Triangle’s Starts Robotized Alloy Frame Welding on Industrial Scale
EIXO, Portugal – It’s busy at the production site of Triangle’s in Portugal; the 1st company in Europe that is producing aluminium bicycle and e-bike frames on an industrial scale. This buzz has nothing to do with trucks coming with materials and others leaving the factory with frames that just came off the production lines. It’s about workers that are still building the facility and others that are installing the first machines like heat treatment ovens.
The robots that have to do the welding are scheduled to arrive end of July and first production runs are planned for October.
May 2018 is the big date for Triangle’s – Cycling Equipments SA, as the Portuguese alloy frame-making company is officially named. Then the factory will go into high gear and full operation. Some half a million frames will be produced annually; give or take about 15% for set-up losses. But before Triangle’s is in full swing, there are still some hills to climb; including technical ones.
10 meter high ceilings
But, the people behind the large-scaled alloy frame-making project know well that what they are setting up is a technical challenge to say the least. In fact it is stepping into uncharted territory, as robotic welding of aluminium bike frames is completely new. Not only for the bicycle industry, but for the world.
Of course the car industry uses robots in welding car chassis’ made from aluminium. But that’s different and maybe technically less challenging compared to welding a bicycle and e-bike frame by robots. In particular as such frames come with tubes that have various thicknesses. Top tube, BB-set, chainstays, etc. However, the three companies that started the industrial alloy frame-making project have among them a partner who is already welding and producing aluminium parts for the car industry.
Care for every detail
This is Ciclo Fapril. The other two partners – Rodi (with rims and wheelsets) and Miranda (with cranksets) also have a background in making aluminium parts. So, they know what they are faced with and that’s why they don’t take any chances and care for every detail. Such as the fact that their brand new facility in Eixo – Aveiro, Portugal, has 10 meter high ceilings. That’s for keeping the conditions for welding (also in the very warm summers of Portugal) at the needed constant temperature of 20 to 22 degrees Celsius.
Slow production start in October
Next to finishing the factory; installing machinery and of course all that comes with getting the back office up and running, some 300 alloy frames have been made last July. These 300 have been rigorously tested at four different testing institutes; including Velotech in Germany and ABIMOTA in Portugal.
Next October Triangle’s is to start its production slowly. The first MTB frames will be made by then. The rest of 2016 will be used to further fine-tune the two fully automated and robotized production lines. In March 2017 machinery for hydroforming alloy tubes is to be installed followed in June/July by a paint shop.
For 2017 Triangle‘s is planning a production of 150,000 alloy bicycle and e-bike frames. According to President Armando Levi this production planning gives the company possibilities to prepare samples for customers that will be ready by January 2018. That is to trigger the next phase, which is going into full production mode by May 2018.
Asked about prices of Triangle’s robot-made alloy frames compared to those of its Asian competitors, President Levi says, “The price difference will be small, in particular for e-bike frames. Our prices for alloy MTB frames will be some 10% to 15% higher compared to Asia-made frames. However, we have the advantage of being able to deliver just-in-time to the industry in Europe.
“Of course we work with forecasts, but ordering in one week means shipment within two weeks. Next to this I think that our fully automated and robotized production is also a USP. It results in constant and consistent quality. We stand also out from our Asian competitors when taking the development of new frame models into account. From drawings to a ready for use frame Triangle’s will be able to get this done within four months.”
Ciclo Fapil, Miranda, and Rodi, the three Portuguese parts makers that founded Triangle’s Cycling Equipments SA, have seen their investment rise since the start of the project. The initial investment totaled € 14.5 million. Currently € 2 million extra is added to the tally, which is used for the paint shop and for the in-house production of various aluminium frame parts. And the three investors are expecting that it will not stop there. They count on spending € 20 million as they are already planning to install a 3rd fully automated and robotized production line.