Did you know that some cyclists go through around three pairs of pedals yearly? Check out how PEMBREE designs and manufactures bike pedals that push for sustainability in the bike industry.
Throughout his school days, Phil Law always had a passion for cycling. This passion led the creative teenager to design bikes and ramps for GCSE and A-level subjects. As part of a product design degree at university, Phil won an award from the Audi Design Foundation for designing his magnetic pedals for cyclists with knee injuries. Subsequently, the fundamentals of the degree failed to help the enthused designer grasp the gravity of turning the design concept into the reality of manufactured parts – but it did introduce him to Autodesk.
As a graduate with no ‘hands-on’ manufacturing experience, Phil Law had all the enthusiasm and dreams but not a route from drawing board to realization. Not perturbed by his inexperience, Phil spent a few years in various manufacturing businesses in different roles to understand the manufacturing process. Before Law founded PEMBREE Ltd, Phil had subscribed to a ‘non-commercial’ license of Autodesk Fusion 360, which enabled the prospective business owner to develop his pedal designs without incurring excessive costs that would clip the wings of any new business.
When the company did open its doors, just six days before the pandemic-induced lockdown in March 2020 — the start-up business took delivery of a HAAS VM-3 machining center, measuring equipment from Mitutoyo, a SIC Marking laser marking system, a deburring machine, and a commercial suite of Fusion 360. The company has progressed rapidly and recently added a robot-loaded Brother 5-axis CNC machining center.
All about sustainability
When asked what finally gave the budding entrepreneur the push to start the business, Law says he “always wanted to start a business that would challenge the sustainability of the bike industry.” But it was a discussion with a cyclist at a holiday resort that was the true catalyst. The cyclist told Law he goes through three pairs of pedals every year – typifying the consumable ‘throw-away’ culture we live in. This is mainly down to most companies’ approach — just looking for the next sale.
“At PEMBREE,” he continues, “we are taking a holistic view of our products. We look at the product design, how we manufacture the product, its service, and ultimately how somebody can recycle it. The challenge for many companies is that they use materials that are not recyclable. By its very nature, sustainability is something you can continuously repeat, and too many manufacturers claim to be sustainable by just paying a carbon offsetting fee. Everything we do is sustainable – even our factory is powered entirely by solar and wind power.”
PEMBREE’s Autodesk journey
When searching for a CAD/CAM program for the business, Law didn’t have to look very far — his ideal solution was right under his nose. “I started using Fusion 360 before starting PEMBREE,” he says. “What I loved about it was that it enabled me to conceptualize some of my ideas, create 3D models, and even 3D print parts to see if the components could be manufactured, fit together, and ultimately work as an assembly. Fusion 360 was instrumental in starting the business, and it has ultimately grown with PEMBREE, helping our business become what it is today. The high-value CAD/CAM solution has enabled me to launch the company forward at a greater speed. As we have manufactured more complex parts, we have adopted the Fusion 360 Machining Extension.”
Re-aligning component manufacturing
“For our latest product, a stem, the Fusion 360 Machining Extension has enabled us to optimize our processes through features like Part Alignment,” he continues. “This has been hugely important in reducing the potential for scrap. It has enabled us to load parts into the machine and align them correctly via a feedback loop whereby our measuring probe is used to capture the shape and positioning of parts and send data back into the CAM system. From here, Fusion 360 will re-align the pre-defined machining strategy with the position of the part. This eliminates errors and scrap when we conduct the first operation but more critically when we move from the first to the second operation and conduct secondary part clamping. The Part Alignment strategy guarantees we are not miss-aligning and subsequently scrapping parts.”
“From an alignment perspective, we could never be 100% accurate when re-setting the parts for second-ops — especially complex forms like stems. So, using the part alignment feature within the Machining Extension ensures that the second operation is entirely accurate. A huge benefit is that we have saved a fortune by not having to buy bespoke fixturing, as we can now make our fixtures in-house. We have also reduced potential scrappage costs and saved time by not having to meticulously set the parts on the machine.”
