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Tech: Inside Giant's Taiwan bike factory, part two

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Pre-preg sheets are automatically fed into one end of the machine and then a stamp trims off a chunk

Pre-preg sheets are automatically fed into one end of the machine and then a stamp trims off a chunk (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Individual pieces are carefully labeled. Each one serves a specific purpose so it's critical that they're properly identified

Individual pieces are carefully labeled. Each one serves a specific purpose so it's critical that they're properly identified (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Duh, of course the mouse pad is made of carbon fiber

Duh, of course the mouse pad is made of carbon fiber (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A standard iron softens the pre-preg carbon fiber pieces to make them a little easier to handle

A standard iron softens the pre-preg carbon fiber pieces to make them a little easier to handle (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Needless to say, workers had better read carefully before depositing carbon fiber pieces in here

Needless to say, workers had better read carefully before depositing carbon fiber pieces in here (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Stamps are carefully labeled. Based on what's written here, Giant uses different shapes of materials for each size of frame, not just different frame models

Stamps are carefully labeled. Based on what's written here, Giant uses different shapes of materials for each size of frame, not just different frame models (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Once cut, carbon fiber pieces are catalogued into little bins

Once cut, carbon fiber pieces are catalogued into little bins (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Daily production is tracked on a number of white boards scattered throughout the factory

Daily production is tracked on a number of white boards scattered throughout the factory (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Key areas are checked with a go/no-go gauge to ensure that mating components will fit properly

Key areas are checked with a go/no-go gauge to ensure that mating components will fit properly (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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This stamp looks to be for a bottom bracket shell

This stamp looks to be for a bottom bracket shell (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The Giant factory churns out a lot of frames - and a lot of different models. The number of different individual pieces of carbon that needs to be tracked is simply staggering. See all of those little colored tags? Each one holds a specific size/shape/weave of carbon fiber

The Giant factory churns out a lot of frames - and a lot of different models. The number of different individual pieces of carbon that needs to be tracked is simply staggering. See all of those little colored tags? Each one holds a specific size/shape/weave of carbon fiber (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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This build board is one of two required for a Giant Defy Advanced bottom bracket shell

This build board is one of two required for a Giant Defy Advanced bottom bracket shell (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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This is one of the secrets of Giant's world renowned carbon frame production. Most frame assemblies are depicted on these build boards, which organize all of those little pieces of carbon fiber into a visually intelligible layout. Each board contains pieces required for a specific frame section along with brief guidelines for where each piece is supposed to go

This is one of the secrets of Giant's world renowned carbon frame production. Most frame assemblies are depicted on these build boards, which organize all of those little pieces of carbon fiber into a visually intelligible layout. Each board contains pieces required for a specific frame section along with brief guidelines for where each piece is supposed to go (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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We've already pointed out the enormous number of individual pieces of carbon fiber that need to be organized in the Giant factory on a daily basis. However, look at the shelves overhead, too. They're absolutely loaded with additional build boards that weren't in use on that particular day

We've already pointed out the enormous number of individual pieces of carbon fiber that need to be organized in the Giant factory on a daily basis. However, look at the shelves overhead, too. They're absolutely loaded with additional build boards that weren't in use on that particular day (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Complete build boards are loaded into rack for transport to the next station. The carts are sealed up before leaving this climate controlled room to help keep the carbon from curing prematurely

Complete build boards are loaded into rack for transport to the next station. The carts are sealed up before leaving this climate controlled room to help keep the carbon from curing prematurely (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Build boards are filled in assembly line-style. Thanks to the build board concept, it's easy to see if a piece is missing

Build boards are filled in assembly line-style. Thanks to the build board concept, it's easy to see if a piece is missing (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Every room that handles uncured carbon fiber is controlled for temperature and humidity

Every room that handles uncured carbon fiber is controlled for temperature and humidity (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A carbon fiber fork in progress. This one will eventually be mated to an aluminum steerer tube

