How Are Carbon Fibre Bikes Made? | LOOK Cycle Factory Tour

How Are Carbon Fibre Bikes Made? | LOOK Cycle Factory Tour
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    - Carbon fiber is a material
    that's absolutely revolutionized bike frame design.
    It's enabled engineers to build frames
    that are lighter, stronger, and in far more complex shapes
    than they could previously
    with materials like steel and aluminum.
    But how are carbon fiber bikes actually made?
    Well, to find out more about the manufacturing process
    in more detail, we've teamed up with LOOK,
    and we've come to Tunisia
    to visit their carbon fiber bike factory.
    Now, LOOK is a company with a huge heritage
    in carbon fiber bike design.
    They have a well-earned reputation
    for innovation and cutting-edge design.
    But before we go any further, I think we should have
    a quick science lesson about carbon fiber,
    and also, learn a bit more about the heritage of LOOK.
    So to do this, we'll teleport
    back to LOOK's HQ in Nevers, France.
    (fingers snapping) (air wooshing)
    (calming music)
    We're here in Nevers, France,
    which is where LOOK designs and prototypes
    all of its carbon frames.
    Now, this is an incredibly complex and intricate process,
    and a common misconception with carbon fiber
    is that, well, steel frames are handmade and steel is real
    and carbon fiber frames are perhaps not.
    Well, that's completely not true.
    Building a carbon frame is incredibly labor-intensive
    and complicated, and that's one of the reasons
    why they're expensive.
    Because behind me,
    this isn't just a funky wallpaper design, oh no.
    This is all the individual parts of carbon fiber
    that go into making a LOOK 795 Aerolight frame.
    There's over 300 individual bits.
    It's absolutely mind-boggling.
    It's just that, well, it's a very complicated jigsaw puzzle.
    And what's even more impressive is that the latest LOOK,
    the 795 BLADE RS, has 405 individual carbon parts.
    (bright electronic music)
    Carbon fiber is an incredibly versatile material
    to make bikes from, because of its material properties.
    So here we have some individual strands of carbon fiber,
    and in one direction, they can be incredibly strong,
    yet in another direction, they can bend and be flexible,
    which can be really useful,
    for example if you're building a chain stay,
    because you want it to be incredibly strong laterally,
    but in the vertical plane, you want it to have compliance
    so that you've got comfort built into your frame.
    And by carefully considering and manipulating
    where they put the carbon fiber and how they orientate it,
    with different layers on top of one another,
    you can actually tune the frame
    to be exactly stiff where you want it,
    but also exactly compliant where you want it, too,
    and keep it very lightweight, all at the same time.
    It's impressive stuff.
    So, I wanna show you something really cool just over here.
    To demonstrate how carbon fiber can be laid up
    to be stronger in certain directions,
    LOOK have created this really clear display.
    So what you have here is different modulus carbon fibers,
    and also we've got steel and aluminum in there, as well,
    and they've been laid up different ways.
    So each weight that's hanging off the end
    of each one of these rods is exactly the same mass.
    Now, here you can see that the deflection in this rod
    is far less than the deflection in this rod.
    Now, the reason for that is because the carbon
    has been laid up to be stronger, on top of itself
    in this rod, whereas in this one,
    it's not been laid up in that way.
    You can also see that aluminum is deflecting more
    than carbon as well, so aluminum is less stiff.
    Also steel as well, you can see
    the steel is deflecting more.
    The really important thing to point out here is that
    you can't just build a bike out of carbon.
    You can't just slap carbon together and expect it to be
    a good bike, it really is about how you manipulate
    that material, and how you actually lay it up,
    and the orientation of how you lay it up, and that's where
    LOOK has lots of expertise.
    Because the same mass of carbon fiber is used here,
    in this rod, which has loads of deflection,
    as there is in all of these other carbon rods, as well.
    So, you can see it's really important
    how you lay that carbon up.
    (relaxing music)
    LOOK's pedigree in carbon fiber bikes
    is absolutely unrivaled.
    This is the KG 86, and it was the first carbon fiber bike
    to win the Tour de France, when it was ridden
    by Greg Lemond in 1986, the clue is in the name.
