would be out of business in a couple weeks. The margin of error for small brands is small. The margins are shit, the wages are shit, we compete with other brands whose cost of goods is literally 1/2 ours (including several indies who don't make their own skis), and we have to sell at the same price point. People building skis (the right way) for a living are doing it because skiing is better for it.
At ON3P, quality is our brand. If someone put a batch of skis through with bad epoxy that made it out the door, they would very quickly find themselves without a job and the damage to our brand is literally unbearable for me to even consider. Luckily, we have the right people and the right manufacturing management in place to ensure that doesn't happen.
We run a ski factory - not a garage shop - with tens of thousands of dollars in materials moving through the factory every couple weeks. Showing up hungover and fucking off is not the name of the game. If it was, we wouldn't be around.
I'll be the first one to say that the skis we made when we first got started weren't on the level to compete with the Atomic/Volkl/K2s of the world. Fully agree there and honestly, they sort of make me cringe now. But, we've worked hard to get where we are, and now I have no qualms putting our skis head to head against them in both construction and finish. That is to say, our quality has improved and will continue to improve, but it was acquired over time and I'm not delusional in thinking we were on the level right out of the gate.
I completely agree with the statement that it is wrong to state that just because something is made in America it is better. I agree with that 100%. There are great overseas factories.
There are also indie companies in the states that just pain me...literally....ruin my day when I see their skis because they give hard working, qualified indies who give a shit and know what they are doing a bad name by association. It is hard, in that they have largely the same dream I have and I think it is good for skiing to have variety, but I wouldn't be doing this if the skis couldn't back that dream up.
I can attest that entering the retail world as an indie was extremely difficult because a lot of the indies before us showed up and shit the bed in construction and finish.
In our case, we run our own factory, with a production process and production line we developed, building a product that is completely our own. When your ski has an issue, you can blame us directly because it was one of 8 of us that screwed up in the process. When it comes to indies who build their own skis, you need to judge each brand individually because they are all totally their own brand.
Lastly....the big vs small argument is sort of a ridiculous premise from the get go. Where would skiing be without K2/Atomic/Rossi/Volkl/etc?
Nowhere. Skiing needs these larger strong brands to help drive the sport forward. They get the masses involved, they help ensure that skiing has a sustainable future, and they contribute an untold amount to the industry.
The premise that the large brands don't care about skiing just isn't true. Do I think there are large brands that lack creativity or boldness? Are there large brands whose quality is lacking a bit? Absolutely, but the vast majority of people in the ski industry, regardless of company, are in it because they are skiers and want to be around the sport they love.
So, I don't know what you will take from that. The point really is...there are small brands that do know what they are doing and will continue to go head to head with the mega factories in both finish and quality. Skiing NEEDS both large and small brands to succeed. They feed off each other, they both love skiing, and skiing's long term future is better with both around.