Mike Lopez has more than 25 years experience in composite design and manufacturing, with an emphasis on the sporting goods industry. He takes new product concepts through the design and prototype stages and production. He previously worked in different capacities at Reynolds Composites, Unifiber USA, Competition Composites and Cape Composites.
What’s your role at Serotta?
It’s purely composites. I’m the NC programmer, the tool builder, the composite layup guy and the rest of the way downstream. We have in-house design and rapid prototyping capabilities. We also have our own in-house CNC and tool manufacturing capability, which drives our manufacturing facility, which I’m making sound huge but we’re a modest 6,000 square feet. I design products and create tooling and feed that to my staff, some of whom have been with me 20 years at this point. We do roll-wrapping, bladder molding and compression molding primarily using prepreg. Everything starts with prepreg.
How would you describe your product development process?
It starts with defining the product. What’s it going to be? Is it going to be an aero fork? Is it going to be a cross fork? Then we do a little research and we talk to people. The next step would be to define what we call the hard points—the axel has to go here and the brake has to go here etc. Then we start brainstorming about aesthetics and how we’re going to connect the dots, so to speak.
How important are aesthetics as opposed to performance?
In our industry, it’s incredibly important. You have to marry the best of both worlds and that’s tough. You sit around a table and say, “So what do you think,” and you’re likely to get a lot of conflicting opinions. Somebody has to guide that effort and say, “Okay, I want it to look traditional, or I want it to look hi-tech.” We just went through that exercise.
For example, functionally a fork is a cantilevered spring, and mechanically it has to have a certain spring rate to do what it’s supposed to do properly. Then if it’s supposed to be aero, it has to have a nice shape that’s supposed to slice through the wind. Otherwise, it’s kind of just holding the wheel there and people have different ideas about how to make it look pretty.