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Carbon fiber, baby!

I'm holding a carbon fiber motorcycle front fender that they had in their show room. We'll take 100 of these guys!

Nothing says bling better than carbon fiber — it’s light, it’s super strong, and man does it look cool.  The stuff’s not cheap, even made in China, but we’d like to use as much of it as possible on M4.   Yesterday we took a trip to Flink International to talk to them about making the parts.  I located Flink on Alibaba.com, which is in general a crap shoot.  However, we really got through to the right guys on this round.  Not only do they do high-quality work, but they specialize in motorcycle parts.

Flink was the first factory that we’ve toured that didn’t allow us to take cameras inside so this post is a little short on eye candy.  They start out by CNCing a metal mold, then they lay down epoxy-impregnated carbon fiber cloth (aka prepreg) from Japan in the mold, then put it in a car-sized vacuum oven to cure it.  I’m leaving out a bunch of steps, but you get the picture.

This is the founder's business card -- real carbon fiber!

We’re still working with them to get the final quote, but it looks like we’ll move forward.

We’re not in Kansas anymore…

… nor are we in a developing country.  The first shot is of a shopping mall with more bling than anything I’ve ever seen (maybe they’re like this in Houston…).  The second shot (admittedly a poor one taken with my crappy phone camera in a traffic jam crossing the Pearl River) was intended to show the quality of cars on the road.  Again, on average, much sleeker rolling stock than we have in Boulder.  Porsche Panameras (MSRP north of $75K) are almost commonplace.

Fun signs

I’ll make this post a repository for fun signs we see.  I’m sure the kind of stuff we’d write in Chinese (if we could…) would be just as goofy.

At a souvenir shop at the Window of the World amusement park.

On a Whack-a-Mole game on the street. I have no idea what this one means.

On the subway door. I keep waiting...

Window of the World

Right in downtown Shenzhen there’s an amusement park called Window of the World.  It’s acres and acres of miniatures of landmarks from around the world — from the Eiffel Tower to Mt Rushmore.  I know what you’re thinking — uber cheesy.  But in reality it was pretty cool and a fun thing to do on a hot Sunday.  Here’s Rome and Paris cheek to jowl.

I got totally soaked on the log ride (down the Grand Canyon, of course), which made the rest of the day quite comfortable.  In this pic I just crossed the Sydney Harbor bridge with Venice’s San Marco Square in the background.

Some kind of green energy campaign was going on, completely surrounding the Arc de Triomphe.

Lisa and Abe take a quick trip to the Taj Mahal.

Time to buy stuff!

We came to China to find suppliers for parts for our bike, so it was time to pull the trigger on at least one item.  Last Friday Tom and Ned hired a car and made the trip back to Star Prototype to talk to them about making the plastic box to hold our LCD instrument panel, the LED indicators, and some pushbutton switches.  In case it isn’t obvious, making plastic parts is a huge headache for small-volume producers.  Most of the plastic gizmos surrounding you right now are injection molded and the cost of the part is de minimis.  However, the cost of the mold is exorbitant — tens of thousands of dollars.  For small volumes, Star uses a technique where they make a mold out of silicone rubber and then pour in urethane plastic for the part.  We saw them making some really sharp looking parts using that technique in our last visit.

So Gordon Styles and his crew got in a scrum with Ned to talk about the fine points of making the part.  For the silicone mold method, there really aren’t many fabrication issues.  However, we wanted to have a design that could be rolled into injection molding later without many changes.  And I was amazed at the staggering amount of detail that needs to go into designing an injection molded part.  So the next time you throw that Happy Meal toy in the trash, think of the engineer who sweated blood to make it happen!

Anybody want an electric bicycle?

Jasen, one of the two Chinese guys in the HAXLR8R program, arranged for us to visit the Mei Ling Electric Vehicle factory a little north of town.  We took the subway to the end of the line and a driver met us there to bring us to the factory.

I’ll put out a longer post on this at some time, but China has millions (perhaps gazillions) of electric moped-like vehicles.  In fact, it’s pretty rare to see a gas-powered motorbike, which is a great thing for air quality and noise levels.

Our plan was to see if their factory would be interesting in fabricating the M4 frames, but when we arrived it was obvious that they weren’t interested in that, and they weren’t really set up for it anyway.  But since we’re ninja masters at the art of the deal (The Donald is looking over his shoulder) we made the best of the opportunity.  Their main product was a low-performance Vespa-like scooter with lead acid batteries.  I didn’t see much of a market for that type of bike in the US — to say nothing of the hassle in getting it US legal.  However, they did make a sweet little electric-assist bicycle with lithium ion cells.  I think it would be a hit on campuses or in retirement communities.

So we had a grand time for the rest of the afternoon tooling around the parking lot on the bike and talking to Lily about the details of importing them.  They want $325 per bike FOB Shenzhen for quantities of around 100 — about a container load.  I’m not sure it makes any economic sense but we’re thinking about it.  Anybody out there Jonesin’ to get one?

Photos:

Top — Lily and the gang.
Second — Lily showing me some of the features.
Third — Executing a high-speed maneuver in the parking lot.
Last — The assembly line tooled up for scooter manufacture.

Get a new iPad…

…well, not if you live in Shenzhen.  On the day that convoys of 747s full of iPad3’s are leaving the SZ airport headed Stateside, the folks that build them are only offered the old stuff.  It doesn’t seem quite fair.  (I know this looks like a stock photo, but it really was just a quick snap as we walked past the Apple Reseller in the mall.)