Factory Tour: K-Edge Machine Shop – Garmin Mounts, Prototypes, Gun Stocks & Blades!
K-Edge started as a single chain catcher to save founder Joe Savola’s wife, Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong, from dropping her chain during the Beijing Olympics. The venue had a course very similar to their hometown hills in Boise, ID, with the slight declines leading up to the climbs. Climbs steep enough to require shifting from big ring to little, the perfect opportunity for a medal-winning bid to fall along with the chain. Savola’s friend, Eric Jensen just happened to own a machine shop, so they made a few for her bikes.
Her team mechanic at the time called them Kristin’s Edge. He then moved to a Pro Tour road team and ordered 45 of them. Eric replied that they only had three. After a bit of persistence from the team, they decided to make them and Kristin’s Edge became, simply, K-Edge. The boys celebrated with pizza and beer from the order’s proceeds. Then they got a little press and a business was born. That was 2009.
Come 2011, they introduced Go Big GoPro mounts and got a bump. But it wasn’t until 2012′s Pro Garmin Mount that business really started booming. And booming it is – click through for a full tour of the K-Edge machine shop and see how all the parts (and some other really cool stuff – and Prototypes!!!) are made…
THE COMPANY THEY KEEP
Eric’s father bought Aceco in the ’70s when it was a 10-person job shop. It now has three different machine shops in Boise making wood tooling, cutting tools for the food industry, and the tools that companies like Intel and others in the tech/semiconductor industry use to make their computer chips and wafers. It’s very high precision tooling. Even with all that, K-Edge has become an ingrained part of the company’s business and one of their top customers.
When I visited, they were keeping their sales are marketing offices across town. As this post goes live, they’re setting up shop in a newly built office space just across the parking lot from this workshop. It will house their full sales and marketing offices, bike lab, photo studio. Plus, the packaging process and warehousing you see below will move there, too. Not to mention finally showers for post lunch ride, gym, bike repair shop, etc.
While I didn’t get to see all that since Tim Kelley, K-Edge’s marketing man, and Joe left that morning for Outdoor Retailer to spread the word about the fine outdoorsy living and working to be had in Boise, ID. To help expand the story beyond just the manufacturing process, Tim sent the following:
“On a daily basis, the K-EDGE offices are bustling with work like this- We’re in daily communication with our distributors in over 25 countries worldwide, and do all our own photography, catalog design, tradeshow booth builds, sponsor races and teams, and find creative ways to support the cycling community. And of course, there’s the semi-competitive lunch ride, bike commuting to the office, and close ties to Boise and Idaho like Joe, Kristin and I attending an event at the Outdoor Retail Tradeshow to talk about the great business and lifestyle benefits Boise offers.”
They started out just making a few products, but as you’ll see here, K-Edge has become a well-known brand with global distribution thanks to the input and hard work of a handful of cycling fanatics that just happens to include a Gold Medal Olympic Cyclist.
HOW THINGS ARE MADE
First, Eric draws a sketch, puts it into the water jet computer and is riding a prototype within an hour. Lately, he’s been pretty busy with prototypes for various camera mounts, new cycling computer mounting options and other bits and pieces. For example, The Mountain Bike steerer tube mounted Garmin mount shown here.
Joe and Eric discuss and refine the ideas and test prototypes on their own bikes. Once they know it’s something that works, James Saculles, their mechanical and design engineer, builds it in SolidWorks and makes 3D printed models to test fit and aesthetics. This gets them close to or at the final design before it moves to the more expensive machining process.
Once it gets the greenlight for machining, Adrin Clampett is the lead machinist and handles the R&D machining. Here, he’s putting the finishing touches on a new camera mount to finalize the cutting process and fixture shapes. Usually he can nail the fixture design in one or two tries, and they make all their own fixtures in house. They say making the fixtures and getting them right is harder than making the parts.
Machines in the shop are placed in a mix of logical production order and, well, wherever they could find space. This pic is from the top of the stairs to Aceco’s and, until now, K-Edge’s design offices. This is only showing a very small portion of the operation.
The CNC mills all have external pallet systems, letting them swap finished strips with blanks externally so the drills can run virtually continuously.
The larger machines run 24 hours a day with two shifts of people. The second shift works until about 2:30am and loads enough parts in the last pallet that it finishes about the time the first shift shows up in the morning.
Most pieces are made in separate operations so they can run more pieces quicker since they’re not having to change out parts on the mills every time. For example, the Pro Mount is having one side of the unit machined in the pic above.