Exploring Part Alignment
“With the on-machine probing that checks the pedals in-situ with Fusion 360, we have saved more than £5,000 ($5,650) by not having to buy bespoke fixturing. We knew the Part Alignment feature would save us a lot of time, effort, and money in getting this new stem design to market. In fact, we developed this new stem and the production process around the Part Alignment strategy. This has enabled us to bring the new product line to market much faster than we would have done otherwise. Even for simple 3-axis parts, we use the Part Alignment strategy to probe the part and compensate for any setup errors, meaning we can maintain a high level of precision.”
The Horam-based business in East Sussex initially launched its first pedal, the R1V in August 2020. This was followed by the launch of the D2A pedal. Both models have a range of design variants, and the small business manufactures hundreds of pedals each month from aerospace-grade aluminum alloy. The high-quality pedals were machined on a HAAS VM-3 with a Chick 4th axis rotary unit with standardized clamping on each of the four faces of the horizontal tombstone. With the robot-loaded Brother Speedio, PEMBREE is now moving the pedals to the automated 5-axis machine. At the same time, the HAAS VM-3 has been fitted with a HAAS 5th-axis rotary unit for 3+2 machining of the new stem.
Creating the Swarf
Moving the new stem from a concept to reality has been a seamless process with Fusion 360.
“We designed the stem with Fusion 360 and transitioned from design to CAM model with absolute ease,” Law explains. “With the Machining Extension, we have applied strategies like Part Alignment, but we have also taken advantage of the Swarf machining strategy. This 5-axis machining strategy uses the side of the cutting tool to machine geometry both accurately and efficiently.”
“For example, we have proven out the stem with a ball nose end mill as this would be perceived as the tool of choice for an intricate 5-axis part. However, with the help of the Swarf machining cycle, we have determined that using the side of a standard end mill is not only faster but also improves the surface finishes. In the case of the stem, this strategy has taken a 5-minute profiling cycle down to just 30 seconds, and it has improved the aesthetics of the part and eliminated any potential secondary hand finishing.”
“We started using the base version of Fusion 360 but decided to invest in the Machining Extension to access some of the more advanced capabilities for our CNC machines. The 5-axis swarf tool path has played a major role in launching the new stem. It enabled us to produce a beautiful chamfer, a design feature that’s key to the overall aesthetic and something I know our customers will love. The swarf machining works an absolute treat.”
Looking to the future
The small company can be proud of its achievements since its inception. PEMBREE takes immense pride in not only being one of the few UK manufacturers of bicycle components but also exporting its products worldwide through an established network of distributors. The company has also signed on brand ambassadors like biking legends Rob Warner, Tomas Lemoine, and Daryl Brown.
Another point of beaming pride for the micro-manufacturer is its environmental credentials. “All of our products are designed with sustainability in mind and are 100% carbon balanced with TEMWA; this goes beyond design, manufacture, and sourcing our materials, but also our consumables and packaging through to delivery. Also, in accordance with our environmental values, our pedals are 99.9% recyclable, and everything we do at PEMBREE is carbon neutral.”
And with Autodesk
The next step in the Fusion 360 journey for PEMBREE is the implementation of the FEA (Finite Element Analysis) within Fusion 360. Alluding to this, Phil adds: “We design a lot of concept bike parts, and having the FEA capabilities will allow us to prove out the mechanical properties of our designs. There are several critical components on a bike; if they fail, it could be very dangerous for the rider.”
“We currently design and produce five to six different pedals and send them to Germany for intensive analysis and testing. If we implement the FEA functionality in Fusion 360, we can identify, trial, and prove out the properties of different materials and design concepts and how they would perform in ‘real-world’ conditions. This will reduce our prototype production costs and provide more design freedom, as we can visualize and analyze designs while fully considering the stresses and loads that will be placed upon the parts.”
The company is also implementing Autodesk Prodsmart, a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). This exciting technology will optimize the shop floor at PEMBREE by connecting the entire business through digitized and automated manufacturing processes. With the facility to enable PEMBREE to conduct job planning, assignment, management, tracking, and analysis throughout the production process, this software solution incorporates a real-time data dashboard, workflow visualization, performance tracking, and effective scheduling and inventory management. With the facility to increase efficiency, reduce waste, and eliminate paper processing, Autodesk Prodsmart will likely yield significant savings for PEMBREE.