In the third and final part of our series on how we developed the FLIT-16, we're giving you a behind the scenes tour of the last stages of manufacturing our ebike: painting and assembly! Our co-founder Alex also tells his side of the FLIT story, explaining how we got to where we are today.
Missed out on parts 1 & 2? You can find them here:
Watch below to see how the raw aluminium bike parts from our previous blog post are turned into finished Marengo Grey, Maya Blue and Blaze Orange FLIT-16s: you'll see our very first ebikes coming off the production line!
Preparing for painting
Previously, we showed you how we shape blocks of raw metal and weld them together to form parts of the bike.
You might remember them being a very shiny silver colour in their unfinished state. In the next stage of manufacture, it's time to add some colour!
FLIT-16 main frames lined up and ready for painting
Before we begin painting, we need to prepare the parts to make sure that the paint adheres well, and that we don't get any paint in unwanted areas.
The first step is to add a phosphate coating, which prepares the surface of the metal. The part is sprayed with a phosphate solution, which reacts with the metal and deposits a coating on the surface. The coating is porous, which makes a great surface for the paint to adhere to.
Once the part has been phosphate coated, we then mask each part by hand to make sure that the paint doesn't get into unwanted places. There are several different ways that we do this, using screws, plugs and other specially designed masking tools. Because the FLIT-16 is a folding bike, it's really important that we mask, as excess paint can interfere with joining parts.
The frames pass an inspection stage before entering the paint line. This is where surface imperfections, such as specks of metal that result from spitting during the welding process, are smoothed down before painting.
Masked FLIT-16 frame parts - you can see the various plugs, screws and other tools used
Throughout the painting process, four coats are applied to the part.
First, a base coat is applied, which is a white primer. Next, it's time to add the colour: either Marengo Grey, Maya Blue or Blaze Orange. This is done in two coats to allow adequate coverage and so that surface imperfections can be smoothed out in between coats. If you're interested in learning more about how we chose our FLIT colours, you can read our blog post here.
We use an automatic spray painting machine (which you can see in the video above) to give the part its initial colour coating, then we finish by hand to make sure that everything is covered and that the coat is even.
After the application of the colour coats, we add any finishing touches, such as the FLIT logo decal on the top tube, before spraying with the third and final layer.
Checking the finish on freshly painted Marengo Grey main frames.
This layer is a transparent topcoat, which acts to protect the paintwork from scratches and chips. The topcoat also contains a matting agent that creates the super sleek matte finish that you see on the FLIT-16.
The parts pass through a heated chamber after each paint layer which hardens the paint. After the final pass through the heated chamber, the parts are ready for assembling into bikes!
Freshly painted Marengo Grey parts. This part is what we call the "rear swing arm" - which holds the rear wheel.
The next stage: assembling the bikes. First, we assemble smaller components, such as the wheels (shown in the video above). The assembly process for the FLIT-16 wheels is slightly different to normal wheels, as we need to add the rear hub motor.
For our first batch of ebikes, the final assembly process was during the time in the COVID-19 pandemic that demand for bikes and cycling equipment went through the roof. This meant that every bike factory in the industry was working around the clock to keep up with demand.
For us, this meant that we had to adapt our assembly process slightly, as the assembly factory was incredibly busy. Once the frame parts had been painted, we then assembled different sections of the bike into what we call "sub-assemblies". For example, the front sub-assembly (front part of the bike) that you see below.
The front sub-assembly
These are what were then sent to the assembly factory, where they were loaded onto the assembly line so that we could start building the bikes. Pre-assembling parts of the bike into sub-assemblies made sure that the process was quick and smooth. In a normal production run, we would load each painted part straight onto the assembly line.
In the assembly factory, the bike travels on a track where parts are added at each station. At the final stage, each bike is removed from the track and quality checks are performed before the bike is folded up and carefully placed into the box, ready for shipping to our warehouse in the UK.
A final quality check will be performed in the UK, including a test ride of every bike, before sending them out to customers.
Finished FLIT fleet
Our first fleet of FLIT-16s is complete! It was an amazing moment for us to see the final few ebikes come off the production line - our three years of hard work had certainly paid off. There is no doubt that we've had ups and downs throughout the development process - a folding ebike has its complications! But through rigorous prototyping, testing, refining, and more testing we've created a high-quality ebike that we're really proud of.
We are very excited to deliver to our first customers in the coming weeks!
A very happy Dave (our Technical Lead) amongst our first batch of boxed up FLIT-16s
Alex's side of the FLIT story
Watch below to hear our co-founder Alex's side of the FLIT story in his recent Pechakucha presentation (Pechakuchas are rapid fire presentations of 20 slides for 20 seconds each). He summarises how we designed an ebike from scratch, all the way up to manufacturing our first FLIT fleet, with some sneak peeks into the very early days (and not so glamorous startup life!).
Missed out on our first batch?
If you missed out on our first batch of FLIT-16s, don't worry. We have just released a small number of ebikes for sale on our website!
Delivery: Dec 2020
Order now to own a FLIT-16 from the very first manufacturing batch. UK delivery only.