After 10 years in their current building, and developing the Tektro and TRP brand portfolio to include more OEM and aftermarket offerings, there are big plans for the business stretching beyond the core braking goods. Chris Keller-Jackson investigates…
Those with a trained eye on the cycle of product launches making debuts at the key trade shows may have spotted a diversification of sorts from TRP of late. As reported on CI.N in September, we are to expect significant moves on the drivetrain market from the Taiwanese components designer; how deep the catalogue will go remains to be seen, but it is highly unlikely to stop at the current downhill-suited lines seen to date.
To this end, the Taiwan arm of the business has split out the TRP Research and Development component, moving it to Taichung to attract a wider range of Industrial Designers and specialized engineers – currently there are over 20 development Engineers, to offer a more agile workspace for development of new products and to move away from the distractions of mainstream production.
It’s a clever move, and a more creative space, where it is easier to develop and iterate in cooperation with sponsored athletes such as Aaron Gwin and the Intense Factory Racing team, Brendan Fairclough and the Scott DH Factory Racing, Commencal / 100% and the YT Mob.
That is an impressive roster of talent, rider knowledge and race-winning experience to tap into. Developing and producing high-profile race-winning products that consumers can buy into is a key aim in getting market share. Mixed groups of TRP engineers, product managers and marketing folk have visited teams and riders at training camps and World Cup races several times already this year, to be close to where the action is happening.
Tektro has two facilities in China, making product specifically for the Chinese market and, further to that, have just launched a European sales and service hub. More on that European expansion later. You may have noticed that TRP (the racing arm of Tektro) have moved into seven-speed drivetrain production, a ‘traditional’ derailleur designed for the rigours of Downhill racing, but with a few additional actions.
These include a ‘Hall Lock’, designed in collaboration with Gwin’s mechanic, John Hall to make the derailleur more stable and less noisy. Add to that an adjustable ratcheting clutch to alter the riding dynamics and chain tension whilst riding rough trails. It’s no real secret that a 12-speed version is on the cards, with the same range of features, plus five more gears, and whilst there was little sign of this product at the factory, we spotted a prototype on some of the TRP test bikes.
CI.N did get to ride one of the heavily camouflaged derailleurs at a media day in the nearby Iron Hill Cycling Sport Village in Taichung, and it was impressive in function and build quality. I’m told there will be a launch next year for this product. First ride impressions are of a very credible alternative 12-speed MTB gear set, and while they have products ready for market, they are still learning the production process. Release will come when the product is right.
The factory in Taichung offers a nearly one-stop-shop for hydraulic disc brake manufacturing (currently 80% of the product is made in-house), offering custom product development with its partners, alongside original equipment (OE) and aftermarket products. Production itself begins with ‘heavy’ manufacturing, with near net shape forging producing the basic shape of brake callipers and lever bodies followed by more delicate and technical manufacturing to turn these ‘blanks’ into finished products.
This facility has two relatively new ‘11 Axis’ CNC machines; these are rare and expensive sights (the only two in Taiwan, we are told) and offer the ability to take a forged blank and perform all the complex machining actions necessary to create the finished product within one machine.
This has considerable advantages, allowing small batch production in one pass, helping to support quality manufacturing through use of technology, reducing handling, increasing efficiency and automating the whole process. These machines are a serious commitment from the business. There are over 130 CNC Machines in this facility.
We mentioned growth at the start of this report, part of this growth is the doubling of capacity of the Taichung factory, the new building itself is just part complete at the time of writing. Whilst not all of the new facility will be used to produce drivetrains, it certainly looks like Tektro are developing the capacity to massively expand production, and move more into the drivetrain market; this will be fully ready before the end of 2020. Automation seems a key to delivering this growth, with Tektro citing the challenge of finding workers in the area.
No report mentioning Tektro would be complete without mentioning e-Bikes, with the EU ramping up sales, and Tektro forecasting continued growth in this sector. Tektro has OEM products to cater for this market, with bigger diameter (220mm) and thicker (23mm) rotors better suited to stopping power and heat dissipation, this also has a crossover into Cargo bikes and the Big Travel / Enduro MTB market.
Tektro forecast over 50% of sales will be e-Bike related next year and increasing. The split between Tektro and TRP is, at present, 85% / 15%.
A new European ambition
Whilst in Taiwan for the annual Pre-Taipei Bike press trip and factory tour, CI.N also managed to catch up with Dirk Belling, Global Marketing and Brand Director of Tektro / TRP. He’s tasked with setting up a European hub for Tektro to be closer to their key European markets.
Based one hour outside Frankfurt, Germany (Neustadt an der Weinstraße), this space is so new, the office has only just become operational at the close of 2019. Dirk started in early 2019 with the company and is currently recruiting staff to work out of the Hub. One such key recruit already hired is Thomas Lattke, now head of Tektro Europe GmbH, ex of SRAM and Sigma Sports electronics. As Thomas will focus on building OE/AM sales, Dirk will lead the strategic brand development and marketing.
Dirk has an interesting background as a Professional Photographer and was the founding editor and Chief Editor of MountainBike Germany. Between Dirk and Thomas there are 50 years’ of experience in the cycle trade, plus Dirk is bringing his skills and experience as a consultant in developing business skills, implementing agile development methods, a continuous improvement philosophy and in using customer feedback to deliver better products.
Developing a hub in the biggest non-Asian market for Tektro offers some significant advantages, it can offer direct communications with local distributors, it’s broadly in the same time zone as its intended customer base, it knows the markets in those areas and it can be more reactive to requests. The plan is to establish this base to serve dealers, OE customers, media and consumers in these markets.
To show the change in the product philosophy Dirk explained about the challenges with the incumbent production mentality, and how continual improvement (CI) leads to better design and better products. You could look at this in a similar way to ‘marginal gains’, which we know has provided benefits to the Team Sky racing philosophy.
Each small change individually may not produce a significant or measurable effect, however when you group several changes together, the overall effect does make a difference, and is measurable. We are not talking familiar pillows and sports science, as with Sky, but when changes are made to the lever – making the pistons smaller, the hose – making it narrower, pads are wider, oil is more resistant to heat and an approach to bleeding that works better on race day (and for consumers), you end up with a better brake.
Add to this significant changes in brake design, like bigger (220mm), thicker (2.3mm) rotors and in house CNC-made calliper adaptors with less tolerances, this gives a better performing real world product. This approach to CI is being rolled out throughout the business.
Dirk has already successfully run agile workshops to develop the skills of teams throughout Tektro, and whilst any new (to a business) technique will have its sceptics, these skills are already being used to develop products quicker, gain feedback from testers and iterate on the results.
The ability of Tektro manufacturing to rapidly prototype running changes and make components in- house gives them the ability to get products to testers and ultimately to the market quickly. The brake (and derailleur) market is a very competitive place, with some big players that are well established. Better serving your closer markets – especially OEM, should bring benefits. For OEM that already equip with Tektro Brakes, being able to offer them drivetrain components and provide local support and training is a market advantage, with Tektro brakes being specified on many E-Bikes (a big part of European market growth), having a more local hub will undoubtedly pay dividends.