Throwback Tech: ENVE Factory Insider Tour

Editor’s note: Remember tubulars? Rim brakes?!? During our 2012 tour of  the ENVE Composites HQ  we ventured into the depths of American carbon rim production. ENVE continues to develop and manufacture their latest rims in Utah. ENVE’s most recent release takes advantage of the advances in disc brakes tech and hook-less rim design to challenge the title of “Most Advanced Road Bike Wheel on the Market.” Let see how the pioneering carbon brand got there. 
It seems as if everywhere you go in the ENVE factory, you’ll come across piles and piles of wheels in various stages of production. Every ENVE rim is manufactured in-house in the company’s Ogden, Utah headquarters.

ENVE Composites has grown into one of the cycling world’s premier parts brands over the past few years, thanks in large part to keep the bulk of their carbon fiber production in-house in Ogden, Utah. The company (formerly known as Edge Composites) moved into its current space in the beginning of 2011, and its complete with a wheel production facility, machine shop and test lab. ENVE’s founder, Jason Schiers, sums up his company’s mission best: “Our brand is all about why we all started riding bikes in the first place, because it’s fun. That’s the one commonality of all disciplines of cycling, that we all had the same feeling of getting onto a bike and thinking, ‘This is awesome!'” ENVE invited Road Bike Action on a private tour of its facility, and we came away thoroughly impressed with the company’s operation.

 

One hundred percent of ENVE’s wheel production is done in-house in Ogden, Utah, a fact that every ENVE employee is quite proud of, especially Joe Stanish, ENVE’s Vice President of Operations, our de facto tour guide of the day. This photo was taken inside ENVE’s main production room, and it was the only photo we were allowed to take there. Like many other manufacturers in the cycling industry, ENVE is extremely productive of many of its production methods. So while there are some things that we weren’t allowed to photograph and many other things we’re not allowed to discuss, ENVE’s employees were happy to show off most of it. Here’s some of the tour highlights.

 

Inside a “pre-assembly” area, workers like Luis (above) lay out sheets of carbon fiber that will be hand-cut to be later place inside molds to assemble wheels, handlebars, stems and seatposts. ENVE only uses unidirectional carbon fiber, something that they say provides a better overall end-product.

 

All of the components that go into the production of an ENVE wheel are meticulously organized with a work order, or “traveler,” that accompanies the “wheel kit” throughout production. Its purpose is for quality control, ensuring each step in production is precisely carried out.

 

Like “wheel kits,” each batch of carbon fiber sheeting is carefully organized via a system of checks and balances.
Although not a large part of its business, ENVE produces custom tubing for certain custom framebuilders. This rack holds various custom tube jigs.

 

Recognize this name? One of ENVE’s biggest framebuilder clients is Parlee Cycles.

 

Although we weren’t allowed to photograph the bulk of ENVE’s rim production process, here are some of the steps that occur after each rims pops out of a mold. Each road rim, apart from ENVE’s latest SES series of aerodynamic tubulars and clinchers, is run through this custom-built machine that rough sands a brake track onto the rim’s surface.

 

Here is a close-up of the brake track machine. As you can see, a worker runs the rim between two sanding wheels, which roughen up the rim to create ENVE’s ideal brake track.

 

Here, another worker touches up each by rim hand, removing excess resin and ensuring that the rim molding process went smoothly. ENVE can produce, on average, 80-120 rims each day.

 

After touch-ups, rims are then collected and sent to the quality control area, where they receive final checks before decals are applied and the rims are built into complete wheels.

 

Here’s a set of SES (Smart ENVE System) rims that have already gone through the quality control process, received decals, and are awaiting either wheel-building or shipment to wheel builders around the country.

 

Inside the quality control center, workers meticulously check for any imperfections in rim construction. Shantal (left), uses a handheld device that measures the rim’s width. Rims with discrepancies in width wider than 1/10,000th of an inch are considered “defects.” Other workers, like Shayna (right), perform a visual inspection of all rims.

 

After rims have passed quality control, they’re sent to the decal station. Each and every model of ENVE rim has its own jig that securely holds the rim in place while decals are applied by hand.

 

Although ENVE sells many bare rims to aftermarket wheel builders and bike shops, most rims are built into complete wheelsets in-house. Here are two workers, Bryan (left) and Colton, hard at work.

 

ENVE’s team of wheel builders have an incredibly large supply of spokes at their disposal.

 

Likewise, ENVE’s supply of hubs is impressive. Most rims are built with DT Swiss and Chris King hubs.

 

We spotted a custom set of wheels for the ENVE-sponsored, United Healthcare Pro Continental team. complete with orange Chris King hubs and custom decals.

 

UHC’s Robert Forster put his ENVE wheels to good use at the tour of San Luis earlier this season. (Photo: Bettini)

 

Rims that aren’t built into complete wheels are placed in the storage warehouse, where they will await shipment to a bike shop or custom wheel builder.

 

Most ENVE forks are manufactured in the company’s Ogden facility, and there’s a large supply on hand, ready to be shipped.

 

Along with custom tubes for frame builders, ENVE also manufactures a small selection of custom lugs. This is a bottom bracket shell for Independent Fabrication.

 

INSIDE THE TEST LAB

 
If you’ve picked up the July 2012 issue of Road Bike Action, you may have noticed a similar photo to the one above inside its pages. This is ENVE’s brake track test machine. Wheels are placed onto the machine and rotated at high speeds while a set of brakes are applied at a constant pressure.

 

Up close, you can see a set of lasers that measure rim width and temperature (notice the small red dots?). Rims that have discrepancies in width, or reach too high a temperature, are classified as “defective.”

 

ENVE’s team of test engineers, led by Brent Pontius, use several machines to test various elements of rim construction and performance. This particular machine tests rims’ lateral stiffness.

 

This machine runs what’s called a “spoke pull-through” test. Spokes are pulled out of the rim at a gradually increasing force. While much of ENVE’s production process remains secretive, one thing the brand is known for is not drilling spoke holes into the rims. Instead, spoke holes are pre-formed in the molding phase.

 

This machine tests the structural integrity of a rim by dropping a weight onto it from various heights.

 

Pontius demonstrated this test for us, dropping the 50-pound weight several times from increasing heights. Eventually, the rim fractured, but only slightly, after the weight was dropped from a height of 18 inches. Pontius claims that this force is equivalent to “about three times the force of a heavy rider hitting an enormous pothole.”

THE PASSION OF ENVE

Dozens of these posters hang throughout ENVE headquarters, each one featuring a quote from a frame builder or other bike industry leader.

 

The Three Amigos of ENVE (from left to right): aerodynamicist, Simon Smart; CEO, Sarah Lehman; Founder, Jason Schiers. In total, ENVE has about 65 employees.

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