FLO Cycling – New Factory… We’re Back in Action!

First and foremost we owe all of you (our followers) a big thank you.  We want to thank you for your patience while we have sorted out our factory issues.  We’ve signed a new contract, approved final design drawings, and our new molds are being produced.  We greatly appreciate your support and hope you enjoy the story below… 


I’ve been excited about writing this blog article since the day I toured our new factory.  While in Taiwan, I visited a long list of factories to determine which factory was right for FLO.  When I met the owners and walked the production floors of our new factory, I just knew this factory was “the one”.  It was like thumbing through the toy section of a Christmas catalogue when you were a kid.  There were hundreds of toys but that one special toy felt just right.  It was the toy that was at the top of your list and the one you couldn’t live without.  Our new factory gave me the same feeling.  
 
I want to accomplish a few things by writing this blog article.  First, I want to explain to our followers what happened a few months ago when we were forced to change factories and unfortunately, lost a large sum of money.  Secondly, I’ve mentioned on several occasions that our decision to change factories will greatly improve the quality of our products, and I want to share those improvements with you.  So here we go…
 
What Happened

We searched for a carbon fiber factory for quite some time.  After meeting with, and receiving quotes from several factories, we decided on one that seemed like a good fit. The factory we contracted with showed us some of their sample products (which looked great) and assured us they could produce our fairings.  We spent the money to open our FLO molds and the production began.  We anxiously waited 90 days for our molds to be completed and our first prototype samples to arrive.  When the carbon fiber fairings arrived we noticed right way they they did not match the dimensions of our rims.  We also noticed a few cosmetic issues with the carbon.  We contacted the factory to discuss the issues and they told us that they were “rushed”.  They assured us that our next round of samples would fit properly, and any blemishes would be corrected.  
Here you can see where the carbon fiber does not fit properly on the rim
 
We ordered another set of samples and waited another 60 days.  When the new samples arrived, our fit still wasn’t correct, there were more blemishes and some of the carbon fiber was deformed.  
In the light it is easy to see the deformed carbon from our first factory.
Another shot shows a similar problem
We contacted our factory again but this time their story had changed.  They they asked us for our advice, and in the end, asked if we could come to China to teach them how to properly produce carbon fiber.  As you can imagine, teaching our carbon fiber factory how to produce carbon fiber wasn’t what we signed up for.  We had a tough decision ahead of us for the following reasons:
  • We had a lot of money invested with this factory.  Could we financially start over?
  • 50% of the carbon work was pretty good.  Could we take the risk by moving forward with the factory in hopes their performance would improve?
  • We had nearly 2,000 people signed up waiting for our pre-order.  Could we take the risk of upsetting that many people?
  • Would we be able to find another factory capable of creating our fairings on FLO’s budget?  
  • How long will this delay FLO?
These questions and more were on our minds.  In our opinion, the biggest risk in all of the above was the questionable quality of our products.  We knew if we ordered a large volume of products that arrived in a condition that would not allow us to sell them, FLO would be finished.  We simply couldn’t take that risk as we needed to make choices for the greater good of the company.  We moved forward with the following thoughts in mind:
  • Quality is number 1.  We don’t want to be the company who’s first generation product was a dismal failure.
  • We were going to lose money and needed more.  Losing money stinks, but there are always ways to find more.  Time to start saving and living leaner.
  • We would more than likely lose some followers and many would be disappointed by the news.  In the end we figured asking our future customer to wait a little longer for high quality products would upset them less than shipping them wheels that were deformed :-).
  • We knew every moment we wasted the longer the delay would be.  We decided to act as quickly as possible and I was on a plane to Taiwan the following week to find our new factory.  Would we find one?  We weren’t sure, but sometimes you need to have a little faith.
Improvements

As you already know our trip to Taiwan was a huge success.  It’s funny, but the worst things (like losing thousands of dollars and halting production) often turn out to be a blessing in disguise.  Let’s take a look at the quality improvements and general improvements offered by our new factory.
 
