Vero Software Helps Reinvent ‘The Wheel’
The Lamiflex Group, based in Bergamo, Italy has been an industry leader in the use of composite materials for over 30 years supporting various industries such as the aerospace, medical, telecommunications and sports sector.
The company started production in 1976 and invented and developed rapier ribbons made from composite materials for the textile machinery sector. However, constant research and investment has allowed Lamiflex to expand into other market sectors, such as aerospace, where they use a special ‘autoclave polymerisation of composite materials’ process, certified by AgustaWestland, which produces both stiff and flexible lightweight ducts for ECS systems installed in aircraft or high performance vehicles and machinery used by the military.
The Group’s technological innovations and excellence in production and research have led to its current position 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 which provide certain characteristics (usually mechanical) and 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 specific 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 each product kept to a minimum.
The main purpose behind the development of composite materials is, without a doubt, their high ratio between density and mechanical strength, letting one get performance levels similar to those of metal (or even higher), but at far lighter weights (50% less).
In 2009, Lamiflex were involved in the development of an innovative piece of fitness equipment designed by Italian product designer Luca Schieppati. The Ciclotte is a unique exercise bike with an ultra-modern carbon fibre frame, touch screen display and reduced pedal distance to ensure the correct bio-mechanics throughout the complete leg rotational movement.
The large central wheel forms the cornerstone of the design and is reminiscent of the classic unicycles dating back to the end of the 1800’s. However, thanks to cutting edge engineering and modern sports science, the Ciclotte is destined to become a must in the world of interior design and luxury fitness. The unique outline, makes the Ciclotte instantly recognisable and much admired in terms of design aesthetics and state of the art technology.
The Ciclotte has been designed to accurately reproduce the dynamics and performance of on-road pedalling and is ideal for high intensity aerobic training such as ‘spinning’, which is all possible because of the innovative epicycloid crank system. A dual satellite system which uses four gears with varying cogs in a functional space of only 58mm. By multiplying the number of flywheel rotations, about 4 flywheel rotations to every pedal rotation, it helps generate a high-intensity magnetic field (from the main wheel) which maximises the resistance level and produces plenty of thigh-burning resistance.
The Ciclotte is a follow on from the Ciclò project, an innovative prototype of a single wheel city bike, which is now part of the permanent collection exhibited at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.
“The concept from Luca Schieppati excited our company and we wanted to help bring the product to life using our vast experience of modern composites,” explains Federico Carrara Castelli, R&D Director at Lamiflex and Ciclotte project leader.
At the beginning of 2009, a first aesthetic prototype was produced to test the market feedback before moving onto a fully functional prototype. To guarantee the exact requirements and size of all functional mechanical components, including the carbon-fibre handlebar and saddle, all components were designed in 3D and simulated as a virtual assembly to highlight any potential issues prior to the assembling procedure where over 60 separate components are finally brought together.
To coincide with the Ciclotte project, Lamiflex also took time to evaluate the software market and invest in a new integrated CADCAM system.
“Previously at Lamiflex, 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”, explains CAD designer, Marco Perani. “We have used VISI for the design and manufacture of all composite mould parts that were used to build the Ciclotte. With regards to the moulds for the carbon fibre wheel and the handlebar, all of this was achieved in less than 100 hours of CAD work,” explains Carrara. Once the moulds were complete (and polished), the fabric and epoxy resin are applied, and then inserted into a vacuum bag and placed inside the autoclave for the curing process. Once hardened, the parts are then passed through to the CAM department for finish machining. “At Lamiflex we run several milling machines including 2 simultaneous 5-axis CNC’s running VISI Machining. For the finish machining of the composite products, the ‘trimming’ method is often used, where 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. For the machining of planar holes, the tool is tilted perpendicular to the surface, but when product holes are difficult to reach, and an extra tilting of the tool is required in order to avoid collision with the tool holder. 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,” explains Carrara.
Concluding, Carrara states “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 and was launched in the UK at the 100% Design Show (23-26 September 2010) at Earls Court, London.