Several blanks are placed in tooling that holds them tight. The first operation on the Pro Mounts removes all the material to create the flat piece shown below, behind the finished mount. It’s a bit slower than the second operation, so they run two machines to cut the first operation, and one machine to perform the second.
These flat pieces have the bottom of each piece complete, then get flipped and placed into other molds to have the tops carved out:
On the left is a row of Pro Mounts that have been fully machined, all snuggled tight in the tooling. On the right is one the pieces after the first operation that’s been placed upside down in the tool. The router will come down and remove the rest of the material to create another row of mounts.
The clamp is made separately and are much quicker – they can make a few thousand of them in a couple days versus about 500 per day of the Pro mounts.
That’s how most of the parts are made. The exception is small run parts like the new SRM mount (smaller piece, on right), which are done three at a time in groups of three.
Each tool in this mill cuts a different side, then the section is pulled out, moved to the next fixture to have the next side machined, and on down the line until they go to the last operation in another machine to have the back removed. Three total positions to create the SRM mount.
Chain catchers, the product that started it all, halfway through their production cycle.
After all the machining, they’re tumbled to remove any sharp edges them sent off for local anodizing before coming back for laser etching, assembly and packaging. The bright spot on the top right is the laser etching the torque specs onto the clamp.
Once everything’s ano’d and etched, the bolts are threaded into the clamp and they’re sorted by color and part…
…then moved over to packaging. Logo sheets hold nine to 12 units at a time, with small business card sized item sheets placed in the black space.
Then the parts are placed over the logo and a heated shrink wrap laminate sheet is flattened over them. Minimal packaging that does a great job of showcasing the parts. From here, they’re boxed for shipping to distributors and retailers.
Originally, K-Edge’s Ki2 system required a bit of hacking and soldering. Now, with the plug ‘n’ play E-Tube system, it’s made their job a bit easier. Essentially, they offer two programs for Ki2 parts. For those just wanting to use Di2 with a larger cassette, they’ll sell their longer cage with offset upper pulley wheel placement. For those wanting to run Di2 on their mountain bikes, the kit’s a bit more extensive and includes the derailleur modifications and the button housings and clamp.
Either way you want it, you can send your Di2 group in and have them convert it for you, or you just buy the parts and try a little DIY.
The button housing is machined and holds the internals of Shimano’s stock climber button pod, plus a machined bar clamp to hold it in place.
A derailleur conveniently laid out in parts for our visit.
At left, the stock cage is shown next to the longer Ki2 bits. At right, a retrofitted derailleur all put back together. The wide-range cassette modification may end up being the future of these parts. We’re all expecting Shimano to release an electronic mountain bike group sooner or later, which Eric admits will likely kill off a lot of the Ki2 business.
Rapid prototypes of the MTB steerer tube mount, including a version that with an adjustable angle. It’ll use their new plastic insert design to offer compatibility with other devices down the road. Which other devices you ask? Here are just a few of the different things they’re looking at:
This one’s the first prototype run of a new Quarter Twenty camera mount adapter for their Go Big mounts.
And a few of the test pieces behind the current Go Big handlebar mount. The slot on the last one holds a rubber ring that keeps the bolt in place, which threads into the hole found on just about any regular camera. This will become the second camera mount, and the Go Big gets the same new beam design. This lets them efficiently machine just one base piece, then either drill two holes for their GoPro mount or the slot and pin hole for a normal camera.
OTHER FUN STUFF
They have two massive waterjet cutters. Garnet sand is the abrasive in the water jet machines. It pushes 50,000 psi and can cut through 2″ thick stainless steel. Here, it’s putting some fine details into a block of brass. It also gives them the ability to quickly cut out prototype mounts like the steerer tube Garmin mount.
Planar heads, and they make them up to 600 pounds that are about 20″ in diameter. They also make food cutting blades in all manner of sizes, and their blades cut every baby carrot currently available in the US.
They even make parts for weapons, like these broadhead blades for archery…
…and gun stocks. Eric’s holding the full rifle stock, the single part on the right is for one with a folding stock.
This vacuum heat treating oven is the only one in the state. These knives were made elsewhere, but treated here at 2,000°. By heat treating them in a vacuum, fewer impurities can get into the metal. Apparently, these retail for about $800 apiece.
And if you’re going to offer team and race support, you might as well do it in style…
…and showcase your parts.
Big thanks to Eric, Joe and Tim at K-Edge for the tour and hospitality. If you’re ever passing through, Boise’s worth a day or two stop to ride, tube and just check out a very cool little downtown.