Fit and Finish
After experiencing the quality issues from our first factory, we made it a top priority to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.  One of the biggest fit and finish issues occurred where the carbon fiber met the aluminum brake track (and the hub on our disc wheel).  To ensure this was corrected, we modified a new method for interfacing carbon fiber and aluminum rims to work with the wide fairing design of our FLO wheels.  We also developed a new custom hub for our FLO DISC.  These new features produce a stronger bond, improve product tolerances, and produce a much nicer looking wheel.  Here are some pictures of the fit and finish improvements. 

NOTE* These are not FLO wheels but our FLO wheels will use the same construction methods and be made by the same factory that produced these wheels.  Our FLO wheels will still have a matte carbon finish and black annodized aluminum rims.
Here you can see a nearly flawless carbon aluminum interface
Another shot of the carbon aluminum interface
This picture shows the precision of the CNC’d spoke holes
6066 Aluminum Rims (aka Scandium Rims)
The rims we use for our FLO 60, FLO 90 and FLO DISC have been custom designed.  These new custom rims allow us to use the new bonding method described above and ensure our aerodynamics are not effected.  Additionally, our once 6061 aluminum rims have been upgraded to 6066 aluminum.  Some manufacturers refer to 6066 aluminum as “scandium”.  Ultimately, it is lighter and stronger with no additional performance effects.     

Highly Experienced Factory
After dealing with the first factory we wanted to ensure that this factory was legit.  We performed factory/production inspections at each factory we visited and I can assure you our new factory is the real deal.  I won’t drop names… but… our new factory makes products for some of the biggest names in cycling.  That is reassuring.  
 
Fewer Overall Factories
Originally we were contracted with four separate factories.  I guess five if you consider stickers.  It definitely could have worked that way but it was becoming a bit of a logistics issue.  If one factory was delayed or had a tolerance issue it could effect the other three.  Our new factory is managing the rims, fairings and assembly.  This helps reduce the number of links in our chain and will ultimately make us more effective at producing wheels.     
 
Warranty
To top it all off, our new factory has agreed to provide an even better warranty policy than we had before.  That means better protection for our future customers!


Hand Built Wheels
We made some assumptions when we started FLO Cycling that were in all honesty, pretty naive.  Here they are:
  • We would sell 100 wheels our first year.  ( We are hoping this is naive )
  • We would Hand Build each wheel ourselves.
Now that FLO has come a long way there are a few things I can tell you.  First, I’m not a wheel builder nor do I want to be one.  I bought the books, the tools, and even learned to hand build wheels.  The problem is, I’m a slow wheel builder.  It was taking us on average 3 hours to build each wheel, and if our sign up list is any indication of how many wheels we will sell, there is no way we could ever keep up.  
 
Our first factory mentioned to us from the beginning that they could build our wheels for us.  After the truth came out about the carbon, we were also informed that they did not have adequate wheel building experience to take on our project.  
 
Knowing all of the above, I made it a top priority to ensure our new factory had the experience necessary to hand build our wheels in a timely manner.  What I found amazed me.  Factories in Taiwan have the ability to turn out tens of thousands of hand built wheels each year.  On top of that, they use the latest tools and technology to ensure each wheel is true and will stay true.  Below are some pictures of the tools they use and a description of what each tool does.  You will also find a video of a similar factory in Taiwan building wheels.  This is not our factory specifically, but the same tools and techniques (for the most part) will be used to construct FLO wheels.
 
High tech pneumatic truing and bedding station.  Used for truing wheels and removing false tension.
 
High tech bedding machine.  Used for removing false tension.
NOTE* This is not the exact factory building our FLO wheels.  There are many factories like this in Taiwan that build their own wheels and the wheels of many other companies.  FLO will be using a wheel builder nearly identical to this builder.
 
As I’m sure all of you can clearly see by this point, the new FLO wheels will be well worth the wait.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this article.  As always, questions and comments are welcome.
 
Chris
 
PS.  We hope to see many of these boxes showing up soon!