Internship with TI cycles of India in Chennai, India
There are many processes involved in taking a product from a conceptual stage to production in a factory and I had the opportunity to experience most of the pre production stuff.
For bicycles in T.I the process can be roughly divided into seven stages:
Market research and concept proposal (already discussed in previous blog)
Frame geometry 2d sketch and component spec
3d modelling of frame
conversion to CAD for the frame builders
Frame building and testing, process is refined around 3 times
Assembly and test ride of prototype
The rest of the processes necessary for mass production are completed by the sourcing department, and, because my frame, if used at all won’t be used until 2013 I didn’t manage to see the completion of this process. However I was able to actively involve myself in all of the above processes.
1) The market research I have talked about before, the proposal I made was to make a prototype steel or alloy frame of simple double diamond geometry (standard bike frame) and kit it out with two different variants – one single speed/fixed gear with bull horn handle bars and the other with simple gears and drop handlebars.
2) The frame geometry I spent a long time working on in bikecad. I began with the idea of a simple frame with a curved seat tube but after long discussion I modified it so complications wouldn’t arise in production. I changed the design so that the bike was simple and angular and the seat stays connected to the seat tube in a different place to the top tube (which looks slightly odd but was very functional). Once I had settled on the frame design I had to hone in on the measurements of the various tubes and did lots of background research to find out which size to make them and what the angles should be. I made the frame with a 54cm seat tube, a size which would roughly fit a medium to tall height person, but figured out what the various sizes would be for a small frame as both variants if they went to production would be made in two different sizes – in India given the proportion of relatively short people it is important to be very careful about frame sizing. I relied lots on the help of Veeresh, the Industrial Designer for Montra and Abhishek who dealt with the sourcing and componentry for the brand.
3) Once the design was complete I moved over to Tiagus desk for a few days where we went through the process of converting the 2d design in to a 3d model – this stage is important because having a 3d design of a product allows you to be certain about the geometry and aesthetics of your frame before you go to the effort of making it in steel in the prototype office. On the whole this went relatively well but we spent a long, long time thinking about the seat stays and how to curve them round the wheels and eventually found a solution. The amount of time that goes in to the decisions of such small degree changes in curvatures of tubes in something that isn’t really appreciable when looking at a finished bicycle in a shop. The 3d modelling was unbelievably complex and there was no way I was going to be able to comprehend how to use the technology any time soon – but I do feel I got a rough idea of how it works and the things that are important to think about when creating a product in Pro Elements. Tiagu was very happy to go over what he was doing and try out different options.
4) Once the 3 model was complete Tiagu was able to take a number of screen details from the file and hand them to the draughtsmen who then converted the files into CAD files for detailing so that the frame builders would know what exact angles and lengths of metal they should be cutting and what the mitres were (a mitre is where a curved tube connects with another curved tube). The draughtsmen were a seasoned bunch and completed this very quickly.
5) Two prototype frames were built for my design and I was oversaw the fabrication of both. The first was an alloy frame, and I helped with some of the sawing and filing of the tubes. Unfortunately for ‘safety reason’ – which probably did exists – I wasn’t allowed to participate in the welding however I would have very much liked to. I spent a great deal of time involved in this process and made firm friends with the frame builder, a man whose name is something like Abadum but that I still cannot pronounce. He told me in broken English what he was doing at each stage in the process and I research online what was happening so I felt I had a very firm grasp of what is going on. I will hopefully do some courses in frame building in England at sometime in the future – it is something I am very interested in and fabrication of physical things is a deeply satisfying process. The whole process of authorization for frame building and CAD took rather longer than I had hope and I fell well behind on the timetable I had drawn up in the opening weeks of the internship.
It also transpired that the components for the single speed/fixie were not going to be order, this was somewhat disappointing as I felt the employees of T.I had scant idea of what such a product was like and it would have been good for them to experience trying one out. I would hope in future years that the boundaries of what are and are not possible to do over the internship are tightened up a little more.
After welding of the alloy frame we found a few details that had to be changed for the next version – for instance the seat stay bridge had to be lowered by 35mm so that the back brake would fit properly. The second steel frame was easier to construct and was done to almost the same design. Parts of it were heavier because of the thicker head tube and the more weighty material used – even though the tubing was thinner. However I was very happy with how it turned out.
