Last month I was lucky enough to get a spare day before PressCamp and to take a guided tour around the ENVE Composites facility in Ogden, Utah. With the exception of the carbon lay-up room, where the really secret, proprietary stuff happens, I was given pretty free rein to wander around, shooting photos.
Below you’ll find a selection of shots from that day – and Premier users will get a more detailed look, including a visit to the ENVE test-lab, where they do some big damage to some perfectly good carbon components. As always, you can click on any photo for a bigger pop-up version so you can see the detail.
Quite dull, really. Not even the door handle is carbon...
Wall to wall blue skies - which can actually cause problems with the carbon getting too hot, which is why it's all stored in a big fridge.
All looking good so far.
The Random Capital Monster seems to strike here too.
It all starts life as rolls of carbon. These are measured out and cut into 'rim kits' for use later.
Sheets of raw carbon are cut up, to eventually become rims. More complex shapes are done on a giant fabric cutter.
The angles of the cut of the unidirectional sheets are very important.
Two giant industrial fabric cutters shape the more complex bits with a computer controlled cutting knife on a big flat-bed.
Due to the Utah heat (for 90% of the year) the carbon is all stored in a big walk-in fridge, which stops it 'going off' under high room temperatures.
Factory head honch Joe shows us a complete 'all you need to make a carbon rim' kit. Each kit is made up and put into the fridge, to be made as needed.
ENVE also makes carbon tubes for a number of frame builders. Carbon fibre is wound round a mandrel to an exact thickness. It's then wound in a protective tape, which is being done here.
Not a reel-to-reel tape machine, but something that compresses and protects the carbon tubes before being cooked.
ENVE Composites was started in 2005 and started selling components in 2008. Originally called ‘Edge’ it changed its name in 2010 due to a trademark infringement in Europe. It doesn’t seem to have hurt… The company’s founder, Jason Schiers started working with carbon with Paul Lew, who designed the first carbon clincher rim back in 1998. Jason worked with Paul and helped rework designs that eventually became Reynolds wheels – a company that Paul Lew is still working with. Jason meanwhile left to go and do his own stuff. Although he had plans of working in motorsports, the lure of designing better products for the bicycle industry was too strong. Besides, he was a bike rider and it was far more fun to make stuff that made your own bike better.
Here's a rim, fresh out of the mould. One of ENVE's strongest suits is that it has patented the moulding-in of its spoke holes. Other companies make a carbon rim, then drill through the fibres to make the spoke holes - which wouldn't seem the strongest way of doing things.
The spoke holes are filled with little plastic pegs, which are knocked out before the rim is 'finished'.
Made in the USA indeed...
ENVE wanted to concentrate on carbon’s strength and stiffness, with light weight coming as a welcome bonus. Designed well (and it’s very easy to design a carbon component badly…) a carbon rim or handlebar can be hugely strong – much stronger than the equivalent aluminium product. But that comes at a price – not only in manufacture, but also in design. Some rim designs I saw had taken 30 or more different prototypes before they’d finally got to the strength and stiffness that ENVE approved.
ENVE makes all of its rims in the USA and, soon, will be making all of its components in the USA too. It had tried outsourcing components to Asia, but lead times were so long, stock levels were hard to control and the quality issue was so important that it reckoned it was near enough the same price to bring it all back in house. Although ENVE components are expensive, they’re on a par with other Asian-made components. This is partly due to the lack of finishing that the products get (or need). Other rim companies might fill, sand and lacquer a rim three times in order to get a smooth finish. ENVE’s stuff comes out of the mould, gets the flash lines ground off and stickers put on and that’s it. Ready to sell. In this way, ENVE can keep a close eye on stock levels and quality issues.
Here's where the ENVE wheels are hand-built. By dudes with iPods.
Don't try adding it all up. I tried and it's eye-watering!
Every rim can be traced back to its component parts.
Rims are weighed after coming out of the mould to make sure they're within a tight spec.
Seatposts in the finishing room.
These cheery guys in the finishing room spend their days filing off flash, grinding down the spoke holes with a Dremel and finishing the brake surfaces ready for final finishing, stickering and sending out.
Finishing the brake track off on a tubular road rim.
Filing an all mountain rim bead smooth.
Each spoke hole is hand finished. That's a giant Hoover tube beyond.
After stickering, the rims end up here - in the giant rim warehouse.
We told you not to try to add it all up...
As we mentioned, ENVE doesn't just make rims and it doesn't only make stuff for itself. Here are some frame tubes for smaller framebuilders.
ENVE loves a design challenge - like this crown lug from an Independent Fabrication road bike.
Try doing that in aluminium...
Random buckets. Disappointingly not carbon...
ENVE also has its own machine shop. It makes its own rim moulds, fixtures and fittings and many of its own tools.
Lots of machines including CNC and water jet cutting machines.
Slabs of aluminium due to become rim moulds
CNC machines for toolmaking. The moulds are secret enough that they don't want to let anyone else make them.
You wouldn't normally expect to see welding in a carbon factory, eh?
Just a few of the products... The stands are designed in-house too.
A cheery Jason. Can you tell who ENVE supplies rims for?
And that’s it for the tour. Premier users get a much larger article and a couple of dozen more test lab photos below. All part of being a Singletrack Subscriber.
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