A carbon fiber fork in progress. This one will eventually be mated to an aluminum steerer tube (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Reinforcing inserts are used in the head tube ends just like in the bottom bracket shells

Reinforcing inserts are used in the head tube ends just like in the bottom bracket shells (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Some frame sections are built straight from bins

Some frame sections are built straight from bins (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Frame sections must fall within a narrowly defined weight bracket. Failing this step can suggest any number of defects

Frame sections must fall within a narrowly defined weight bracket. Failing this step can suggest any number of defects (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Frame sections look pretty good straight out of the mold but there's still a fair bit of finish work to be done

Frame sections look pretty good straight out of the mold but there's still a fair bit of finish work to be done (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The start of a carbon fiber bottom bracket shell

The start of a carbon fiber bottom bracket shell (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Each individual piece of carbon fiber is cut using a dedicated stamp. As the Giant factory produces carbon fiber frame not only for its own label but several others, there are hundreds of different stamps stored here

Each individual piece of carbon fiber is cut using a dedicated stamp. As the Giant factory produces carbon fiber frame not only for its own label but several others, there are hundreds of different stamps stored here (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A heat gun improves the pliability of the uncured carbon pre-preg sheet so that it can be wrapped around the head tube

A heat gun improves the pliability of the uncured carbon pre-preg sheet so that it can be wrapped around the head tube (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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This cart transports frame molds into and out of the banks of ovens

This cart transports frame molds into and out of the banks of ovens (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Completely laid-up frame sections are sandwiched inside these massive steel clamshell molds for curing

Completely laid-up frame sections are sandwiched inside these massive steel clamshell molds for curing (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Each clamshell mold only holds two or three frame pieces. In other words, it's far from a one-shot process

Each clamshell mold only holds two or three frame pieces. In other words, it's far from a one-shot process (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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After they're loaded up and closed, molds are shuttled down these rollers on to an automated cart (not shown)

After they're loaded up and closed, molds are shuttled down these rollers on to an automated cart (not shown) (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Cured frame sections are then sent down these rollers for the first round of finish work

Cured frame sections are then sent down these rollers for the first round of finish work (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Different types of carbon fiber pre-preg sheet are queued up on this rotating rack

Different types of carbon fiber pre-preg sheet are queued up on this rotating rack (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Empty molds are first sprayed with a release agent so that the pieces can be more easily removed after curing

Empty molds are first sprayed with a release agent so that the pieces can be more easily removed after curing (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Each carbon fiber frame is composed of hundreds of individual pieces of material. Larger sheets are cut into those puzzle pieces here

Each carbon fiber frame is composed of hundreds of individual pieces of material. Larger sheets are cut into those puzzle pieces here (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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These fillers will become invisible once the paint is applied. If anything, it'd be more noticeable if they weren't used

These fillers will become invisible once the paint is applied. If anything, it'd be more noticeable if they weren't used (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Various ancillary frame mold pieces waiting for their turn in the oven

Various ancillary frame mold pieces waiting for their turn in the oven (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Drilling fixtures are used to guarantee the exact position of various mounting holes. Here, a worker drills the holes for a Shimano Di2 battery mount

Drilling fixtures are used to guarantee the exact position of various mounting holes. Here, a worker drills the holes for a Shimano Di2 battery mount (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A rack of Giant TCR Advanced SL seat tube/bottom bracket/ISP assemblies en route to the next stage of processing

A rack of Giant TCR Advanced SL seat tube/bottom bracket/ISP assemblies en route to the next stage of processing (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Checking bladders for leaks

Checking bladders for leaks (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Mold flashing is flicked off with a common file. Don't fret - you'd be surprised how tough the surface is

Mold flashing is flicked off with a common file. Don't fret - you'd be surprised how tough the surface is (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Rotary tools are used for finer work

Rotary tools are used for finer work (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A continuous drip of water minimizes the amount of carbon dust kicking around