    It was also ridden by Bernard Hinault, as well,
    and it's got carbon fiber tubes that are reinforced
    with Kevlar, with these aluminum lugs
    in the construction, as well.
    It's an absolute beauty.
    So now, I'm gonna click my fingers and we're gonna
    fast forward to the latest bike that LOOK have introduced.
    (fingers snapping)
    And so, we come to the present day,
    and this absolute beauty, the LOOK 795 BLADE RS.
    It's the culmination in all of LOOKs expertise
    in carbon fiber bike design.
    It's their latest model and, as I mentioned,
    features over, well, 405 individual carbon fiber pieces.
    So, I think we're gonna go see how it's put together
    and how it's made, back in Tunisia.
    (air whooshing) (bubble popping)
    Phew, that was quick.
    So, we should first start with carbon fiber.
    Back in France, we showed you
    those individual strands and filaments of carbon.
    Now they are combined into large, huge rolls
    of carbon fiber, which is then impregnated
    with an uncured, two-part epoxy resin,
    to form a composite material.
    This is known as prepreg carbon, and it comes in huge rolls,
    which you can see behind me.
    There are different kinds of carbon, too.
    So, some carbon fiber has a weave pattern in it like this,
    whereas others, the fibers are all arranged
    in the same direction, and are unidirectional,
    like this one, and the modulus can vary too.
    The modulus refers to the stiffness of the individual fibers
    and higher modulus carbon fiber is achieved
    by continually refining each filament within the carbon
    to make it thinner and smoother.
    Now, higher modulus carbon fiber can be stronger,
    but it's also more brittle, so the best carbon frames
    use a combination of different fibers
    in different locations.
    The majority of carbon used in a frame like the BLADE
    is unidirectional, and this is because it has
    higher specific properties, and is also easier
    to lay up in a specific direction.
    Woven fibers, like this, are better suited to more complex
    geometry locations, where the loads are less well-defined,
    so areas such as the head tube, the bottom bracket,
    and also any joins in the frame will employ this,
    and also areas where holes have been drilled into the frame,
    such as bottle cage mounts, or say,
    where the derailleurs are attached, as well.
    The key thing to stress is that making carbon frames
    requires a huge amount of skill, expertise, and design.
    It's a bit like cooking, in that you could have the same
    raw ingredients, this roll of carbon, and you could give it
    to me and you could also give it to a Michelin Star chef,
    but the end result would be, well, very different.
    The big rolls of carbon fiber are first cut into sheets,
    and then the individual pieces of each frame are cut out
    of those sheets, and that's done by a combination of, well,
    by hand, as you can see behind me,
    but also by a CNC profiler, and by using that,
    they're able to minimize wastage in the sheet
    and just maximize every single square inch of that sheet.
    (exciting funk music)
    The next step involves taking those individually cut pieces
    and assembling them in what is, well,
    like a really complicated 3D jigsaw puzzle
    where the exact order and placement of those pieces
    has to be really specific.
    Now, going back to our science lesson, this takes advantage
    of the properties of unidirectional carbon fiber.
    Some pieces are laid up in one direction, while other pieces
    are laid up in an opposing direction in order to create
    great strength in that direction,
    because that's the direction the fibers are running in.
    And this enables LOOK to make really light
    and strong frames, but also size-specific frames too.
    (exciting music)
    The workers here make it look very easy, but,
    in untrained hands, it's an incredibly fiddly process
    and it's so time-consuming.
    Just to remind you, this is a LOOK BLADE frame,
    it has 405 individual pieces and they have to be laid up
    in a very specific order and placed.
    It's impressive. (cheerful funk music)
    The individual pieces are laid up around
    bladders and pre-formers such as this, as these form
    a crucial part of the molding process, which comes next.
    But, how does LOOK decide where to put the individual pieces
    and the different types of carbon fiber?
    Well, that involves an immense amount of knowledge, skill,
    experience, and design, and one of the ways
    in which they do it, is through mechanical testing
    back in France, so I think we need to teleport
    back to France to see how they do it.
