Automated cutter enhances bicycle production

Precision and reliability keyed startup’s success. 

Although many well-known bicycle manufacturers have long since moved their production to the Far East, start-up company Bike Ahead (Würzburg, Germany) has successfully bucked that trend. Armed with a degree in plastics engineering and a passion for biking, company founder and leader Christian Gemperlein developed, in 2010, a six-spoke carbon wheel as part of his studies. With the help of a private investor, he started Bike Ahead two years later. Now he and his staff of 17 build not only wheels but carbon fiber bicycle frames, sold through distributors world-wide, plus finished bikes in short runs. What’s more, they have moved well beyond the biking world into automotive, machine design and construction as well as medical technologies on a contract basis.

Gemperlein believes his company has a competitive advantage: “From idea to development and all the way through the production process, we produce in-house. This helps in customer-driven projects, especially in prototyping for applications that go well beyond bicycling.” Most of Bike Ahead’s turnover, however, comes from building bicycles in small series.

Gemperlein knew that part production would require carbon fiber prepreg, and he realized that this high-cost material required precise fiber orientation, especially for the very light areal weight materials the company uses. Manual cutting, he says, was out of the question. For that reason, he chose early on to invest in a Zünd (Altstätten, Switzerland and Franklin, WI, US) G3 L-2500 digital flatbed cutting machine. “The G3 cutter was our most important start-up investment besides the autoclave.”

The intuitive user-interface and workflow software that comes with the Zünd Cut Center (ZCC) reduced training time for operators and has increased familiarity with the equipment. The software’s open interface design makes the Zünd G3 very easy to integrate into existing production workflows, says Gemperlein. While the machine speed is welcome, he adds, “production speed was not our primary concern. We wanted the precision and reliability the Zünd G3 cutter could offer.”

State-of-the-art nesting functionalities ensure optimal ply placement even for parts with highly complex contours. This reduces setup time and waste and optimizes yield. Plus, the automated cutting frees up operators for other tasks. “The machine is so reliable, we can let it run by itself without any qualms.” 

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