Solid Thinking: Handcrafting Bikes with SolidWorks Office

13 Oct, 2005 By: Cadalyst Staff Cadalyst

Trek Bicycles designs bicycles for Tour De France winners and trikes for tikes using SolidWorks Office.

In professional cycling circles, Trek bikes have a long-standing reputation for quality. When Lance Armstrong began his streak of six consecutive Tour de France wins -- all on Trek bikes -- the company's products became even more prominent. The company's bicycles range in price from about $100 for a child's bike to over $8,000 for a high-end racing bike.

Based in Waterloo, Wisconsin, the company has grown from a five-person operation working out of an old barn to become a premier manufacturer of handcrafted bicycles worldwide for the professional racing and recreational markets. The company's commitment to embrace advanced design technologies has resulted in many innovations, including the first bonded aluminum frame and OCLV carbon-based bicycles, the lightest stock road bikes available.

Trek bicycle

In order to meet the anticipated increase in demand due to the association of Trek Bicycles with Armstrong, management evaluated their product development environment in 2002, focusing primarily on preparation for greater volumes of new business, according to Steve Baumann, industrial design manager. "We wanted to upgrade to a CAD system that was more PC-compatible, affordable and easy to use," Baumann said. "Because our people fly all over the world to meet with racers, buyers and dealers, we use a lot of laptops. In addition to flexibility in hardware, we wanted to utilize 3D design data in order to improve productivity and boost throughput."

After evaluating several 3D CAD packages, the company selected SolidWorks Office 3D for several reasons, including the integrated opportunities for reusing design data and the modeling and surfacing capabilities. With SolidWorks software, the designers at Trek Bicycles can now use design tables to improve efficiency, make use of interference-detection capabilities to minimize rework and employ advanced modeling and surfacing techniques to enhance their designs.

"How good a bicycle feels is related to finding the optimum location for the centerline," said Christopher Carlson, senior industrial designer. "With SolidWorks, we set up a master sketch with different tube dimensions in a design table. From this diagram, our designers can quickly work to create the different angles and configurations required to produce all the different sizes for each model."

"The combination of assembly and surfacing capabilities allows us to build complex shapes and surfaces into the assembly in context," he added. "About 60% of a bicycle uses existing components. For us, the challenge is to blend these components with more complex shapes and surfaces to create a seamless, beautifully flowing line. SolidWorks software enables us to establish clearances for existing components, while adding more shape and sculpture to the overall design."

By implementing the SolidWorks Office mechanical design system, Trek Bicycles is employing 3D design data at additional points in the development process. This, in turn, has doubled the industrial design group's throughput and improved quality across the board. "We are doing twice as many projects now," Baumann said. "By integrating everyone internally and externally (including vendors) on the SolidWorks platform, we are able to support a 100% increase in the number of new products that go out the door."

The company uses integrated COSMOSWorks Designer analysis software to optimize parts for strength and weight. eDrawings software enables fast communication of design information internally and with outside vendors. PhotoWorks and SolidWorks Animator software facilitate the creation of photorealistic renderings and animations for marketing purposes. Integrated SURFCAM and PowerMILL applications support high-speed CNC machining and fabricating operations.

In addition to helping Trek Bicycles double its new product throughput, SolidWorks software allows the company's designers to conduct more design iterations on a product design before releasing it to production. Increased design iterations also support Trek Bicycles' commitment to innovation, Carlson said, because they provide more opportunities for tapping creativity.

"The speed and ease of iterations in SolidWorks result in greater innovation," Carlson said. "You never get something completely right the first time. If you only have one shot at something before producing a prototype, you are going to take a conservative, safe approach. Because we can work so quickly in SolidWorks software, we are able to take more chances and push the limits of design, which generally results in more innovative solutions."

Eds. note: Regular columnist Greg Jankowski is taking a break this month. He recently completed SolidWorks for Dummies (Wiley Publishing, $29.99, Pub Date: September 12, 2005, ISBN: 0-7645-9555-5), the first volume in the Dummies series to tackle 3D solid modeling. He'll be back next month with more SolidWorks tutorials.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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