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BFO Motorcycles - Bike Designer Follows His Dream into Manufacture   

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Hurco machining centre turns as well as mills at start-up motor cycle factory.

 
Ever since the early 90s, after graduating with a first class honours degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Abertay, Dundee, Steve Atkins has wanted to produce his own motorcycle.  While pursuing a successful career as a car designer at such prestigious companies as Peugeot, Jaguar and Aston Martin, he spent his spare time designing his own bike and four years ago built a first prototype.


Two more followed, the last in October 2006, just in time to launch the concept at The International Motorcycle & Scooter Show at the NEC.  He took his first order, the customer paying a deposit there and then.  Together with a small amount of Government funding, it convinced Steve to start his own company – BFO Motorcycles – and press ahead with series production.
 
Based on the Honda Fireblade, BFO manufactures a kit costing around £6,500 plus VAT and, within a month, converts the donor bike into a bespoke motorcycle called the ‘switch:BLADE’.  Only the Fireblade’s wheels, suspension, brakes, wiring and engine are retained; the rest is replaced in the makeover.  The plan is to build 100 kits before moving on to a second donor bike, the Suzuki Hayabusa, and repeating the exercise in collaboration with international motorcycle stylist, John Keogh.  This second bike is already attracting a great deal of interest following release of the initial artist’s impression.
 
To mill the components, Steve bought in mid 2007 a Hurco VM1 machining centre, listing at £27,900, which with its 660 x 356 x 457 mm working volume he says is the ideal size for producing motorcycle parts.  As he is under financial constraints while building up the business, he is using a 3-jaw chuck and circular interpolation on the machine to produce most of the turned parts for the bike as well, postponing investment in a lathe.

To buy even one machine tool in addition to renting an industrial unit in Coventry and incurring sundry other expenses, all based on a single bike design, is a big step for an individual.  Steve chose the Hurco machining centre because of its low price and ease of use.  He is a designer, not a machinist, and previously had hardly operated a manual machine tool, let alone one that is computer controlled.
 
Manual machines would have been too labour intensive for series production, making the kits too expensive, added to which there is potential for inaccuracies to creep in due to human error.  Learning conventional CNC programming using G- and M-codes would have been very time-consuming.  All he wanted to do was get accurate bike components off the machine quickly.
 
Steve commented, “I knew of the conversational programming capabilities of Hurco control systems through local subcontractors that had made prototype parts for me on Hurco machines.  “The way the Max control manipulates geometry is similar to my I-DEAS CAD system, so I am in a familiar environment.  The touch screen control makes it very easy to build up a cutting cycle based on the geometry of the part and the tooling I have available.  You simply redraw the part on the Max screen, input feeds and speeds and the program writes itself.”
 
For machining more complicated 3D parts such as patterns for producing areas of the carbon fibre bodywork and the seat, which was styled by John Keogh, Steve has installed a OneCNC CAM package that will allow input of complex, 3D cutter paths directly into the Max control.
He continued, “Just by machining the patterns for the switch:BLADE in house rather than having to subcontract the work, I have saved one third of the cost of the Hurco.
 
“All the formed 7020 aluminium tubing for the frame has to be machined so that it fits together first time.  There are fork clamps, mudguard brackets, foot rests, brake calliper mounts, handlebars and a host of other components to be machined from billet, plus most of the traditionally turned parts – I now only have to subcontract the turning of headstocks, which are a little too long for the Hurco.
“I calculate that there is about £2,000 of machining in each switch:BLADE kit, so together with the saving in pattern machining, the Hurco will have paid for itself after nine bikes.  Everything after that will be for free, except for tooling and running costs.”