Manufacturing guy-at-large.

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Brilliant's videos

Added on by Spencer Wright.

When I went to Taiwan last year with Brilliant Bicycle Co., I wrote a few posts that described the trip & what we saw there. But I never linked to Jacob Krupnick's videos of the trip, which do a much better job of relaying the mood & feel of the trip. So, here goes.

First, the tire factory (see my notes here):

Second, the cardboard box factory (see my notes here):

Third, the fork factory (see my notes here):

Fourth, the frame factory (see my notes here):

Fifth, the final assembly shop (see my notes here):

Sixth, the saddle shop (no notes from me, sorry):

Seventh, the paint shop (ditto):

Notes from an investment casting factory in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In October, I visited a Taiwanese investment casting shop with Brilliant Bicycles. It was *great.*

We started in the wax casting room. Here, aluminum molds are used to cast wax positives, which basically resemble finished parts:

Then we moved to wax tree assembly. Here, wax positives are welded (with an iron) to sprues. It was a really quick process. On one side there was a guy molding the sprues themselves:

And on the other side they're welded to parts. The whole room was air conditioned and very cool (it was hot outside), to keep the wax from melting.

Once the trees were assembled, they're dipped in clay and sand. There are a number of dipping stages, and the aggregate goes from fine to coarse. First comes a liquid dip:

Then a dry aggregate, which is continuously shaken to make the process easier:

This is one of maybe three areas where dipping was happening:

Then there were a bunch of dipped tree drying racks. The dipped trees need to dry before they can move forward in the process.

Then there was a big room full of kilns, where the trees were fired and cast. Nearby were big bags of raw material - iron and alloying elements - that would be melted down to cast whatever alloy was necessary.

After the trees are baked and cast in steel, the resulting steel trees need to be cut apart:

And then the individual parts are checked in QC and cold-set into place where they've distorted:

Okay, photos:

This factory was one of the coolest shops I've ever seen. Being able to see so many steps of the process coming together sequentially was really great. So many manufacturing processes happen in a distributed, disjointed manner; it was fun walking through this shop and seeing parts be transformed from wax to steel as we went.

Notes from a bicycle assembly shop in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Last October I visited Universal Speed, the assembly shop that Brilliant Bicycles are built by. A few notes:

  • The dedicated tooling to do frame prep operations (bearing pressing, etc) was *cool.* Most of it was made by Shuz Tung, a Taiwanese company.
  • The wheelbuilding line was the single biggest part of the operation. The truing machine especially was impressive (videos below).
  • They build everything upside down! I can't imagine doing this, but the advantages re: not touching the paint are really big.
  • It was a really big facility - tens of thousands of square feet. 
  • The moving assembly line was fun.

Here are the wheels being built:

And here's the wheel truing machine in more detail:

Here's the whole shop (ish):

Notes from a bicycle frame factory in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In October, I visited a Taiwanese bicycle frame factory with Brilliant Bicycles


The shop was 10 or 20 thousand feet. A significant portion of it was storage, and there was a smallish office area near the front door. We met the owners and had lunch upstairs above the office, which provided a nice place to take a pan of the whole shop.

The sheer quantity of dedicated fixtures here was kind of staggering. I couldn't tell (and didn't ask) but it seemed like they probably made fixtures for a lot of frame subassemblies, each of which would be dedicated to a certain frame model and size. This video shows about half of the fixtures that I saw in storage.

Frame subassemblies were tacked and stacked in tall piles. I'd guess that the main frame fixture took an hour or two to set up, but at that point the tacking would go quickly. The subassemblies would then be moved down the welding line, comme ci:

The quality of the welding here was very good. There were a bunch of guys doing TIG and a few brazing dropouts. They all had big fans running, but it was still hot. We were around right as their lunch break began:

As with the fork factory we visited, the alignment process was *so* cool; unlike the fork factory, I didn't take a video of it :( As I watched the one alignment guy go through his routine, I couldn't help but compare it to my old Traffic Cycle Design alignment setup. This guy was doing a full, thorough frame alignment, *and* reaming seat tubes, all in something like 2 minutes. I would have been hard pressed to do the same in a half hour.

All in all, this factory was *really* fun to visit. Its super interesting seeing someone else perform tasks that are similar to ones you've done. In all honesty, I was always really attracted to the idea of having a much larger shop setup - and one that could perform tasks much more efficiently than I was ever able to. It was fun seeing that kind of operation running in real life.

Notes from a bicycle fork factory in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In October, I visited a Taiwanese bicycle fork builder with Brilliant Bicycles. The shop was in a totally rural area; the vast majority of land usage was rice paddies. These photos are taken from directly in front of the shop:

The building on the far left is the fork shop's storage area.

That's the fork shop on the far right.

The shop itself was a couple thousand square feet. It was rectangular, and had a single gable roof. The gable end to the east had a huge open door, and there were fans everywhere to maintain airflow; it was hot inside nonetheless. On the other end the shop adjoined to what I presume were office and a small apartment area. 

A few notes:

  • Fork legs came in straight. Unicrown fork blades were bent in house from straight legs.
  • The dropout end of the fork blades were swaged, slotted & brazed first. I don't have any pictures of the process but it was pretty cool - the brazing especially. They had a big turntable, maybe 6 feet in diameter and with a few dozen fixtures around the perimeter. Each fork blade had powdered flux + brass filler shoved down from the top, and the dropouts were fluxed with paste. The whole assemblies snapped into the machine and sat on an incline, so that the dropouts were on the perimeter and the blades angled up and to the center of the turntable. Then the whole thing was spun very slowly, and a single flame at the perimeter would heat one of the dropouts up until the brass melted and flowed, and then the turntable would advance to the next dropout. 
  • Then the blades would be assembled into crowns. The whole crown was brazed at once with the tips pointing up (video below).
  • Then the forks would be raked. That machine was really cool too - there's a photo below.
  • Then the crowns would be drilled & counterbored on dedicated fixtures. They had two or three small drill presses set up to do this, and they were running full time while we were at the shop.
  • Alignment was awesome. The guy was really quick with the whole process, and it was a fluid and rhythmic operation. Video below.
  • It looked like they did mostly lugged forks, but that could have been just the time we visited - there was a TIG setup there, but it wasn't being used while we were there.