    (bubble popping) If you're a bike frame,
    going into this room is your absolute worst nightmare.
    But fortunately, I don't think any of you are bike frames,
    so let's go in. (scary music)
    You're gonna have to forgive me in here
    while I raise my voice and shout slightly,
    because I'm having to talk over the torturous screams
    and wails of dying bike frames over there
    that are currently being tortured.
    So this is the sprint test machine,
    and this machine measures the torsional stiffness
    of a bottom bracket, and it does this by having
    a 120 kg weight on each side, replicating each pedal stroke,
    and it does this over two days with 100,000 cycles.
    (playful electronic music)
    So using this machine, LOOK can actually measure
    the deflection in the frame, and then use this information
    to develop its frame designs and prototypes
    in the way that we talked about earlier,
    with the different ways that carbon fiber can be laid up.
    So, by late changing the way that they
    lay up the carbon fiber, they can reduce or increase
    the amount of deflection in a given part of the frame,
    whether that's to increase stiffness in certain areas
    or increase comfort in other areas.
    We've seen how LOOK tests prototypes here in Nevers France,
    so now it's time to teleport back to Tunisia to see how
    the individual pieces are put together
    to mass-produce the carbon frames.
    Teleport time. (bubble popping)
    We're now in the area of the factory
    where the molding takes place.
    Now you'll have to excuse the noise,
    'cause this is a working factory floor.
    But, LOOK takes the lay-ups, with the bladders
    and pre-formers inside, and places them in giant molds
    like the one you can see the guys working on
    behind me, just through there.
    Now the way it does it is through a modulus,
    monocoque construction, and what that means is that you have
    a large part of the frame, like this single front triangle,
    is constructed separately from the seat stays,
    and chain stays, and fork.
    Those pieces are done separately, and at a later stage,
    the stays are glued in place and fixed with some carbon.
    The mold is then placed into this massive heated press,
    which applies 2 to 10 bars of pressure incrementally
    over 45 minutes at 170 degrees.
    This is known as debulking.
    Heat and pressure is applied to the outside of the frame,
    while the bladders inflate
    on the inside of the frame, pushing it outwards.
    This heats the resin and allows it to flow evenly
    through the layers, and also eliminate creases,
    and force out air gaps, which can cause
    voids and points of weakness.
    After the molding process, the frame is left to cool
    for 50 minutes before it's removed from the mold,
    and when it's removed, any excess bits of resin or stuff
    that are on the edges of the frame are trimmed off,
    and then you get the frame like this here,
    but note it still has the pre-formers attached inside.
    The next step is to put it in one of these giant ovens
    where it's, well, baked, and this is a process done
    to cure the resin in the frame and remove
    any remaining moisture or air gaps that are in the frame,
    and this is a process that's a bit similar to what you do
    with pottery when you fire pottery in a kiln.
    (relaxing music)
    Next up is the beginning of the surface preparation
    of the frame, and this involves, well, sanding it down
    as it's come out the mold.
    So this is what it looks like after it's been molded
    and baked, and after the initial surface treatment,
    this is what the frame looks like.
    You'll see it's quite different.
    It's at this point where the pre-formers and bladders
    are removed from the carbon frames
    and then the surface treatments begin.
    (relaxing music)
    All these boxes are filled with different carbon components
    that are gonna be surface treated and surface prepped.
    So there's loads of different size chain stays
    and seat stays, but look at this,
    it's a box just full of LOOK carbon cranks.
    There's so many of them, look at them.
    (relaxing music)
    Next comes the machining process, and this is where
    all the little holes are drilled and milled into the frame,
    for little details such as where the derailleur hanger goes
    or little cable holes.
    So in case you were wondering, like me, what happened
    to Arnie's robot arm at the end of Terminator 2?
    Well, the answer is that LOOK actually acquired it
    and put it to use in its factory
    to machine holes in frames for cables.
    (relaxing electronic music)
    After the surface preparation and machining, the next step
    is to join the different finished parts together to make
    the complete frame, so you can see here that, on this frame,
    this is where the stays are gonna be attached.
    And you may notice that this area is actually recessed.
    Now there's a good reason for that.
