The Switch Aero System launched on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter on June 3rd, 2013, just over one year ago. It's been a crazy year since then, so we thought we'd take a minute to look back at how we got here. This is the second installment in a two-part series."Part 1 - The Sprint" covers inception through the end of the Kickstarter campaign. "Part 2 - The Ironman" picks up where Part 1 left off, and covers the end of the Kickstarter through the present.
Test, Refine, Test, Refine ....
Some of you may have noticed that the design of the aerobars and seatpost shown in the Kickstarter video are different than the production versions that exist today. The design changes were driven by exhaustive testing of the components to ensure that they would be reliable, safe, and easy to use.
Kickstarter Seatpost Version
Current Production Seatpost
We built our own custom test rig so that we could perform fatigue (cyclical loading) and ultimate proof (single loading) tests and see first-hand what was working and what wasn't. I'd love to tell you that the first prototype passed with flying colors, but unfortunately that's not how product development works. During the development, not all of the tests were successful and we refined a number of aspects of the design. One of the major changes to the seatpost design was switching from a two piece post (tube + bonded cap) to a single-piece 3D-forged post. The forging eliminated the joint at the top of the seatpost, allowing us to create a stronger, lighter post.
Video of Some of the Fatigue Testing We Performed
All of the testing and refinement meant a better, more reliable product, but they also meant that we wouldn't meet the schedule that we had proposed in the Kickstarter. It's a common issue with Kickstarter projects, and we were hoping to break the mold, but ultimately, perfecting the components trumped rushing the schedule. Here are some of the major design changes and efforts that affected our delivery schedule:
- Change to forging tooling - we had originally planned to extrude and CNC machine the saddle clamps and seatpost, but based on the results of our testing, we decided to forge these parts to improve their strength. The forging tooling was substantially more complicated than the extrusion tooling that we originally planned on using, and also required that we find a new vendor for the forged parts.
- Bushing testing - the four-bar linkage in the seatpost rotates on special bushings that we chose based on millions of cycles of testing. We started out using commonly available off-the-shelf bushings, but found that they were prone to wear or cracking during the fatigue tests. In order to ensure that the bushings would survive a lifetime of use without loosening or seizing up, we ended up designing custom bushings using a specially selected material capable of withstanding the high loads.
- Spring tuning - one of the most important features of the seatpost is its stability in both positions. We spent a lot of time tuning the spring force and detent shape to ensure that the seatpost was secure in the forward position. It was a delicate balance - the seatpost had to be stable, but also easy enough to move while riding.
- Glue - sometimes the simplest tasks are the most complicated. Selecting the proper glue to adhere the small rubber pads between the linkages on the seatpost took way longer than we expected. We ended up trying over 10 different combinations of glues and primers (with hundreds of thousands of corresponding test cycles) before we landed on the right recipe.
In September, we headed to Interbike, the major North American tradeshow for the bicycle industry. It was an amazing experience seeing all of the different companies and meeting a ton of retailers and industry contacts. Since all of us are engineers, it also forced us to get out of our comfort zones and put on our "sales" hats (even though we were not actually taking orders at the show). The response further confirmed the result of the Kickstarter campaign - bike shop buyers (a notoriously skeptical bunch) were very interested in the system and thought it would sell well with their customers. You can see our modest booth below (next to the Ironman booth, which was sporting a pretty amazing ice sculpture).
Redshift Sports Booth at Interbike (Sept 2013)
Ironman Booth Ice Sculpture at Interbike (Sept 2013)
Production - A Waiting Game
The majority of the parts for the aerobars and seatpost were produced at two factories in Taiwan that manufacture a variety of components for major bicycle manufacturers. The remaining parts were manufactured local to us in Philadelphia. We received the first productions samples in early November 2013, and immediately began testing them to make sure they met our specifications. Stephen traveled to Taiwan later that month to meet with the factories, discuss the required changes, and kick off the first full production run. Once the order was placed, all we could do was wait...
Taiwan Production Facility
The parts shipped from Taiwan in late January, just before Chinese New Year (which was our drop-dead date because we wanted to avoid the delay associated with the CNY factory shutdowns). Because of the schedule delays, we decided to air freight the first production order to avoid the months that would have been required for ocean freight. The arrival of the boxes promptly transformed our small office from (relatively) tidy to full-on disaster area.
Production Parts Arrive at the Office
For the first production run, we decided to do all of the assembly here in-house in order to ensure quality and refine the assembly process. It was labor intensive and pretty boring, honestly, but at the same time, strangely satisfying. If only it actually went as fast as the time-lapse below...
Final Assembled Seatposts
Assembling the units ourselves allowed us to catch several errors in the production parts that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. We ended up having to remake a number of small parts locally at the last minute due to irregularities in the production pieces. In the end though, the production process went relatively smoothly - there were definitely a few hiccups along the way, but we were lucky not to encounter any show-stopping issues during assembly.
The Finish Line
On March 13, 2014, we shipped out all orders (well, 99%) to our Kickstarter backers. It was a huge relief to have the products out the door - even though the vast majority of our backers were supportive throughout the process, the production delays had been weighing heavily on all of us, and were were eager to get the products in people's hands before the start of the riding season (for us northern hemisphere folks anyway).
For all of our Kickstarter backers - we have to thank you not only for backing our project financially, but also for the unfailing support, patience, and understanding that you showed throughout the process. We hope you're enjoying the gear as much as we are!