Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 5 - Asheville NC Industry Nine!! Warning. Massive post.

So, today we drive home.   nothing to look forward to there except warm temps, windows down driving. Sitting on our arses going from fried food outlet to fried food outlet.  At least until we'd left the deep fried states and entered the truck stop states.

But first. Drew and Eric from Industry Nine (who'd we'd rode with a couple days back) said it would probably be ok if we stopped in to see their facility.  So, we loaded up a couple trays of Starbucks coffees and headed off to intrude upon our new friends at their place of work on an early Monday morning.

We arrived and while we could see Eric's car in the lot, there was no other indication we were actually in the right place. No neon I9 signs, no ethereal halo over the building, no rainbow ending on the building roof, nothing.    ..Just like any other job shop.  We entered the building (who's only signage 'Spego' meant nothing to us) and proceeded to poke our noses around corners and doorways with eyebrows raised "Hellooo?  ..helloo???        ...helllooooo.." 's  


we did know we were in the right place though cause there was a childs bike with ~14" wheels laced up with I9 hubs and spokes.     Clearly this is no ordinary job-shop.  Clearly unusual things happen here.

So, we timidly poked our noses through the door labelled "Emplyees only" "eye protection required"
(holding our Starbucks coffee offerings out in front of us like crosses in a vampire flic in case anyone should question our intentions)  strolled around the steel racks and machinery until we found someone who pointed us in the right direction when we blurted out Eric? Drew?

And  so we found ourselves in the womb of Industry Nine wheels.
This is where the last part of the magic happens.  the 'birthing room' if you will.
Eric is seen here lounging comfortably, lacing up some lucky punters wheel, a kaleidoscope of hubs in the background await their turn in the capable hands of our wheelsmiths.

(ugh. I just puked in my mouth a bit reading back that last sentence!  yech. what next? 'it was a dark and stormy night?")

Here Drew is showing us one of the things that set the I9 free hub apart.  There are six engagement pawls, each offset to the next by one half of an engagement tooth period. pawls are active via a tiny leaf spring.  That means three pawls (engaging three teeth each) lock in every 3 degrees for 9 engagement points for every 'click' you hear.

No special tools required to service them and standard sealed cartridge bearings are employed so that access & service is completely within the realm of competent home bike mechanics.

Bearing removal and replacement would be a challenge but apparently they're toying with the idea of a custom bearing cartridge puller.
I'm guessing it would be a tiny version of flywheel puller set up to pull from the inside.  Time will tell.

Looking in, it's a fairly simple arrangement, but as a designer, I know only too well how much time, energy, creativity and sometimes luck it takes to come up with a truly tidy, graceful, effective solution that meets all the criteria.
Any hack can bang off a Rube Goldberg solution if time is short, motivation is low or the 'eureka moment' simply eludes, but dialing in the solution without compromising is way cool.

We left Eric and the guys to they're instruments (bore gauges, DT tensiometers, arbor presses, truing stands etc) to follow Drew further upstream in the manufacturing process.
The tour was run in reverse of manufacturing operations.    Leaving the 'birthing room' we headed up the canal to the previous operation.
Anodizing, Polishing.

This is Drew's domain at I9. If you're lucky enough to get your hands on I9 gear no matter what colour, size or shape your bits are, Drew has had his hands and eyes on your bits first.

The parts shown here are post polish, awaiting the anodization bath of hot acid where a +/- 3 mil porous oxide (rust) coating will form from the corrosion of the acid.  This porous coating is what accepts the dye.  So, parts are dunked in the hot acid bath, left for specified time then transfered to the dye tank where the colour is absorbed by the oxide and voila. We have Bling!

There are many different methods of affecting the anodization process and Drew happily fielded my incessant queries but they're for the most part beyond normal interests so I won't bore you with my geeking out over them.

The polishing step is the only process that doesn't happen in house at I9. The reasoning is that there is so much cotton waste involved as a product of the polishing that it brings with it a lot of environmental concerns with disposal of the waste so for the time being at least the polishing happens remotely.
Worth noting that initially the anodizing was done off site also, but that because the aesthetic quality could not be controlled and consequently parts were failing QC where they end up on the shelf of broken dreams, I9 opened up their own anodizing dept.
..speaks to how seriously they take their QC.

The next step up the canal for us was to the machining room.
We saw the swiss mill with autofeed that turns the aluminum round stock into spokes.

(not sure if the proprietary thread form is cut here or if thats a post process...)

The first shot is just the mill interface.  The second is the discharge chute with a little bit of a spoke poking through waiting to be pushed out to drop into a box below.

This is the round stock autofeed for the spoke turning.

We saw the EDM machine that cuts the pawl engagement rings out of tool steel
here is the off cut (waste) from the EDM process.
You can see the tiny wee kerf and the incredible edges & accuracy that EDM is capable of.
This operation is so time intensive that only a dozen engagement rings are turned out in a day.

The milling machine where the spoke shoulders are cut from the flanges, and the control pc. for dim checks.

The lathe(s) where the hub axles and hub bodies are turned down from round stock blanks, and this is the part where, from a manufacturing perspective we can consider ourselves at the point of 'conception'.
As is typical, much is made of the 'conception', but when you get right down to it once you've run a part through a few times and worked out the kinks you're just feeding in plain old round stock and getting on with business.
 ..and when you're caressing holding you're shiny new wheels, few will think on or care about that moment the round stock was placed in the center and door closed around it.

This tour alone made the 30+hrs of driving worth it.  I'd never seen an EDM machine, up close nor a swiss mill and while they're not actually terribly exciting looking themselves when put in the context of making top drawer, sexy-ass bike parts with them it was super cool for moi.
If I wasn't so overwhelmed with the uber-coolness of it all I'd have thought to note when/where the proprietary thread form is cut.  I know from seeing some of the blemished hubs in the recycle box that it happens between anodization and 'birthing' but I didn't see, or think to note it.

Random Pics.
Craig thinking on how to convince our I9 folks that this wheel needs to be with him. That he loves it as no other could, that it's an incorrigible crime that someone else should be allowed to use, abuse, possibly ignore and maybe even leave it dirty and unpolished after a ride.

there is surprisingly little exaggeration in that paragraph.  I think everyone present felt the love in the room and things were more than a little uncomfortable.  Drew wisely departed. (probably to have a shower)

Me holding an I9 road wheel. This time it was my turn to get star-struck and speechless. This wheel weighted less than an angel's fart.   carbon tubular rim. Sapim cx-ray spokes and of course that hub.  It was completely off the f-kn charts.  This wheel restored my faith in a higher power. or lesser power.
like, with this wheel I'd need less power to get my fat arse up hills like.

like, if you threw this wheel away into the wind it would come back and rub itself on your calf purring like a hungry cat.  well, thats what I was thinking anyway which is weird cause I don't really dig cats, but.. anyway, yeah if cats were like these wheels i'd be doing the crazy cat lady thing for sure.

that is all. this is getting dumb and looking at that road wheel again I have to excuse myself..

edit: I'd incorrectly stated the hubs engage at 5 degrees but it's actually 3 degrees.


Peter M said...

Thanks for this Mark. It makes me love my I9s even more than I did already.

Papa G said...

I9s!! Love them an always wanted some - must add them to my "must have and really need" list! Thanks for the great write-up Mark.