Bicycle aftermarket component manufacturer, Hope Technology Ltd, employs around 130 people and exports half of its rapidly expanding production to more than 40 countries. The successful British manufacturer’s business, which was founded in 1989, was based on a quest to make mountain biking safer by developing an alternative to cantilever brakes.
Founders Ian Weatherill and the late Simon Sharp, ex Rolls-Royce aero engineers and toolmakers, developed a disc brake along the lines of those used on motorcycles. Today, the top-quality brakes are manufactured in their tens of thousands annually, along with sprockets, chain rings and virtually every other component that goes onto a mountain bike.
To meet demand, the Barnoldswick factory in Lancashire operates around the clock. Even so, by mid-2015 one of the 70 CNC machine tools on the shop floor, a BySprint CO2 laser cutting machine from Bystronic UK was struggling to keep up. Hope Technology's works and production manager, Lindley Pate, knew that fibre laser cutting was a maturing technology and decided that the time was right to make the change. A 4 kW BySprint Fiber 3015 machine was duly installed.
He explained, “The Bystronic fibre laser has become an essential tool at the start of the production routes for brake discs and sprockets. There has been minimal downtime since the machine was installed, which is essential as we only operate one laser, so it has to be reliable as otherwise production would stop.”
“We use relatively thin materials, such as 2 mm stainless steel for brake discs and up to 6 mm aluminium for some sprockets. For thinner gauges, compared with an equivalent CO2 source, the fibre laser produces components three times faster. It has made a fantastic difference in helping us to meet the sheer volume of orders.”
The machine is equally capable of handling much thicker material. Hope often processes 12 mm thick aluminium tooling plate to produce fixtures for other machines on the shop floor.
A further advantage of fibre laser cutting, according to Mr Pate, is the high quality of cut using exclusively nitrogen as the cutting gas. He said, “The as-machined edges on stainless steel appear polished, so brake discs, for example, need no edge finishing. They go straight to on-site heat treatment.
He added that other factors in favour of fibre laser cutting over CO2 are more consistent accuracy, less machine maintenance, and more economical running costs, both in terms of the amount of electricity used and the lower requirement for cutting gases.
The cycle components cut on the BySprint Fiber are mainly brake disc blanks from 410 stainless steel sheet in the soft condition. The discs are either one-piece varieties or two-piece assemblies requiring an outer band of the same material and a floating centre of 2014 aluminium, which is also cut on the machine. Additionally, sprocket blanks from 7075 aluminium are produced, as well as bike maintenance tools, merchandise such as bottle openers and keyrings, and parts for display stands and trophies.
Mr Pate concluded, “We have always believed in making everything in-house from top quality materials, either solid billet or aluminium forging. We not only machine everything ourselves on CNC equipment to control precision and quality but also heat treat, anodise, polish and assemble on-site.
“We are even branching out into in-house carbon fibre production, which will result in handlebars, seat posts and even a complete bike being available".