A continuous drip of water minimizes the amount of carbon dust kicking around (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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It's much easier to drill these holes before the frame is assembled, when the pieces are more readily handled and manipulated

It's much easier to drill these holes before the frame is assembled, when the pieces are more readily handled and manipulated (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Jigs are adjustable for different size frames

Jigs are adjustable for different size frames (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A lot of work goes into making mold seams disappear beneath the paint

A lot of work goes into making mold seams disappear beneath the paint (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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More finish work, this time inside a bottom bracket shell

More finish work, this time inside a bottom bracket shell (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Frames are loaded into jigs for consistent seat tube cuts. Watch your fingers

Frames are loaded into jigs for consistent seat tube cuts. Watch your fingers (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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First coats of paint

First coats of paint (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The direction of the fibers on these dropout pieces isn't done by accident. Even carbon fiber dropouts require some engineering so that they're sufficiently strong and no heavier than necessary

The direction of the fibers on these dropout pieces isn't done by accident. Even carbon fiber dropouts require some engineering so that they're sufficiently strong and no heavier than necessary (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A front triangle in progress

A front triangle in progress (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Long-nosed pliers help feed the bladders through the front triangle

Long-nosed pliers help feed the bladders through the front triangle (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A place for everything and everything in its place

A place for everything and everything in its place (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Time to build up a head tube

Time to build up a head tube (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Head tube ends are reinforced with additional strips

Head tube ends are reinforced with additional strips (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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It's a shame that such handiwork is typically covered in paint

It's a shame that such handiwork is typically covered in paint (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Head tubes are subject to enormous stresses and utter catastrophe can result if they fail. Not surprisingly then, there's a lot of carbon fiber up here

Head tubes are subject to enormous stresses and utter catastrophe can result if they fail. Not surprisingly then, there's a lot of carbon fiber up here (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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These bottom bracket shells are all laid up and ready to place into a mold. Note how areas subject to chain suck damage are additionally reinforced

These bottom bracket shells are all laid up and ready to place into a mold. Note how areas subject to chain suck damage are additionally reinforced (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The Giant factory goes through a lot of inflatable bladders

The Giant factory goes through a lot of inflatable bladders (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Silicone pre-forms for seat stay yokes

Silicone pre-forms for seat stay yokes (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Giant doesn't make a big deal of the fact that it uses both internal and external molds for its frames. The practice helps ensure accurate internal dimensions along with lightweight parts since there's little excess material in the finished product

Giant doesn't make a big deal of the fact that it uses both internal and external molds for its frames. The practice helps ensure accurate internal dimensions along with lightweight parts since there's little excess material in the finished product (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Various frame sections in progress. Silicone internal molds are separated in the blue bins below

Various frame sections in progress. Silicone internal molds are separated in the blue bins below (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Housing guides ready to be bonded and riveted in place

Housing guides ready to be bonded and riveted in place (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Note how the pieces of carbon fiber are laid over an internal mold for a more exact shape

Note how the pieces of carbon fiber are laid over an internal mold for a more exact shape (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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You can't just plunk frame sections into a mold and shut the lid. Tube ends have to sealed up for the bladders to work and various blocks need to be bolted in place

You can't just plunk frame sections into a mold and shut the lid. Tube ends have to sealed up for the bladders to work and various blocks need to be bolted in place (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The silicone internal mold at left will stay inside the head tube during the curing process but the top tube and down tube stubs inserted in the ends will be removed once the lay-up is complete

The silicone internal mold at left will stay inside the head tube during the curing process but the top tube and down tube stubs inserted in the ends will be removed once the lay-up is complete (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Joints are wrapped with rubber and tape to smooth the glue out on the surface

Joints are wrapped with rubber and tape to smooth the glue out on the surface (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A build board for a section of Giant's flagship TCR Advanced SL road frame

A build board for a section of Giant's flagship TCR Advanced SL road frame (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Carbon fiber dropouts are often taken for granted but they're rather intricate little pieces that require a lot of work

