Imagine Project: The story so far…
With our Imagine Project, we are aiming to create an environmentally sustainable children’s bike that uses the principles of the circular economy to challenge and change the way we think about designing, manufacturing, owning and ultimately disposing of our products. However, with so many unique challenges we cannot do this alone, so we have been collaborating with other organisations to help us better understand every aspect of our design and manufacturing process to allow us to meet our goals of:
• Minimising environmental impact: all materials and components for Imagine bikes should originate close to the place of manufacture to reduce the energy used in transportation (currently our Ludlow base in Shropshire, UK)
• 100% reused materials: we want to remove the need to draw on finite natural resources
• Longevity: Our aspiration is for the Imagine bikes to last 50 years
• Circular Sustainable materials: all materials used in the bike construction must be easy to separate and reprocess at the end of use, without downgrading
• Superb user experience: zero maintenance, with excellent customer service during the rental period
The appeal of steel
In our last Imagine project update we introduced our first prototype – the Imagine 20 – and explained that we have been working with Birmingham based Reynolds Technology to develop new stainless steel tube sets specifically for the Imagine Project bikes. Stainless steel is more commonly found in bespoke, high specification bicycles as it is a material renowned for its strength, low-weight, fatigue life and corrosion resistance. However, most stainless steel tube-sets currently on the market originate in the USA or the Far East, so they certainly don’t qualify as being locally sourced.
Working with Reynolds, we believe we’ve identified a combination of stainless steel grades which balance the performance characteristics we are looking for. These are currently manufactured in Sheffield and Germany.
We have collaborated with WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) at Warwick University to identify how we can optimise the fatigue properties of the frame and fork material without compromising on either weight or aesthetics. Initial work has included microscopic inspections of our welds and the surface of the tubes to determine potential stress hot-spots which could compromise overall fatigue life. Cross sections of samples were examined in high magnification to reveal the metal’s crystal microstructure and how this is affected by the application of heat in the welding process. Further work is on-going, including stress analysis and a planned trial of stress-relieving treatment. It’s by eliminating as many seemingly small contributing factors as possible that we believe we will maximise the longevity and performance of this material.
Putting Imagine to the test
Initial testing of the Imagine frames subjected them to stresses until the construction failed, to give us an indication as to the relative strengths of the different designs and provide a benchmark against current ISO standards.
Watching the frames being packed up for shipping to Bureau Veritas’ testing facilities in Warrington was a bittersweet moment for the team. The frames represented the culmination of many months of research, problem solving and development of welding and fabrication skills, yet they were all destined to be destroyed! However, the whole team knows how important the testing process is for learning and development, and this destruction testing is just one of many tests that will be performed during the project. There was a mounting sense of anticipation as we waited for what were in the end, very encouraging results, giving us invaluable insight.
To keep building and retesting different permutations of frame and fork would be both time consuming and wasteful of materials, so we are keen to use technological solutions that help us achieve our goals. With this in mind we’ve worked with Wolverhampton based Simpact Engineering, a Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) consultancy specialising in durability of products. Using a technique called Finite Element Analysis, they can model the stress distribution of variations in our frame and fork design to allow us to focus on optimum combinations. Changes in diameter and curvature of the tubing, composition of the stainless steel and welding techniques all have an impact on the strength, and ultimately, durability of the bike.
The most important test for our bikes
Whilst laboratory testing and computer simulations are an integral part of modern day bike design, we still feel that you can’t beat good old-fashioned testing, getting a child to ride the bike every day (whatever the weather).
User testing is especially important with the Imagine bikes, as over time we are going to be redesigning every single part of the bicycle with circular sustainability in mind – from the braking mechanism to the pedals and saddle.
To take this testing to the next stage, we now have Imagine Project bikes out there, in the wild, with the first early adopters. We have a small number of families signed up to the Imagine Project already, these families were invited to apply if they felt they met the below criteria:
- Having a child that fits the Imagine 20, 24, 26, 700
- Live within approximately a 50-mile radius of the Imagine Project hub to enable us to provide our full back up service
- Regular usage of a bike for cycling to school/leisure- Important for feedback on the bicycle’s performance over time.
So far, most of our families are based in urban areas within the West Midlands, as well as two families in South Wales. All use their bikes regularly for riding to school as well as family adventures at the weekends. We’ve already received incredibly valuable feedback from our early adopter families which has already had an impact on the project:
“…it’s really important to us to know that the bike will not be scrapped when it reaches the end of its useful life. This is a business model which urgently needs to be adopted by more manufacturers, and it’s brilliant that Islabikes is investing in research and development in this area. We are proud to be contributing to this movement.”
Lily Crowther, Imagine Project Early Adopter
As our focus and attention expands from the frame and forks to also include components, we now have a greater understanding of the scale of the challenge ahead of us. We need to produce components that meet our environmental criteria, whilst being simple to maintain and service along the way. However, we are also committed to ensuring that the bikes are easy and enjoyable for young riders to use and perform brilliantly in all conditions. Not much to ask!
If you are involved in an initiative that has similar goals to the Imagine Project and would like to discuss ways in which we could collaborate please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org