ENVE Composites, maker of carbon wheel sets and cycling components finished work on a massive 73,000 square foot factory and opened it up to the public for the first time this week. The wheel maker has been making wheels in Ogden, Utah with 168 employees for more than 10 years and the new mothership allows for a 4x increase in production. The operation also brings more of the wheel making process under one roof. Everything except anodization (a process for plating aluminum) and decal production are completed in-house. Ready to see inside?
Quality Starts In The Machine Shop
Why does a carbon composite company need a machine shop? Molds. And carbon composite is only as good as the molds that are used. To this end, ENVE invested heavily in bringing that aspect of the process in-house. And having a full-service machine shop with a staff of machinists helps speed up design iterations, develop testing equipment and reduces lead-times for new mold concepts.
A challenging part of working with carbon fiber is that many of the raw materials must be kept cold to prevent curing of the epoxies that are pre-impregnated with the fibers. At ENVE, the ‘pre-preg’ materials are received via freight trucks equipped with onboard freezers, and the material goes directly into onsite freezers. There are other alternative pre-preg materials available that don’t require freezing, but none meet the requirements ENVE sets for their end product.
CPL, bro (Cut. Ply. Layup)
This is where the wheels meet the road, almost. The engineers have done their work and developed a digitized design that is then cut out using Autometrix automated cutting machines. They are quite proud to own the first Autometrix that serializes the material as it cuts, printing a trackable number that allows ENVE to track every carbon panel that goes into a rim or component. This process makes sure all pieces are properly accounted and included, further increasing the efficiency of their process, important when you’re moving a lot of pieces of what amounts to similarly-sized black fabric.
Three years ago, ENVE scaled their process to produce more of their components in the US. A challenge was finding a paint shop that could meet their requirements and schedule. After 3 different paint shops, including one with mil-spec certifications, they decided they could do it better, and for more than 2 years have been completing the paint process themselves. At the new facility, they use water-based paints in a downdraft spray booth that meets all air-quality requirements while providing a 120 part/shift capacity.
The idea of ‘one-piece flow’ is a process for manufacturing that came out of the kaizen and just-in-time process methodologies pioneered in Japan in the automotive sector back in the 70’s. Over time, the benefits to this type of process have shown themselves in a range of industries and for ENVE, a change to this style of manufacturing has increased the efficiency by reducing the active numbers of wheels that are in progress. Instead of making a set number of wheels in a batching process, ENVE now makes just the rims on order, following a first in, first out cycle. The old factory could see up to 1000 rims in some stage of the manufacturing process, but that’s been reduced to 250, an improvement that allows ENVE to respond more quickly to market fluctuations and changes.
Stacks on Stacks
When deciding on the height of the building, the consideration of wheel height was the primary metric. As in, let’s make the building eight wheels tall. This efficient storage combined with ‘just in time’ operations management keeps inventory on their shelves for a maximum of 6 weeks while allowing for fulfillment of two full shipping containers full of wheels, on any given day. This all translates to the ability to support 100 discrete orders per day compared with 25 in their old facility.