Even though I had time to draw up graphical ideas I wouldn’t have had time to do decals or proper spraying for the bike as decals are made by an outside vendor in big batches. So instead I chose to paint the frame a single bold a bright colour. I had a look in the paint lab and picked out the colour sapphire – which was bold and eye catching. The painting process was very interesting, smelly and as always I was interested to interact with the workers on the factory floor and see the conditions they worked in – which weren’t what I would expect in a Western factory but then weren’t all that bad either. In general people seem happy and interested to talk to me.
I had a go with the paint spray gun on a tester but it is significantly more difficult than it looks so the expert paint guy did my frame. It came out a wonderful colour and I was very happy with my choice. We did the forks the same colour the next day.
Over this period I also had the chance to meet Mr Sridsar Ganesh the director of HR for the company that own T.I cycles the Murugappa corporation. We had a chat about how my internship and his previous job which was at Cadburys in Bourneville!
6) Graphics were one of the things I probably spent the longest on and learned the most about. Veeresh who I was working under had a very interesting and frustrating style of teaching but It probably helped me learn a lot faster than I would have otherwise. Although I was using a different program to him it still worked under the same principles. I converted the CAD files and began the long process of cleaning it up and simplifying the lines so that I could begin working on the colour. I learnt how to use nodes and work with the vecotr based program. Once I began thinking about colours and design Veeresh became I thought less than helpful – he refused to say if he liked what I had done or give me any tips apart from telling me to work more and then to look at this specific scott or trek or specialised model very carefully and then proceed. The process was frustrating but I had a real crash course in Industrial Design and was able to call on help from other designers In the department when I needed. Of course the graphical Ideas I came up with would never be used if the product went to full production but I felt that it was something very important to learn – and to complete the whole design process for my product. In the end I came up with two designs for each of the variants. One for the fixie was retro and had different coloured panels with borders and was based on the graphics from various track bicycle manufacturers. I was very happy with it but can see where it should be improved. For the graphics I learnt to use elements, which basically means building up an image through a series of simple shapes. I used angular elements to work with the angular frame and a bright yellow frame (montras colour) highlighted with pale blue. To work on the design I first looked at a number of different bicycle manufactures and the way in which they balance their graphics across the whole frame of the bike. The finished product I was happy with but if you look at it carefully and have an understanding of how the balance and flow of graphics should look on a bicycle you can see that it is a little clogged at the front. However Veeresh believed that for a first attempt at graphic design and with no prior knowledge it was a good attempt.
7) Finally I had to put the whole thing together! I have some experience in this department – I’m in the process of opening up a bicycle maintenance shop on campus (the Green Bike Project) and have put together two bikes of my own. However I still required lots of help for certain things. There were many language barriers to overcome when putting the bits together and the people in the production plant where I put it together were busy, with production surprisingly enough, so it took a few days to get all the parts together and on the bike. The parts area was very, very unorganised and one of the recommendations I made in my final presentation was that they took everything out of its unorganised stacks and labelled it properly. I made friends with some of the guys on the production line who were around my age – and on my final day they invited me to come into Ambattur and have dinner with them. I went along and their boss, raja, the chief mechanic came along to help translate – they were lovely guys and I felt honoured to be invited out to eat roadside sweets and dinner with them. They earnt around 150 rupees a day so their lives are incomprehensible to people living in the west. We talked about their work and future and their planned marriages in the next couple of years to their girlfriends (Which they had planned for themselves which is a miracle considering the prevalence for arranged marriages in India). They seemed happy with their jobs and I really wish them the best and hope that the Indian economy progresses in a way in which their pay will increase so that they can travel about in India and abroad – they were full of questions about my life in the U.K.
I picked the wrong components more times than I can remember so I had many problems during assembly but eventually I got the bike completed. It looked bloody brilliant and turned everyone’s heads, even the people in the PD department were way more enthusiastic about it than they normally are about prototypes. Visually it was a great success. After lots of sweating and being covered in chain and climbing over lots of boxes and looking for components in 35 degree heat I finally managed to get the whole bike together. Back in the office I did the fine tuning of the gears and wrapped the handle bar tape, the brakes thankfully fit on this version. The bike rode beautifully and was very smooth. It was almost a perfect fit for me. I compiled a small list of changes that would need to be made before production, the most prominent of them being that the top tube needed to be shortened by around 450mm so that people’s arms wouldn’t over stretch when reaching for the handlebars. However on the whole it was fine, we were just being pernickety.
My final blog will be relatively brief and I’ll talk about the presentation of my project and the skills that I have drawn from my time here at T.I cycles.