The shop manager was enthusiastic about showing his brazing skills. I was surprised that they brazed them before bending, but the process actually makes a ton of sense in their environment.

The fork alignment process was *awesome.* 

Here's a pan of the whole shop:

I liked this shop a *lot.* As we were leaving, the owner commiserated with April that though he had worked there his whole life, he didn't think his children would want to do the same. Building bike forks isn't the dirtiest job in the world, but it isn't the cleanest either. Furthermore, these are good quality but relatively inexpensive steel forks; the product is essentially a commodity, and it isn't exactly prestigious work. I wondered aloud if they could make more money, and have slightly nicer working conditions, if they moved to carbon fiber products. The problem with that is that although the product is a substitute, the skills and equipment needed are quite different. In the end, it might be more fruitful and no less difficult for the next generation to change industries altogether. But anyway the owner was relatively young himself, so it could be decades before it changes at all.

Notes from a cardboard factory in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In October, I visited a Taiwanese cardboard factory in Taiwan with Brilliant Bicycles. A few notes:

  • Paper comes in, finished cardboard boxes go out.
  • The paper rolls come in various shapes, sizes, and presumably thicknesses, but they're generally *huge* and brown. 
  • The whole place, but especially the sheet assembly line, was really loud - one of the loudest places I've ever been. 
  • There are three big portions of the factory: the sheet assembly area, the box printing & slotting area, and *lot* of cardboard sheets stacked up around the factory.
    • The sheet assembly area takes brown paper rolls, each of which weigh upwards of a ton, and transform them into cardboard sheets. The machine that does this is huge - probably 20 feet wide and maybe 200 feet long. The cardboard we saw getting made was 5-ply, which has three flat sheets (the two faces and one in the middle; think the slices of bread in a club sandwich) and two corrugated sheets (think the bacon, turkey, etc in the same sandwich). Presumably the exact specifications of the corrugation (e.g. its thickness) affect the structural properties of the cardboard; I think the sheets we saw getting made had thicker corrugations (maybe for the inside of the box) on one side and thinner on the other. Anyway, the sheet assembly machine takes five big rolls of paper and spools them out together, corrugating them as necessary and applying adhesive between the sheets. Then it applies pressure and feeds the whole continuous sheet through a pair of heated plates, which help cure the adhesive. Then it trims the sides off, slots the sheet in half lengthwise, and then chops each half into sheets of the appropriate size for what they're making.
    • Then the sheets are stored in stacks around the shop. There were a *lot* of stacks of cardboard sheets - a large portion of the factory was just storage.
    • The box printing and slotting section was a bit more disperse. There were a bunch of machines to perform these steps; some did one or the other, and some (including the one that Brilliant's boxes were made on) do both. The printing is done with big, colorful, silicone stamps. Most of these were presumably made out-of-house, but there were some (like the "no knives" and "fragile" stamps) which seemed to be standard and were being assembled onto clear plastic sheets (mylar?) by people in one area of the shop. We didn't see steel rule slotting dies being made (perhaps they were outsourced), but they were stored all over the shop. There were a bunch of varieties of those - some were used in manual die presses, and others were loaded into slotting machines and then operated automatically.
  • A bunch of work was put into aligning the stamp and dies in the machine. If I were to guess, I'd say 5-10 sample parts were made before the alignment came out right.
  • Once the alignment was right, the boxes came out really quickly. We were only having a few hundred boxes made; I'd guess they'd be done within a few hours. 

The place was huge - one of the single biggest unobstructed spaces I've ever been in:

The cardboard printing & slotting machine was really cool. There's nothing like a black box that takes raw material in and spits out a useable object on the other side:

Seeing general purpose manufacturing is always a lot of fun. Cardboard boxes are used *everywhere.* Having seen how they're made gives valuable perspective on something that's on basically any BOM.

Notes from a tire factory in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In October, I visited a Taiwanese tire factory in Taiwan with Brilliant Bicycles. I didn't take many photos, but do have a few notes:

  • The factory made a bunch of solid tires for forklifts and other equipment in the front.
  • In the back were two sides: One for bicycles, the other for scooters and other larger pneumatic applications.
  • The shop did *not* make their own nylon cord for tire casings; they purchased that from a vendor. The cord comes in a wide sheet, is cut on a bias and put together into a long strip (video below).
  • They also did not make their own kevlar (foldable) tire beads. Apparently all of the Taiwanese tire shops (there are a few) purchase these from one single supplier.
  • They do make their own steel beads. Wire is straightened, doubled up, and wrapped into a loop with a bunch of unvulcanized rubber and bound together into a single unit.
  • The machines they use to assemble the tires - casing, bead, and tread - are *really* cool. There's a decent video of the process here.
  • Tread molds seemed eminently reasonable - they only cost a few thousand dollars. The uncured and relatively shapeless tires are put into molds, where pressure and heat form the shape and cure the rubber.

Here's a photo of the front of the shop, where solid tires were being stored:

And here's a video of nylon cord being cut on a bias and spliced together:

And, two random photos: One of a magazine in the factory's conference room, and one from the restaurant that the (extremely eager) factory manager took us to for lunch:

Random Things in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

A couple months ago I visited Taiwan with Brilliant Bicycles, and toured a number of bike industry factories. These are my non-factory photos from the trip.