Aluminium vs. Carbon Battle

Pinkbike just published Richard Cunningham’s pro carbon article. Richard contacted me before, and I think it’s relevant to release the conversation here as there is nothing delicate here.

Richard Cunningham : “Given your environmental stance, how do you justify the much larger volume of aluminum waste your manufacturing process generates compared to traditional aluminum bike production?”.

Leo Kokkonen: “I apologize that I don’t understand the question. Why should we try to “justify” a process where 100% of the material is recycled? Machining all together is very common manufacturing method and it’s largely used in various industries. The cutting waste is worth money and by recycling our waste, we get some of the money back that we invested to our billet. It’s not a secret that we are pre-shaping the billets before the machining and later on making other products form the smaller parts. I’m not sure if this answers to your question, but I’ll be more than happy to explain more if the question would be more specific.

Apple laptops and SRAM’s eleven and twelve speed cassettes are made by machining. Please remember that carbon can not be recycled. The resin is burned and the rest of the fibers can may be used once after the burning process. Then they go to landfill. I think that this can not be considered as recycling.”

Richard Cunningham : “I am writing a piece on aluminum vs carbon and wanted to know some information about your Machine. I made some rough calculations estimating the size and weight of the 7075 plates used to machine the halves and came up with a pretty big number
1″ (25.4mm thick plates (assuming you were conservative on the “tube” diameters)
I assumed that the linkages were machined from the inside of the front triangle billets and the swingarm halves were machined from separate plates, sized more efficiently.
The total weight of the plates came out to slightly over 45 kg
I guessed that the medium frame (if Pole was shooting to match carbon) was 2.7kg without shock.
So, what are the real numbers for a medium frame (sizes of the plates, and their total weight before machining)?
Also, can you give me a weight for a medium sized frame without the shock?


Leo Kokkonen: “Well, I kind of guessed what you are after. We get a lot of these questions at the moment. The machining process on our frame is a trade secret, so unfortunately I can’t confirm any of your numbers on billet sizes etc. What I can say is that there are ways to save material on machining. I think you need to look at the angle where we use machines and produce the frames in Finland instead of low cost labor in far east. If you just try to calculate a billet chunk and compare that on waste, I think that you will miss the point. Remember that 30% of the prepreg material is cutting waste which can not be recycled (it can be burned and the scrap fibers can be used maybe once as filling). Also there is the EPS molds which are dipped to silicon before the layup. Also there are more packaging materials, oil based paint, etc. I hope that you know how the excess resin is handled. You need to look at the processes as well. I hope you are writing the article to find about the whole processes rather than just from the material view.

Before you publish your story, I would like to read it. There is a ton of misinformation out there and it looks like a lot of people got scared of our story about carbon and are trying to polish their reputation. We need to look at the big picture when you start to compare the processes.I wrote the phases of the different processes here. I only put the phases but I did not use any pointing system to calculate the whole process. We can point the phases on energy, scrap and time but I don’t have enough data or time / resources to do it. My opinions are based on my experience as an industrial designer with 14 years of working experience and some other professionals opinions. I hope I have everything here. I wrote this at hotel in NYC after multiple business meetings so I apologize for the bad language already. I will publish soon this text on our own website as well.

– Carbon process: 1. Carbon fibre production 2. EPS molding 3. EPS dipping in silicone 4.silicone drying in heated room 5. prepreg material production 6. cutting the prepreg 7. carbon lay-up 8. Moulding process 9. machining 10. bonding 11. sand blasting 12. precoating 13. sanding 14. base paint 15. paint 16. stickers 17. clear coat 18. assembly 19. packaging 20. shipping to distributor 21. shipping to retailer 22. (possibly shipping to consumer).

30% cutting waste, EPS inner mold waste, air pressure bag, sticker base waste from prepreg, resin waste in chemical process, sand blasting waste, paint waste, a lot of labor (people travel, eat etc). A lot of management. In this process there are some dodgy stuff that I could not get my hands on and the Specialized ordered research stated that they need more information. Also the carbon process is very prone to production quality failures and there are quite a bit of scrap. They make “quality control” by tapping the frames with a hammer… which is not very scientific way. The whole process is mainly hand crafting so it’s very prone to human error. This process creates a lot of non recyclable scrap and most of the companies are operating in countries where they don’t mind dumping waste to nature. Low labor cost countries have their problems as well. Many carbon fiber bike factories are moving to Burma in the following years. Burma is a military dictatorship country.

– Conventional aluminium bike process: 1. Extruding aluminium tubes 2. manrel 3. bending 4. hydroforming 5. cutting 6. washing 7. spot welding 8. welding 9. heat treatment 10. straightening 11. heat treatment 12. sand blast 13. precoat 14. basepaint 15. paint 16. stickers 17. clear coat 18. packaging 19. shipping to distributor 20. shipping to retailer 21. (possibly shipping to consumer).

Conventional aluminium process is not as prone to defects as carbon process but there are a lot of logistics and heat treatments. Many of these processes are done by separate companies, so there are a lot of transport in between the processes. There are bigger companies that try to make everything in house but usually they end up having problems and in many cases it leads to product failure. I think it’s not a secret that there have been “bad batches”. The scrap that this process makes is all recyclable. There are good aluminium frame factories in Taiwan. Taiwan is not a developing country so we don’t need to be worried about mistreatment of people.

– Pole Bicycles process: 1. Aluminium production 2. preparing the billet 3. machining 4. bonding 5. assembly 6. shipping to consumer.

As you can see we have far less steps in our production and the direct sales is removing need for logistics. The machined aluminium looks beautiful itself and we do not need to paint it. The beauty in this process is that it’s made in one place and there are minimum of different processes and we can automate it to minimize the quality failures. The most critical phase is the bonding. The aluminium is aerospace grade so the material failures are not very common because of a high quality standards. Our scrap material is 100% recyclable and all cutting fluid is recyclable as well. Less scrap, less logistics and less exploitation of people. We do not need wholesale of outdated products etc. In the last email you asked for a justification. Is this what you asked for?

I might not be objective about the reasons because I see these conventional methods very old fashioned. Especially carbon fiber process for bikes is so dependent on exploitation of people and nature because companies can not make the carbon mountain bikes clearly outperform the conventional aluminum mountain bikes.

The Machine is not yet officially published or tested in media so I can not yet give a final number for the frame weight yet. On our website we give frame weight without a shock 3.2kg. February march we will have a samples that we can send out to media for testing. The final weight will be announced when we ship the first frame to customer.”

Richard Cunningham: ” Thanks !”

This conversation was between us at January 2018.

There are points that should have been thought through more carefully.

For example what Cunningham says in the sotry:

– Conventional aluminium process: 150-180days
– Carbon fiber process: 90-120 days

Pole machining process is way under 30 days from billet to customer. We can not yet give an exact number because our production is just starting, but this number can be less than two weeks to the customer. But this is very important. Also, the future of electricity production is essential.

What I read about the story is that: “Don’t look at us. The airline industry is a lot worse polluter”. It’s easy to blame someone else, but they are still missing the point. Airplanes run on kerosene. When an aircraft loses weight because of carbon fiber, they save kerosene which is better for the environment. Here we see that carbon is good although it’s terrible.

The logic why we went for machining is simple: a Better product with fewer processes, less waste and less time.