Carbon fiber dropouts are often taken for granted but they're rather intricate little pieces that require a lot of work (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Workers apply more glue than is needed to ensure adequate coverage

Workers apply more glue than is needed to ensure adequate coverage (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Frame sections are glued together in this room

Frame sections are glued together in this room (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Cell’’ÿ

Cell’’ÿ (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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One final strip of carbon fiber is applied to finish off each joint

One final strip of carbon fiber is applied to finish off each joint (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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One, two, three, four, five…

One, two, three, four, five… (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Freshly glued frames are loaded into alignment jigs

Freshly glued frames are loaded into alignment jigs (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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A variety of metal forms help with the initial assembly of various frame sections, such as this non-driveside chain stay

A variety of metal forms help with the initial assembly of various frame sections, such as this non-driveside chain stay (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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These steel inserts are used inside bottom bracket shells to produce accurate sockets for press-fit bearing cups

These steel inserts are used inside bottom bracket shells to produce accurate sockets for press-fit bearing cups (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Any frame section that will eventually see a press-fit part much be suitably reinforced. This assembly will eventually bolster a bottom bracket shell

Any frame section that will eventually see a press-fit part much be suitably reinforced. This assembly will eventually bolster a bottom bracket shell (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Another drilling fixture, this time for Giant's RideSense wireless cadence sensor

Another drilling fixture, this time for Giant's RideSense wireless cadence sensor (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Yet more surface sanding. The water flowing down the walls reduces the amount of carbon dust floating in the air

Yet more surface sanding. The water flowing down the walls reduces the amount of carbon dust floating in the air (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Frame sections fit together like puzzle pieces - very expensive puzzle pieces, that is

Frame sections fit together like puzzle pieces - very expensive puzzle pieces, that is (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Few companies are so open about it but yes, fillers are occasionally used to fill in minor surface imperfections. It's for this reason that you rarely see bare clearcoat finishes on mass produced carbon frames

Few companies are so open about it but yes, fillers are occasionally used to fill in minor surface imperfections. It's for this reason that you rarely see bare clearcoat finishes on mass produced carbon frames (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Frames undergo final surface prep here before the paint process begins

Frames undergo final surface prep here before the paint process begins (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Giant's carbon factory sees more carbon frames in a day than many consumers will see in a year

Giant's carbon factory sees more carbon frames in a day than many consumers will see in a year (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Racks of carbon forks awaiting their turn through the paint and finish process

Racks of carbon forks awaiting their turn through the paint and finish process (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Look up! Frames are transported not only at eye level but also well above

Look up! Frames are transported not only at eye level but also well above (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Freshly glued frames ready to be loaded into jigs

Freshly glued frames ready to be loaded into jigs (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Rivnuts are inserted with preset pneumatic tools

Rivnuts are inserted with preset pneumatic tools (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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It's critical to clamp the frames into their respective alignment jigs while the glue is still malleable

It's critical to clamp the frames into their respective alignment jigs while the glue is still malleable (Image credit: Jonny Irick)

This article first appeared on BikeRadar.

In part one of this four-part series, we showed you how Giant takes rolls of raw carbon fiber and turns it into usable unidirectional pre-preg fabric. Now we'll show you how Giant takes that material and turns into a frame – and the process is much more involved than many might expect.

While carbon fiber is more correctly described as 'carbon fiber reinforced polymer', it's the fiber that gives the part its incredible structural properties; the epoxy resin is just there to hold everything together. Every carbon fiber frame is made of a collection of individual pieces – some as small as a SIM card – and all of them have to be placed and oriented precisely in order for the end product to work as intended.

It's not a matter of pulling a lever and spitting out a complete frame as if one were molding plastic toys. According to Giant, just one frame can take up to nine hours to build from start to finish.

Pieces of the puzzle

It's difficult to envision just how many different pieces of carbon fiber are used in a factory of this scale.

