Develop - what's new from the Alpkit Design Team
Frame bag production
30, Jul, 2012
As well as moving some production back from overseas having our own production facility has allowed us to offer custom made frame bags.
The plan to make our own products in the UK finally turned into reality this year. The first of these to come in house were our bouldering mats, which considering the success of our Chinese made Phud and Woomf bouldering mats, had a lot to live up to. Anna joined us to coordinate the factory, Ben jumped enthusiastically into a machinists role and we have another machinist joining us this month. As well as moving some production back from overseas having our own production facility has allowed us to offer custom made frame bags which is where Jim takes up the story:
AK. Bike frames come in a range of different shapes and sizes but you just have one frame bag on your site. How do you ensure it will fit my frame?
J.E. It's all down to the customer measuring and measuring again to produce an exact cardboard template of their front triangle. We then transpose this template on the fabric to create a frame bag that exactly matches their frame. We also ask the customer to mark on features such as bottle cage mounts and cable guides so we can ensure the velcro attachment points do not interfere with the function of the bike.
One of the first Stingrays to be produced for comp winner James Smith
AK. Why don't you make a generic bag that will fit 80% of all frames?
J.E. It is true a frame bag designed to fit exactly into one bike may fit another well enough to function. However this is very hit and miss and an ill fitting bag can cause interference between the bikes components which could lead to failure.
AK. How long does it take from placing my order to receiving my frame bag?
J.E. It takes us around a day to produce a frame bag, so in theory our turn around times should be very quick. However to allow the factory to run as efficiently as possible we need to carefully plan production in advance. It is important to balance frame bag production with the production of other items such as boulder mats, so to allow this to happen we book frame bag production 2 weeks in advance. This then allows the web sales team a week to sell them and the customer a week to prepare their cardboard template.
AK. Why do you go out of stock when you are making them on demand?
J.E. It was unfortunate we went out of stock when we launched the Stingray, we simply didn't expect demand to be as high initially as it was and the sales guys didn't book enough production space in the factory to meet this demand. We think the initial peak of orders has subsided now.
AK. There are a lot of options available when I spec my Stingray, does this make the manufacturing process more complicated or expensive?
J.E. Complicated, yes, expensive not really. If we are on top of our game matching a customers preferences in production should be nice and easy as long as we don't rush things. If we rush things quality goes down, mistakes happen and we ultimately let people down. That's just not our style.
AK. What machines are used during the manufacturing process?
J.E. We have an array of industrial sewing machines designed to perform just one or two tasks, unlike a domestic machine which can pretty much make a cup of coffee while you sew. They are heavy and are built like battleships. They are not strained by sewing the burly fabrics required to produce durable products such as frame bags and boulder mats. We could make a frame bag on a single domestic machine using it's computer programmed array of stitches but we would have to cut corners in terms of seams thickness, bar tacks etc. Our factory is open for all to see as part of a new showroom. If you really want to you could give us a call and find out when your frame bag is being made drink coffee and watch it come together.
AK. How does the process of manufacturing a stock item like your Mujo bouldering mat differ from a one of a kind item like a Stingray?
J.E. The biggest difference is cutting the fabric. With the boulder mats we can cut out a lot at a time, but with frame bags we can only cut out one at a time. From then on we work on a batch process for all items. So for example we would sew all the zips of that weeks frame bags before moving onto the next step.
AK. Are there any plans for more bike luggage in the future?
J.E. Yes, we have a car park of ideas in the factory. Next up will be a commuter frame bag, it's main focus being the ability to quickly remove it from your bike. We haven't nailed the design yet but we have a load of ideas of how to do it. The great thing about having the factory right here in the building is that ideas can turn into live products super quick.
AK. What has been the most popular colour combination?
J.E. Pretty boring really, black fabric, black thread, red liner. Only one customers has gone for a pink liner.