The Cycle Industry/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI

IN THE FACTORY

There are practically two different types of factory in the cycle trade, one where the machine is made throughout from rough stampings, castings, unpolished tubes, etc., the other where the machine is assembled from parts produced in component factories. The difference between the two is that the first possesses a much larger plant than the second, because all the machining operations have to be done in the former case, whereas in the latter the plant consists mostly of enamelling, polishing, and plating conveniences and sundry bench tools and jigs.

Broadly speaking, the first class of manufactory has a much larger staff and is confined to the production of high-class machines, which are designed and made throughout on the premises. Such machines are distinctive in appearance and their makers do not sell the parts they produce to assemblers, so that their special features cannot be copied. Naturally, a machine of this class is more expensive and, generally speaking, will command a higher price on the second-hand market. The reason for increased cost is not far to seek. The operatives who produce the machines are better paid, there is a staff to pay, managers, clerks, foremen, draughtsmen, storekeepers, etc. Broadly speaking, the larger the works the cheaper it should be able to produce, because 1,000 machines per week can be made with the same staff, or approximately the same staff, as is required for 500 machines per week.

Arguing on these lines, the bicycle produced in a factory where all the parts are made from rough material should be obtainable by the public at a less figure than one put together by an assembler. However, this is not always the case, because the assembler often works himself, is perhaps assisted by relatives, and their time is not calculated at the same rate of remuneration as prevails in a modern factory. Again, the assembler's output is very small; he can, and does sell all he can put together practically without advertising costs, depending on personal recommendation.

Several large factories are now devoted almost exclusively to the production of bicycles for the trade, i.e. their owners cut off all advertising and publicity charges, reduce the expenses of their staff and other items to a low ebb, and undertake contracts to supply the large stores, co-operative societies, and others with bicycles that are sold under the trader's own name although he or they may have no factory. On the whole such machines are of a rather inferior grade, they are made to sell at a price and cannot be produced with the same care or with the conscientious spirit of a manufacturer who has a reputation to uphold. The fact that the purchaser who makes the contract for a quantity of bicycles is in a position to go elsewhere for a cheaper line at any time detracts from the esprit de corps that should exist among the staff of a large factory, and as they know that at any period the contract may be taken to another firm, they naturally lose interest in their work. Altogether, the maker who supplies the trade is in an unenviable position—he is not building up a business for himself, but adding, if his machines are good, to the lustre of others who only consider him so long as they are able to grind down his price to their required level of cheapness. There is a great temptation in factories where machines of this description are made to cut the wages of the workers to secure contracts, and altogether it is rather a sordid sort of business without much to live for except, perhaps, cutting out a competitor by fair means or otherwise.

On the other side of the picture there is much that appeals to one in a factory of the best class, where the

The Cycle Industry (1921) p107a.jpg
The Cycle Industry (1921) p107b.jpg
Fig. 21
The ‘Triumph” resilient front fork, in which the fork blades are arranged to provide a certain degree of elasticity
Fig. 22
In this type of “Triumph” bottom bracket the centres of the two shafts, pedal axle and rear hub, are increased or decreased to adjust the tension of the driving chain

directors or owners have a pride in putting their trade mark on every machine that leaves the works. The staff and workers have, I feel sure, from personal experience an increased interest in their daily task, quick to resent any slur cast on the productions with which they are so closely allied. In most of the best factories I have had practical experience that this state of affairs exists, despite what may be written and said about the extremist views, commonly called Bolshevism.

In a large factory the organization of a cycle producing staff is as complicated and efficient as in any other branch of modern mechanical engineering. The innumerable parts of a bicycle render the organizing of production in large quantities a question of brains and system. Time was when engineers in some other branches rather looked down on cycle factories as the home of the inefficient, but the trade journals of the mechanical world have recognized, more particularly during recent times, that a high-class cycle factory possesses some of the best brains in light mechanical engineering, and some of the best plants of tools and machinery it is possible to obtain.

The parts of a bicycle are produced with such accuracy to-day that every detail is absolutely interchangeable with another if the machine emanate from a firm bearing one of the well-known names in the trade.

High-class firms have a drawing office where all the details are worked out on paper to fractions of an inch, and here are designed all the tools for the rapid production of the parts with a mathematical accuracy that ensures easy fitting in the shops. Nothing escapes the vigilant eyes of the head of this department who, in conjunction with the tool room manager, is responsible for every part of a fresh design going together with smoothness and precision.

Then, when production is proceeding, each part is inspected by viewers. This department is a most important one, and in a high-class factory is always so regarded. The viewer may in some cases be quite a subordinate, but he or she is provided with most accurate gauges which are tried on every part; with lightning like quickness the gauge detects inaccurate workmanship, an error or wear of tools, and back go the faulty parts to the producer to be rectified or they may, on detection, have to be scrapped altogether.

It is only by such means that a perfect bicycle can be produced, so far as interchangeability is concerned in one factory. There are, however, standards of production that enable all the manufacturers in the trade to work to fine limits on certain parts that have been accepted by the Engineering Standards Committee as standards.

Thus, tyre rims have been standardized so that any make of tyre cover will fit a standard rim. Certain threads on screws, nuts, spokes, pedal pins, etc., are standardized, yet much remains to be done in this direction.

Manufacturers are accused of apathy in the direction of standardization of parts because there is no great desire among them for A’s parts to fit B’s machine. Various reasons are assigned for this reluctance, among them that makers could not charge what they liked for certain screws, nuts, etc., if one could buy A’s and B’s nuts in open competition to fit either make of machine indiscriminately.

Personally, I do not attach much importance to this view because the supply of repair parts and replacements is not a lucrative part of a big cycle factory’s equipment and may be most unremunerative.

I consider the greater problem is that A may have a very fine tool plant and he is not disposed to scrap it or give it away to enable him to adopt B’s standard and vice versa. Also, it is unwise in the case of a really high grade bicycle to allow any tinkerer in a country town to fit standard screws, nuts, cups, cones, and other parts to a carefully made machine, for the cups, cones, etc., may be standard but yet inferior to those that were originally fitted.