The Need for Speed
Montreal's AXIS Prototyping helps custom bike maker Guru Bikes wow tradeshow attendees in record time.
When most people think of the top bike manufacturers in the world, their first thought may not be Laval, Quebec-based Guru Bikes. With a crew of approximately 40, they’d be easy to overlook. That is unless you’re a competitive Iron-Man triathlete; within those circles, the small custom bike manufacturer’s products are considered the gold standard.
The company’s notoriety stems largely from its Chrono bike frame design and its singular monococques unidirectional carbon fibre construction. The CRONO holds more time trial/triathlon records than any other custom carbon fibre bike in the world, including that of Canadian Olympic gold medalist, Simon Whitfield, who holds the fastest Olympic triathlon time.
"We work on lean production," says Mike McGinn, head of design for Guru Bikes. "When someone buys one of our bikes, their measurements are taken and we manufacture the bike geometrically for them and ship it four weeks later."
But even if you’re on the cutting edge of the bike business, one of the key events of the year is the international Interbike Bicycle Expo, the premier North American cycling equipment trade show held in September in Las Vegas. The event allows international cycle designers to show off their latest models to their high-end clientele but is also the event for building "buzz" in the industry. Showing up without your latest and greatest product not only fails to excite the cycling elite but could also leave dealers with a less than favorable impression.
That’s the position Guru Bikes found itself in during the run up to Interbike 2009. The company had just completed the finishing touches on the Chrono 2.0, an aero-dynamically re-engineered version of the original bike frame, but there wasn’t time to craft the moulds and complete the complex manufacturing process to create a one-off in time for the event.
For help, Guru turned to Montreal-based service bureau AXIS Prototypes to create a true-to-life SLA prototype of the highly anticipated Chrono 2.0.
"If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures," says Vincent Laithier, marketing director for AXIS Prototypes, which sports the largest installation of machinery in Canada including SLA, SLS, Objet, FDM and 3D Printing. "For Guru, what they needed was a life-sized model that not only looked indistinguishable from the final product but was very close to its weight as well."
To accomplish that, Laithier says AXIS in-house model makers post-processed (i.e. sanding and finishing) the rapid prototyped frame so that Guru’s painters could give it the same lustrous paint job they give their production frames. In addition, AXIS used their SLA machines and an ABS-like plastic resin build material to create a 1mm thick skin for the frame. For reinforcement, the company used specialized software to create an internal latticed truss system so that the prototyped Chrono 2.0 was the same weight as carbon fiber yet still strong enough to bear the load of the bike’s wheels, crank, seat post, handlebars and wiring.
"SLA used to be considered one of the weaker processes but with the advent of new materials, it is now one of the strongest," says Laithier. "For example, DMX-SL100 is an impact resistant material that can stand up to ballistic testing. For the Chrono 2.0 model, what they needed was heat resistance because it was going to Las Vegas in a non-refrigerated truck. We didn’t want the model to warp or melt in transit."
According to McGinn, it took a keen eye to tell the finished Chrono 2.0 prototype, after paint and decals were applied, from a true carbon fiber frame. In fact, many Interbike attendees wanted to ride the prototype thinking it was real.
"Rapid prototyping at that level was a life saver," says McGinn. "We’ve had a lot of clientele waiting for the next evolution of the Chrono. Combined with our debut of the Photon, the world record holder for lightest production road bike, we made a huge impression at Interbike. For a small Montreal company, we’re pushing the envelope quite a bit."