According to Giant, a full composite frame such as the flagship TCR Advanced SL comprises more than 500 individual swatches with additional variations for each size. Each frame model then also has its own specific set of pieces and Giant makes dozens of different carbon fiber frame models. Even when two models share the same exterior shape – and thus, use the same mold – their fiber contents are usually different, thus requiring yet another specific collection of pieces.

Do the math and it's a staggering number of little chunks of carbon fiber material to keep straight.

Each of those pieces of carbon fiber starts out the same way, however. Up to six rolls of pre-preg fabric (which are made in-house) are loaded on a big carousel that can be rotated to access the specific type of fabric required for a production run. Sheets are first rough-cut into more manageable pieces, and then the individual swatches are stamped out on hydraulic presses like high-tech cookie dough. Afterward, each 'cookie' is individually marked, collected, and (very carefully) sorted into labeled bins.

All of this is also done in a climate controlled room so as to prevent premature resin curing – a critical requirement given Taiwan's tropical setting.

It's one thing to keep all of those little bits sorted and separated but it's another entirely to make sure they're all placed where they need to go in a mold. Giant's solution for minimizing errors and maximizing the efficiency of the process seems particularly clever.

Every frame subassembly is visually depicted on one or more corrugated plastic boards with individual spots for each piece of carbon fiber. Every spot is clearly labeled in text and images and outlined with rigid borders that correspond to the actual shape of the piece. In other words, if it doesn't fit in the box, it isn't supposed to be there.

Gathering up pieces for a frame, therefore, is sort of like filling out an order form: workers simply match up the description in the tray compartment with the storage bin and if it all goes well, that piece of carbon fiber should fit perfectly.

Once those trays are filled, they're then loaded into covered carts and transported to another climate-controlled room where the pieces are laid up into frame pieces.

While Giant takes great efforts to remove potential errors from the process, actually assembling all those little pieces of carbon fiber is still highly labor intensive. There's a massive amount of tooling involved, too.

Frame sections are built up on a mix of rigid plastic mandrels, internal silicone rubber molds, and steel inserts. The mandrels provide workers with a solid surface on which to lay the carbon pieces and since they closely approximate the desired negative space of the frame, those carbon pieces are more likely to stay where intended after the frame is cooked. Internal silicone rubber molds – which stay in place during the curing process – further help to produce crisp interior dimensions, particularly in areas with complex geometry like bottom bracket shells, head tubes, and seat stay yokes.

Areas with especially tight tolerances like head tube and bottom bracket openings get additional steel inserts so that bearings and bearing cups fit correctly after the frame is fully assembled.

After each assembly is laid up, an inflatable plastic bladder is fed through and then it's all sandwiched inside a massive steel clamshell mold for baking.

As one would expect given an operation of this magnitude, the actual curing process is highly automated. Once the clamshell molds are loaded, robotic conveyors and carriers move each mold into and out of a bank of ovens. This not only guarantees that frames will cook for the prescribed amount of time and at the correct temperature but also helps decrease the risk of injury since workers won't have to directly handle piping-hot steel molds themselves.

Afterward, the molds are cracked open, the cured frame sections are removed, and then begins a series of finishing operations. Excess molding flash is knocked off with files, rough edges are smoothed with a variety of sanding tools, holes are drilled for water bottle bosses, computer sensor mounts, and front derailleur tabs, and seat tubes cut square and slotted.

Once that's all done, the frame sections are sent to yet another room where they're glued together, overwrapped with additional layers of carbon fiber, fixture in alignment jigs, and sent for another round of curing.

After the glue is fully cured, the frames are sent off for yet another round of finish work. Surfaces are buffed with finer-grit sanders, small imperfections are masked with filler compounds (a common practice in large-scale carbon frame manufacturing), and metal pieces such as riveted in place.

It's only after all that (and countless quality control checks) do the frames finally head off to paint, final assembly, and packing.

We'll first take a look at how Giant builds its higher-end aluminum frames in part three of this exclusive series.