Sunday, February 8, 2015

Other hands

The year of 2014 was a really busy year for me-perhaps the busiest ever. As I get closer to my 60th birthday I keep wondering how I am going to keep up this pace. Chances are that I will experience the inevitable physical decline ( if it has not already started )and have to accept the fact that the current work load is becoming too much. That said , in January of 2014 I had 47 frames on order. By the first of the year 2015 I had 32 frames on order. In the year that passed between these two dates I built at least 95 frames, not a personal best but still one of the biggest years ever. I have no employees so all these frames were built by me .
               Besides the building of the frames there is bead blasting , painting and in the case of the aluminum frames heat treatment. These three steps are handled by other folks with whom I do business. In the best case these tasks are performed well and what I get back is a prep-ready frame that is the best example of what I can produce on that given day. Over the years I have used a number of painters, Powder Coaters, Heat treatment facilities and bead blasters-some were good for a time and some didn't work out. The current folks I deal with are excellent and they treat my frames with the greatest of care and respect. This means that if there's something wrong with the frame, I'm the culprit who screwed up. I'll admit, I am not perfect and I can and do make the odd mistake. I'm fine with this and I can fix all of my boo-boos without going too far to the dark side.
               Dealing with other people handling my frames used to be pretty straightforward-I would give them the frame they would either prep, paint or heat treat the frame and I would get it back in good condition. About a decade ago things started changing -all sorts of mis-handling of the frames started happening. One customer asked for a full polish on an aluminum frame so I drove down to the local guy who had polished many frames for other builders and a few from me. Many weeks went by and I got no word on the frame so after a few phone calls I went to the polisher's shop to see what was up with my frame. A worker showed it to me and there was a fist sized dent in the down tube-the frame was ruined. I guess that the guy polishing the frame had it ripped out of his hands by the buffing wheel and the frame flew across the shop and got destroyed. Understandably, the shop was reluctant to call me with the grim news.
                Next came a series of gaffs by a powder coat shop with whom I had been doing business for at least 6 years. Frames started coming back with small dents. I called them and emailed pictures of the damage and the owner of the shop assured me that they would be more careful. No compensation was offered by the powder coat shop for the damage, only an assurance that this sort of thing would not happen again. More frames got sent to the same shop and more frames got dented and more assurances were given. The last straw was when the powder coat shop painted an aluminum MTB frame the wrong color, they baked off the paint at such a high temperature that the frame got annealed-this means softened. The normally super stiff aluminum frame started slowly folding as the owner rode it. I sent the frame to the heat treater to test for hardest thinking that they-the heat treater had botched the process. The report was that the frame was indeed fully annealed and that the heat treatment company was adamant that such mis-handling of the frame happened elsewhere. This is when I determined that Powder coat shop " Al Dente" was at fault. I decided to fire them permanently .
                Last but certainly no least is the heat treatment facility. The guys did flawless work for me for over ten years, then something went a bit south. I got a frame back form the powder coater with a folded rear triangle. The formerly 130 mm dropout spacing was now 110 mm. I called the powdercoater who seemed clueless as to how this could happen. The next time I saw this anomaly it was when I sent a frame to the heat treater and had them send it back to me directly, not to the powdercoater as in the past. This frame was crunched in the same was as the first. Of course, the heat treater had a suggestion how to avoid this in the future by placing a dummy axle in the frame before I shipped it to them. Funny, the ten previous years I had no damaged frames without these dummy axles. I guess that the heat treater thought that I was also a dummy in that I would accept the words of advice from somebody who was careless with a frame that I had done my damnedest to build as good as possible, on time and with the highest respect for the person that ordered it.
                O.K., Now you surely get the picture. For me the job of building frames is challenging enough just for my part-keeping everything on schedule and maintaining quality. After all, having somebody trust you to build a bike frame for them is really an honor and I never forget that. Add to my daily regimen the variable of other folks handling the frame who may or may not give a crap about their part of the equation - this is the shit that raises my blood pressure and can definitely delay your order. With my own mistakes making my work day longer on occasion the added burden of someone else needlessly fucking up my work is more than I can take.......and I pay for them to dent , fold and every once in awhile destroy a frame. Only the aforementioned polisher offered the destruction free of charge........" Hey, we can fix it !" the guy at the polisher said........yeah, right. To this day many years later I have wondered how the hell the polisher was going to make a fist sized dent disappear from the frame . At least the guy offered to give it a try.......none of the other businesses made any attempt to fix, compensate or even apologize for the damage to my frames. I guess this is why a lot of small builders opt to blast and paint their own work-I even knew a builder who had bought a pizza oven to heat treat his own aluminum frames in his garage. I thought that he was nuts...........now I stand corrected.
                  To close, I wish to assure all that I have found a heat treatment facility who is really good and a powder coater who handles all frames with care . I know that there are great artisans in the paint and powder coat world that really care about what they do. To these folks I salute you . To the others I'll say that I'll never send you work again.........ever.

5 comments:

  1. Great insight into what goes on in the background when a custom frame is built.

    I'll testify that you DO stand behind your work even when your powdercoater makes a mistake. Thanks for taking care of my frame.

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  2. This happens on an outsourced production level as well. Less direct control and even more stress. I have had my powder coater make sure they document frames they receive with filled dents from the frame fabricator. It should be noted that said fabricator never admitted fills until I called them out. Powder come back with voids, flakes of other color and then the hours I spend reworking, facing and sanding areas that should have been masked. Yes I provided full masking diagrams, photo examples of proper finish and verified their prior experience. The powder coater not only has the ability to dent frames, but they can completely crush them.

    After that there is the strip and re-coat for screw ups in application. At least 1/2 of the forks getting rework came back with the steerers covered in corrosion pits. What should I expect the fork blades to look like? These as well as some of the associated frames will end up as display fixtures for the shop space.

    On a fabrication level I am still having to reface most bearing faces as well as frame and fork wheel alignment issues. All of this was included to be finished by the fabricator as part of the deliverable. They say they "took care of it prior to welding". If I was getting a finished frame for Taiwan pricing I might understand, but at prices approaching $1k/frame and fork, this has me re-assessing my sanity

    At the end of the last production run I lost the ability to sell at least 20% or the frames in good conscience. So much for that "Made in the USA" work ethic taking care of QC, or even promised QC processes and outcomes from contractors.

    Rob - Ocean Air Cycles

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  3. You go!!! It's really a pain to have people who just waste your time and energy with service that doesn't work for you. Has anyone else had the experience of getting it all done, only to find that you just can't rely on the other guys and girls in your life? I think we all get what you're saying, swiggco!

    Bernice Parsons @ Badger Anodising

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