Will New Hi-Tech Steel Grade Revolutionize Frame Production in Europe?
DUISBURG, Germany – Is there a solution for the major problem that the rocketing e-bike sales in Europe is facing? That problem is in the limited availability of aluminum frames. Production in Europe has to increase; and fast. But starting (robotized) production of alloy frames is complicated. Steel is much easier to process. However, there’s no going back to chromoly tubing. Is a new highly durable steel grade with higher strength and stiffness than aluminum with the forming capabilities of carbon offering the solution?
It was already identified as a problem years ago. And since then initiatives like with the company Triangles, that is now with robots producing alloy frames in Portugal, materialized. But that provided only a small relief to the pressure on alloy e-bike frame production. Much bigger challenges have manifested since as demand rocketed as well as due to the anti-dumping measures in place on e-bikes imported from China. That involves the production relocation of a big part of the 750,000 electric bicycles that were imported into the EU from China in 2018. So, the question is how fast e-bike frame production in Europe can be expanded?
Frame production in Europe
Steel instead of aluminum is the solution for quickly increasing production in Europe. Frame production expert Luigi Seghezzi from Bike Machinery/Mair (the companies that recently joined forces) has pointed that out recently. He forecasts that within the next 3 years some 3 million e-bike frames will be made in Europe. In particular in Portugal, Poland and in Romania (by Italians). He expects that the biggest part of the 3 million frames will be made with what he referred to as ‘light metal’. Asked whether this means the return to ‘old school’ Reynolds 538 double or triple butted tubing, his answer was no. It will be a very new type of light metal which will be matching the lightweight characteristics of alloy frames.
That something is taking place in Poland has in the meantime been confirmed as a company related to renowned Arkus-Romet is opening in August a robotized frame production facility in the country.
Meanwhile it has also become clear what the ‘light metal’ is that Luigi Seghezzi mentioned. Worldwide leading steel supplier thyssenkrupp Steel Europe revealed that in a press release on the Red Dot Design Award the company recently won for its high-tech steel bike. This road racer has a frame designed by thyssenkrupp which is made from, as the company says “Dual-phase steel, an advanced, highly durable steel that has a higher strength and stiffness than aluminum and the forming capabilities of carbon materials. The galvanized steel sheet is initially formed into two half tubes which are then welded together in an automated, high-precision 3D laser welding process. This technology, otherwise used only in the high-tech industry, produces virtually invisible welds of consistent high-end quality for bicycle frames and demonstrates the completely new design possibilities offered by steel. The extremely high stiffness of the steel frame in the area of the pedal bearings ensures optimum power transmission and assists propulsion. At the same time the high flexibility of the saddle tube and the intrinsic damping properties of the material make for a fatigue-free, comfortable ride.”
Breaking with conventions
Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe (27,000 employees and 9 billion euro annual turnover) also points out “Modern bicycle frames are generally made from aluminum tubes or carbon fiber laminates to achieve high stiffness, though this inevitably comes at the cost of comfort. This was the starting point for steelworks. We took inspiration from the diverse properties of steel. Without the high strength of steel, the bionic design of the saddle tube would not have been possible,” says Jia-Uei Chan, leader of the steelworks project. Using thin steel sheet and state-of-the-art production processes, steelworks breaks with the conventions of customary frame manufacture to combine the otherwise conflicting design demands of stiffness and comfort.”
The thyssenkrupp bike will be available to buy from late summer 2019. More at https://www.thyssenkrupp-steel.com/