Here's an update from Dave Henderson, Flit's Technical Lead, on his recent trip to Taiwan. It's a peek behind the scenes. Enjoy!
“You picked the worst month” the factory manager told me as I wiped the sweat from my brow, walking as we spoke to avoid creating an obvious sweat puddle at my feet. Near 40°C heat and 80%+ humidity made me feel like a fool for turning up in dark clothes and long trousers.
Dave visiting the bike factory
Learning on the job
The buzzing of huge CNC machines and constant flashes of light from the welding area served as reminders that this was a factory almost at capacity. Cargo bikes, mountain bikes and even unicycles were growing into complete vehicles as they crawled down the assembly line, ready for quality control and shipping.
I love this factory, even when it tries to cook me alive. I learn something new every time I come here. What amazes me most is that every problem has an ingeniously simple solution that is inspired by decades of experience on the factory floor.
The factory manager has been in the industry for as long as it has existed in Taiwan. He has an amazing ability to eliminate many parts by changing the manufacturing process or by substituting a part for a stock solution that you had no idea even existed. In our design for example, we had two forged parts welded to an extruded part. By switching to 3D forging, the three parts could be consolidated into a single part, saving tooling cost and eliminating a costly welding process.
He knows just by looking at a CAD model which sections will distort during welding and what kind of welding gaps or wall thickness will be needed. This kind of experience is invaluable for speeding up production and avoiding problems down the line. Reassuringly, his recommendations are always in agreement with our modelling results.
Test riding in paradise with one of the manufacturing team
Our chosen manufacturer has a specialism in "unusual" projects. When we described to other manufacturers at Eurobike how our frame design increases stiffness and allows for a fully integrated electric system, many cringed at the thought of all the work it would take to overcome the difficulties this unconventional design would bring. But our guy just smiled and said “小菜一碟 (a piece of cake!).”
My background is in the UK automotive and medical device industries, working in teams at companies like Jaguar Land Rover and the TTP Group to develop new products. Jumping from that into the bike industry, where we have total control over own own product, has been a shift of gears. I'm really enjoying it, but also coming to appreciate the advice that we have been given to partner with an experienced manufacturer who can help us to avoid the various pitfalls along the way.
"Don't try to develop your own battery, it's too hard"
Getting your entire electrical system (motor, sensor, battery etc) from a single supplier is the simple way to build a bike. But we wanted to build the best ebike possible an don't mind a challenge, so we decided to do the unthinkable: we have developed our own electrical system with a motor and controller from one company, a custom battery pack from another.
Meeting up with our battery developers under the watchful eye of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King
We’re not crazy (honest!), we just wanted our bike to be really light. You see, batteries from the big suppliers (Bafang, Shimano, Bosch, etc) are designed mostly for heavy mountain or city bikes where weight is not a primary consideration. These batteries weigh at least 2kg.
Smaller batteries are only available from niche suppliers, many of whom do not meet the strict new safety regulations that come into effect next year. This made finding a suitable battery very challenging. After an exhaustive search (we approached and tried working with over a dozen companies) we have found a solution. We would load the guts of a suitable battery into a custom designed case.
As simple as this sounds, negotiations with the battery supplier took the best part of a month and would not have been possible without help from our manufacturer (we owe him big time for this one). We're really happy with the result. Our battery partner is a subsidiary of a world famous laptop and PC manufacturer. They will bring world class engineers and capabilities to the project and help us to develop something really special.
It's been really fun and rewarding learning more about the bike industry and building relationships out here. After a couple years of developing this project, we have a firm idea of what we want. Having gotten to know the industry in Taiwan, we are now now confident that we have built the team and partnerships that we will need to make it a success.
There are going to be a few hard weeks ahead as we build our first prototype but it will be worth it to see our ideas turn into reality. Check back here to see how we get on!
The team enjoying a barbecue with our manufacturing partner