Keola Wants to Increase its Bike Production to 120.000
Keola E-bike is one of the oldest e-bike brands from Holland, with its head office in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, and the main production facility in Nantong, China. Within five years Keola wants to use it’s full capacity and grow to a production of 120.000 high quality e-bikes per year.
Steve Zhu, general manager of Keola China and CTO of Keola group, gave us an insight in the factory and future plans, which are quite ambitious. The new Nantong factory, open since 2013, has two main production areas. The production here is running with two till three shifts, depending on the seasons. Each shift can produce 40,000 e-bikes per year, which provides 120,000 units capacity on producing high-end e-bikes. “This number is ambitious but realistic. There are factories that produce much more, but our priority is quality, not quantity. We concentrate on the production of mid to high-end e-bikes in different own brands,” says Zhu.
The Keola facility
The total area of the Keola factory is about 30,000 square meters, a huge factory area for the bicycle industry, especially for the e-bike industry. It consists of two workshops, one multi-functional showroom, one office building and a 1km test track with three different degree hills for the different road tests. “We can promise that each produced e-bike is checked and tested through a test ride. Not random, each bike. If a bicycle factory mixes up the cheap bicycle and the e-bike production in one factory, it will result in the confusion for the production staffs, due to the difference in the quality standards. All production staffs at Keola are trained to look at the e-bikes with the eyes for a high end e-bike quality.”
According to Zhu, the quality-focused mentality is even more important than the skills as the production staffs work unconsciously with the quality target they bear in mind. At Keola, we only set up one standard for all of our products by skipping the volume business of producing E-scooters and low-end bicycles.”
Live and breath on quality
Quality starts from the quality of the production staffs. That’s why the production staffs at Keola are all required to have a minimum education level of high professional school. The higher education level has made possible that the production staffs fully understand and follow the quality standard that’s necessary for the premium segment in Europe. The very first training session for the new staffs is not about assembly skills, but the sense of quality, by showing them enough examples of what should be and what should not be. “The staffs are proud of the fact that they are working for an globally operating international company. We make sure that they understand how an average West European consumer looks at the bike,” says Zhu.
100% test ride
In addition to the production team, there are two fulltime QC teams with 10 quality controllers. On the QC list, there are more than 20 categories and in total more than 200 check points. Each of them needs to be checked and ticked carefully. All the QC sheets are imported into the globally connected ERP system, in order to track and trace every single product, which has left the factory. The Keola QC experts are required to test ride every single bike. The road test includes a straight lined 500 meters acceleration test, 500 meters bumpy road test and a climbing tests with respectively 10, 20 and 30 degrees hills. Furthermore, 5% of the bikes are randomly selected to have distress tests with the worst road conditions possible.
“Most of all the suppliers would tell you that their products fully meet the required quality standard. Though we only buy from the renown and reliable component suppliers, we still want to double check and reconfirm when it is assembled on the bikes. Each bike, road and usage combination generates a different requirement to the components,” Zhu stated. “An interesting example is about a motor supplier, who just had introduced an new motor to the market. We did test rides with all the bikes. The result was that we had to reject 30% of the motors, due to the strong vibration from the motor crank. During that introduction phase, we disassembled in total 1000 completed bikes. This act has prevented a major disaster from the market and we have helped this supplier to improve their test procedure in their own factory as well.”
Quality supply chain
The Keola factory is located in Jiangsu province, which is a key area where the highest quality components come from. Several high quality aluminum tube and frame factories are located within a driving distance of 1,5 hour. The motor factories of Panasonic, Bafang and et cetera are all within a short distance. “Being surrounded by good suppliers is very important. Even for product development. De e-bike is industry is in China, but the market is in Europe,” says Zhu.
The port of Shanghai provides the excellent facility for bonded warehousing in imported high-end parts such as Hesling chain guards, Magura braking systems and Schwalbe tires. Keola product managers are deeply involved in the development process like controller programming, motor designing, software development and aluminum tube molding. By working with all major motor suppliers, Keola can handle all e-bike systems in the market and is also developing her own improved version of front and mid drive system.
The senior management at Keola is directly involved in every development project and the decision making process is, in general, much quicker than the competitors. An internal design team, consisting of three Dutch designers and two Chinese designers, is assisted by a group of external European designers. “Keola is a product focused company. Our senior managers are actually the super product managers,” Zhu concludes.
See also: www.keola.nl