Trek Factory Tour Part 2: Prototyping, Testing, and Product Development
Chances are, if you’ve been to Trek and taken the tour, you’ve probably seen this door – and it’s probably been locked. Like any bike company, due to product cycles being well ahead of current model years, keeping what’s coming secret is key. While the door clearly says no photos, we were allowed to ignore that this particular visit. The past few times that I’ve visited Trek, I haven’t even seen what’s inside though, this time was different. Want to see what’s behind the dark curtain?
Check out the secretive Product Development room, Race Team Shop, and less secretive Testing rooms after the break!
Behind the locked door with the opaque glass you will find Trek’s incredibly well equipped product development and prototype room. Engineers have nearly every machine imaginable at their disposal to turn out the latest prototypes. Before we were allowed in, Jim had to do a quick sweep of the room to make sure there wasn’t anything we weren’t supposed to see once inside. Check out the Triple tandem on the wall.
The Prototype room is a full service build shop, from machining the parts and tubes, to welding them up and making a complete bike. Various tubes including aero tube shapes sit waiting for their next build next to a tool that we assume is used for reaming or milling the insides of tubes. Behind is a milled out prototype DH bike, possibly for the Trek VRX or Diesel?
Full welding stations with frame jigs sit at the ready for their next project. Underneath, a giant lathe.
In addition to all the manual vertical mills, horizontal mills, and lathes, there is an entire wing devoted to CNC machining and other machining tasks. Above are examples of their machining capabilities with various parts machined for random projects over time. While we were there the CNC machine was being used to make tooling for use on another machine.
Quite possibly one of the most impressive, and likely most expensive, machines in the room was Trek’s giant 3d printer. The Objet 500 is one of the highest end 3d printers you can buy, and it’s capable of printing an object made of up to 14 different materials at once, with over 100 materials to choose from. As you can see, multiple parts are able to be printed at once on the same tray without them being connected. 3d printers have come a long way since I got to play with the resin/glue printers in college that could only print rough, single material models. We lifted the specs from Objet’s site below:
- Multi-material models – eliminating the need to design, print and glue separate model elements together
- Different parts. Different materials. Same tray – saves time and serves multiple requirements simultaneously
- Outstanding 16-micron, high-resolution print layer accuracy
- 600 DPI X & Y resolution
- Thin walls down to 0.6mm (0.024″)
- Large-size build tray of 500 x 400 x 200mm
- High throughput – Up to 20mm per hour per strip
- Reliability and robustness – at least 72 hours of non-stop build capacity
- High speed – simultaneously print multiple items of different materials.
- Choice of over 100 materials
One of the amazing abilities of the printer is the ability to print muti-part objects that are connected as soon as you remove them from the printer. The chain above is exactly how it came from the printer minus some support material that is removed after printing. All of the links and pins move and rotate just like a real chain. Thanks to the incredible accuracy of the printer, complex designs like the hub and all of its internals can be printed as well.
Due to the ability to print with multiple materials as mentioned, things like this lock on grip can be printed in one go. The plastic forms the lock on sleeve, and a rubber material is then printed around it forming a nearly perfect grip. It seems the sky really is the limit with this printer – and it certainly helps with product development.
Once a product has left the Development lab and entered into production, testing takes place either here in Trek’s Wisconsin test lab, or at the factory on the same test equipment. Trek designs, builds, and tests all testing equipment in Waterloo then installs the same machines in their factories over seas. Obviously, US made carbon frames and carbon parts are tested here. All of Trek’s own bikes are tested on their own equipment.
Trek employs a variety of tests for the product’s ultimate strength, fatigue, and stiffness. Trek tests all parts to and past CEN and ISO standards, though ISO is apparently trying to be standardized across the globe. One interesting fact about the test facility, is that all of the testing results can be viewed remotely from any location in real time. It’s taken around 5-6 years for Trek to get their testing facility to this point.
Trek also believes they have the only UCI certified impact sled for wheel testing in the US. Trek has full in house wheel testing abilities with multiple test rigs going at one time.
This wheel was undergoing testing with the computer monitor showing the stresses experienced by the wheel.
Trek even has a salt spray booth, so if you’ve heard us mention hours in a salt corrosion test, this is what that’s referring to. There were apparently some secret road brakes that I couldn’t see inside undergoing testing as we went by.
After successful testing, product then makes its way to the Trek Race Shop, where the latest and greatest is built up and shipped out to pro racers across the globe. Framed jerseys of past champions are an indication of what comes out of this shop. This is another area that is usually off limits, and our photography was very limited. That rack of bikes in the background is the latest batch of bikes going out to pros – though we couldn’t get any close ups.
The Race Shop has its own machining capabilities, though far less than the Product Development room.
Here, engineering geniuses like Ray can cook up their own special projects like this retro-tastic, belt drive, Trek 8900-but-not-really.
Like many other projects Ray has created like the first carbon, belt drive district, special parts were machined to allow for custom touches like split seat stays. Who remembers the paint jobs that this custom 8900 pays tribute to?
Ray’s creations aren’t just limited to bikes either – with custom tools and parts sitting around the shop as well. The tool at the top is a combination chain whip (cog based), pedal wrench, BB wrench, and 1/4″ driver, all in an alloy package to keep things light and packable. When you have the ability to make your own tools you can decide if durability, or weight and compactness are more important.
Ray also found himself without the right belt drive cog before a race, so he whipped up a custom one with a machined plastic carrier and metal dowel pins. The design also served to keep the belt in place.
Finally, who hasn’t fumbled with the tiny Shimano Hollowtech II thumb wheel? Why not just bolt it to a Park 3 way? Brilliant.
The race shop is really a bike mechanic’s dream – everything you could possibly imagine to work on or build bikes, with plenty of space to do it in. And unlike a lot of shops, the lighting was bright, so you can see what you’re doing (the one I worked at was like a dungeon). Things were a bit spread out as Ray had a ton of bikes to get out, with very little time to do it in – but he still took the time to show us around. Thanks!
While Trek has quite the history of putting out new bikes and carbon technology, not everything makes it out of the building. Remember the Trek Aero DH wind tunnel tests? That bike now sits in the Mountain Bike Design offices as wall art. After all of the design, prototyping, and testing, it was determined that there just wasn’t enough aero benefit to justify the increased weight of all the aero bits on the bike. So don’t expect any aero carbon DH wheels any time soon.
Check back for part 3 where we get an insanely in depth tour of Trek’s US carbon bike production from Trek’s Head Manufacturing Engineer, Jim Colegrove!
Make sure to check out parts 1 and 3 if you haven’t already!