Martyn Harris called on two personal skills last year when he started a new business — RaceWare Direct — to manufacture bespoke plastic brackets for mounting instruments on racing bikes and to produce titanium components such as chain catchers and handlebar stems.
First, he has been a keen cyclist since he was 14 (in 2011 he represented Team GB and won the Track Cycling Masters World Championship in the scratch race for 35- to 39-year-olds).
Second, he is an expert in additive manufacturing, having been employed since 2000 at Newbury-based 3T RPD, where machines from Warwick-based EOS Electrical Systems Ltd (www.eos.info)
are used to build prototypes and fully functional components from plastic powders and metal powders — directly from CAD models.
Mr Harris now splits his time between 3T RPD and RaceWare, which is located next door. The new venture came into being in early 2012, after he tried to buy a mount to secure a computerised power meter safely and neatly to his ‘aero extension’ TT bars (forward-facing extensions to a bike’s handlebars that improve aerodynamics for time trials).
“All I could find was a horrible adapter kit, which included cable ties to lash up the instrument to the bars, so I thought I would make my own mount using the EOS additive manufacturing machines at work. Ian Halliday, CEO of 3T RPD, was very supportive of my venture — and still is.
“I quickly discovered, via the Internet, that a lot of other people were looking for ways to mount power meters, global positioning systems, cameras and other instruments to their bikes, without using the manufacturers’ clunky bracketry. The interest came not just from the time-trial racing community, but also from road bikers and leisure cyclists.”
One of the contacts was cycling enthusiast Jason Swann, who sent through a CAD file of his ideal mount for a Garmin Edge GPS unit. It took Mr Harris just four months to progress from the first iteration to the wide range of products that RaceWare now sells on-line for mounting Garmin equipment on ‘road drop bars’ and ‘aero extensions’. They cater for every possible combination of bar size and stem width to allow perfect central positioning of the GPS device. The mounts can be painted after vibro-finishing, if the customer prefers a neon colour to the white of the EOS PA2200 nylon material from which the products are produced.
Mr Harris rides for the Banjo Cycles Racing Team, which undertook a 6hr mountain bike endurance challenge during which the Garmin mounts were tested under extreme conditions. They were found to be very stiff and throughout the challenge proved to be extremely resistant to vibration and movement. The variety of Garmin mounts manufactured means that batch sizes are small — from 10-off to the low thousands — so it would not be cost-effective to produce them by injection moulding, as the tooling costs would be prohibitive.
Building 3-D parts directly, layer by layer, not only involves much lower initial outlay but also ‘speeds progress’ from the drawing stage, through honing the design in CAD and producing prototypes by additive manufacturing, to production of the finished articles by the same means.
Short lead times
Mr Harris says: “People find it difficult to understand how we produce new parts so rapidly. They ask about lead times, and I reply ‘two to three weeks’; they are used to hearing ‘six months to a year’. Additive manufacturing with the EOS equipment allows us to respond very quickly. For example, in just a matter of days I produced two bespoke Garmin 500 mounts with lettering down the side saying ‘Reading GP 2013’ — one each for the winner of the men’s and ladies’ races.”
RaceWare also markets lightweight metal bike parts, which are manufactured additively in EOS machines as nests of components. In addition to the hollow titanium chain catcher (now a commercial product) and the very stiff handlebar stem (still at the prototype stage), Mr Harris has just started offering a titanium race number holder and will be looking to introduce more metal parts next year. The powder material used for these applications is EOS Titanium Ti64.
Although RaceWare has been in existence for only 18 months, nearly 6,000 products have already been produced using EOS systems at 3T RPD, which runs six machines for plastic and five for metal.
Mr Harris says the machines provide reliable and consistent performance, which is important for RaceWare; in addition to selling its products in almost every country, it supplies numerous elite UK and overseas cycling teams, all of which demand top quality. Indeed, many of the most famous cyclists in the world, including those that competed in this year’s Tour de France, have RaceWare products on their bikes.
Stuart Jackson, regional manager at EOS in Warwick, says: “RaceWare is an outstanding example of how additive manufacturing can be the ideal technology for starting a new business. With no up-front tooling costs and the ability to tweak designs along the way, it supports a low-cost innovative culture that brings products to market very quickly. Mr Harris sub-contracts his manufacturing to a bureau, so he does not bear the costs of investing in our laser sintering machines.
"The business model is perfect for a high-technology start-up company, as it can leverage an entrepreneur’s specialist knowledge, expertise and passion with hardly any financial risk.”