Just over two weeks ago I left for Asia to meet with our numerous component and electronics suppliers that are based out of Shenzhen, China and Taichung, Taiwan.
While I could have accomplished most of this over email, the ability to meet in-person is integral to communicating our unique needs. More importantly, the opportunity to build relationships with our suppliers is requisite for operating effectively in Asia.
Now that I have largely recovered from the jet lag, I just want to take the time to give you guys some insight into what I experienced, what I learned, and how these things might affect the production of the Valour.
It’s easiest to think of the production of the Valour as the union of two worlds. On one hand, we’re building a bike. We make many of the same decisions any manufacturer would; what components are best suited to our purposes, how do these components emphasize certain attributes—durability, performance, design. But we’re also an electronics manufacturer trying to tackle the challenges of building something that has numerous core competencies.
Curiously, Shenzhen is home to significant shares of the global market for both electronics and carbon fibre manufacturing.
You might be surprised to learn that the vast majority of the bicycle industry manufactures their carbon fibre components in China—from frames to wheel sets.
While much of the carbon fibre industry began in Taiwan, the industry saw a migration to mainland China in search of competitive labour costs. China was quick to develop the knowledge base required to produce some of the highest quality carbon components in the industry. Now, the question isn’t whether or not to manufacture carbon in China, but rather, who in China to manufacture carbon with. There are plenty of choices, but the trick is finding someone with the experience and capability to meet our expectations. We’ve sought out partners with whom we can sustain strong communication and who provide us with an honest assessment of what was possible. Many vendors often promise quick turn arounds, but few have the capability to deliver. Our final contractors work with numerous other major brands, including many premium-level brands. We hope that these relationships lead us towards producing the best possible product experience.
On the electronics side, I met with the suppliers for our ultrasonic sensors and manufacturers that could provide end-to-end manufacturing services. The Valour has a tremendously complex bill of materials for its electronics. This presents numerous risks in terms of building a reliable supply chain, given that we become beholden to the slowest link in the chain—if one supplier doesn’t deliver, everything is held up.
We are keen to centralize manufacturing and shrink the scope of our supply chain, both geographically and by number of vendors. In doing so, we reduce the risk of things getting delayed further.
After seven days in Shenzhen, I made my way to Taichung, Taiwan. Taichung can be best described as the epicentre of the global bike industry, hosting the headquarters of Giant Bicycle and Sram Components. My time in Taichung proved incredibly valuable; I was immersed into nearly every aspect of the bike manufacturing industry. I had the chance to visit everything from hub factories to assembly factories within the span of less than a week. Altogether, I had a crash course over 15 meetings in three business days. Dizzying isn’t it?
In this trip, we explored how to best produce the handlebar. As many of you know, we had originally planned to produce our handlebars with carbon fibre. We discovered that because of the number of holes required for both indicator lights and antennas, we would have to alter or enlarge our designs to strengthen the fibre structure. With carbon, you can’t just drill or machine holes; the original layout of the carbon fibre sheets has to accommodate all structural elements from the get-go. Because of this, we are exploring the use of various alloy construction methods—like 3D forging—which wouldn’t compromise the structure of the design, be considerably stronger, and only cause marginal weight increases. The vendor which offers some of these manufacturing processes works with leading brands which produce some of those most innovative components on the market.
In the end, this may all sound rather dry to many. But the upshot is that we are much closer to finding the perfect solutions which are ultimately better suited for the Valour — an elegantly-implemented connected bike.
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