    So, when the parts are combined, a separate piece
    of woven carbon fiber is attached over the top
    and this is to add strength, well strengthen the area.
    Now, because it's recessed, when you add that extra layer,
    it means that there's just a nice, continuous, smooth line
    and not a sort of lump in the finished product.
    The dropouts and stays are actually glued in place
    using a special carbon fiber glue which is then
    put an oven for an hour and cured at 90 degrees.
    Now, to make sure that everything's
    in the exact right place, this is all carefully assembled
    on the special jig, which clamps all the pieces
    in the exact right orientation,
    so that the precision is spot on.
    (rhythmic acoustic music)
    Next comes the surface finishing and preparation.
    Now, at every step of this process, the builders
    are meticulously checking each product and component
    for the slightest flaws and imperfections.
    And even the slightest mark can result
    in a product being either recycled
    in the manufacturing process, or rejected entirely.
    The bare, matte carbon frame, once it's been fully cleaned
    and sanded down, is then varnished with a clear coat.
    And you can see behind me, that frame's been varnished
    and it's quite strikingly different once it's been varnished
    to the matte carbon before it.
    But even when it's been varnished, it still needs to be
    surface finished, again, by hand and smoothed,
    and polished, ready for painting.
    (rhythmic acoustic music)
    Behind me here is where the frames,
    and also other components too, such as handlebars
    and chain sets, are actually varnished, and after this,
    some of them are painted by hand, here in Tunisia,
    but some other certain models are painted
    back at LOOK's HQ in Nevers, in France.
    So I guess we should head back to Nevers to see the frames
    being finally painted by hand
    and assembled into complete bikes.
    So, let's teleport...
    What do you mean we can't teleport back?
    Well, I don't care if the GCN teleportation budget
    has been used up.
    Alright well, I guess I'll just have to run.
    See you in a bit.
    (dramatic music) (heavy breathing)
    (heavy breathing)
    That's a long way.
    So, we're back now in Nevers in France, and the frame sets
    come back here from Tunisia, where they're now painted
    and covered in the final decals, so they can either be sold
    as frame sets or, in some cases, complete bikes to you or I.
    The painting process is more complicated
    than you might imagine.
    So, the surface of the carbon has to be rubbed down
    and treated first, upon which then layers are applied.
    So there's primer coats and base coats, and then
    in this case, we have a white frame
    to which then decals are applied.
    Now the decals are actually designed and printed in-house
    here by LOOK, and they're basically like a really,
    sort of posh version of the transfers that you
    would've got in a model airplane kit
    if you ever made one of those
    when you were a kid, or maybe you still make them today.
    And then after that, a lacquer coat is applied over the top
    to sort of seal everything in and protect it
    and make it easier to clean as well,
    rather than just a raw, matte finish.
    (majestic music)
    We're how here at the end of the production line,
    and these are finished LOOK 795 BLADE RSs
    that are ready to be shipped to very lucky consumers.
    They're absolutely beautiful in the white there,
    still with the Mondrian nod there,
    with the blue, yellow, and red on the frames,
    and if you're interested in what this bag is on the end,
    that'll actually hold the bits and accessories
    that you would need to build this,
    if it was sold as a frame set.
    LOOK do actually also sell them as complete bikes too, but,
    oh, I quite fancy one of them,
    might try and steal one in a minute.
    (beautiful music)
    I hope you found this video useful and informative,
    and if you have, then please give it a thumbs up
    and subscribe to the Global Cycling Network.
    I, for one, have been absolutely fascinated in seeing how,
    you know, carbon frames are both developed
    and laid up and put together, and it's nice to see
    that this is a really intricate process that requires
    loads of technical knowledge and expertise, and isn't simply
    a case of loading up a hopper with a load of granules
    and then injection molding
    a carbon fiber frame out of a machine.
    It's just incredibly technical, both on the development,
    but also the skill and hours that are taken
    in laying up all those individual pieces.
    If you'd like to watch another video, then I'd suggest,
    well, we've just see how carbon bikes are made,
    so how about how steel bikes are made.
    If you want to watch that, click down here.
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