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Reinventing 'the wheel': an exercise bike with aesthetic appeal

14 June 2011

Leading Italian composites specialist, Lamiflex has used Vero Software’s VISI suite of design and manufacturing tools to put a modern spin on the traditional exercise bike, creating an innovative piece of luxury fitness equipment that would not be out of place in the most modern of interiors

The Lamiflex Group, based in Bergamo, Italy has been involved in the production and application of composite materials for over 30 years, and it now supports a variety of technically demanding industry sectors. The company started production in 1976 following its invention and the subsequent development of rapier ribbons made from composite materials for the textile machinery sector.

More recently, a research programme and ongoing investment has seen Lamiflex expand its operations into other market sectors, such as aerospace. For this sector, the company uses a special 'autoclave polymerisation of composite materials' process, certified by AgustaWestland, which produces both stiff and flexible lightweight ducts for environmental control systems installed in aircraft, high performance and military vehicles. The company is now regarded as a market leader in the field of technical composite laminates.

Composite materials are, by definition, structures made up of several component materials, typically thermoset resins strengthened with carbon, Kevlar or glass fibres that endow certain characteristics (usually of a mechanical nature), plus a matrix that holds the fibres in position, protects them and offers other specific characteristics for particular applications.

Laminated composite materials can be produced as sheets of continuous strands of fibre, layered so that each fibre lies in a specified direction. This means that reinforcement is only added where needed and so the amounts of material used can be optimised and thus the weight of component parts kept to a minimum. The key characteristic of a composite material is its high strength-to-weight ratio, which means that it can attain performance levels similar to those of a metal (or even higher), but at half the weight or better.

Fitness by design
In 2009, Lamiflex became involved in the development of an innovative piece of fitness equipment conceived by Italian product designer Luca Schieppati. The Ciclotte is an exercise bike with an ultra-modern carbon fibre frame, touch screen display and reduced pedal distance to ensure correct bio-mechanics throughout the complete leg rotational movement. Essentially, it follows the Ciclo, an innovative prototype of a single wheel city bike, which is now part of the permanent collection of the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.

The large central wheel of the Ciclotte forms the cornerstone of the design and is reminiscent of the classic unicycles dating back to the end of the nineteenth century. However, thanks to modern engineering and the latest sports science, the Ciclotte is also destined to become a fine piece of interior design in addition to its primary role as a piece of fitness equipment.

An eye-catching profile makes the Ciclotte instantly recognisable and much admired in terms of its design aesthetics and the use of modern engineering materials and technology. It faithfully reproduces the dynamics and performance of on-road pedalling, and is ideal for high intensity aerobic training such as 'spinning'.

This is made possible thanks to an innovative epicycloid crank system - a dual satellite arrangement using a number of component gears in a functional space measuring just 58mm wide. By multiplying the number of flywheel rotations - about four flywheel rotations to every pedal rotation - a magnetic field is generated, maximising resistance to simulate uphill cycling.

Lamiflex R&D director, Federico Carrara Castelli, who also led the Ciclotte project, said Schieppati’s concept fired his company’s imagination and desire to see it “brought to life”. At the beginning of 2009, a first ‘aesthetic’ prototype was produced to gauge market reaction before moving to the fully functional prototype stage. All components, including the carbon-fibre handlebar and saddle, were designed in 3D and simulated as a virtual assembly to highlight any potential issues prior to the initial build, which involved the bringing together of 60 separate components. With the Ciclotte project very much in mind, Lamiflex took the opportunity to invest in a new integrated CADCAM system. Lamiflex CAD specialist, Marco Perani takes up the story:

"Previously, we used a parametric CAD system that we found difficult to use and quite restrictive when working with complex organic surface forms. After extensive benchmark testing, we decided to implement VISI from Vero Software as we believed it offered the best balance between performance and price. We are currently running multiple licenses of VISI Modelling and VISI Analysis for Design, and VISI Machining with Compass Technology for 2D through to 5-axis milling.”

According to Carrara, Lamiflex used VISI for the design and manufacture of all composite mould parts used in the Ciclotte construction. And as far as the moulds for the carbon fibre wheel and the handlebar were concerned, all of this was achieved in less than 100 hours of CAD work, he says. Once the moulds were completed (and polished), the fabric and epoxy resin was applied, and then inserted into a vacuum bag and placed inside the autoclave for the curing process. Once hardened, the parts were then to the CAM department for finishing. Federico Carrara Castelli again:

"We employ several milling machines, including two simultaneous 5-axis CNC machines running VISI Machining. For finishing, the 'trimming' method is often used, whereby the side of the tool is driven along the surface edge. For additional control, synchronisation curves can be used to control the tool movement in local areas where the potential direction changes are at their most extreme. When the toolpath is complete, the machine operator is able to virtually walk through the complete program using the kinematic simulator and prove the toolpath is collision-free.

"Introducing the software has streamlined our manufacturing processes, reduced the potential for error and ultimately increased our productivity. We are a company always looking for innovative, often revolutionary solutions and consider Vero to be an important partner in this philosophy."

The Ciclotte is available in three versions, full carbon, silver (fibreglass) and steel. It was launched in the UK at the 100% Design Show back in September of 2010 at Earls Court, London.

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