Inside Giant's Taiwan frame factory - part four

Painting, decaling, and building up frames for bicycle shops worldwide

In parts one to three of this exclusive four-part series, we showed you how Giant builds its aluminum and carbon fiber frames from raw molten ore and dry fiber all the way to complete chassis.

Now it's time to wrap everything up – literally – with paint and decals,  and also give you a look at how workers install and adjust components on those framesets in record time.

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Video: Inside Giant's Taiwan factory

Giant builds an incredible number of bikes each year (about 6.3 million in 2012) and, virtually without exception, every one of them gets painted to some degree. Not surprisingly then, the company tends to stick with relatively straightforward paint schemes and relies on a highly efficient process to get everything coated.

Once they're ready for paint, frames in Giant's enormous factory in Taichung, Taiwan are transported via an intricate network of moving hooks. Anywhere you stand on the factory floor, all you need to do is look up to see the action going on behind the scenes.

Applying the coats

In most cases, frames arrive in the painting area and get a fresh coat of primer that's automatically applied and then checked by hand – and touched up, if necessary. Solid colors are similarly sprayed through an automated process that helps ensure even coverage and minimizes waste.

Time for paint! this setup sprays the entire frame as it passes through the chamber. the central nozzle sprays in 360° and also moves up and down. the frames flip sides as it passes around the back so everything gets covered: time for paint! this setup sprays the entire frame as it passes through the chamber. the central nozzle sprays in 360° and also moves up and down. the frames flip sides as it passes around the back so everything gets covered

Time for paint! this setup sprays the entire frame as it passes through the chamber

Once the paint has been baked and dried, it's off to the decal room – an enviably quiet and peaceful place to be compared with the painting areas. Overhead computer screens above each workstation show the technicians where each decal is supposed to go. Decals are applied using a wet transfer method that allows for some repositioning once they're laid on to the frame surface. Small squeegees are used to push out the underlying water, which also helps eliminate air bubbles.

If all goes well, each decal virtually disappears beneath the clearcoat: if all goes well, each decal virtually disappears beneath the clearcoat

If all goes well, each decal virtually disappears beneath the clearcoat

After the decals are applied, the frames pay another visit to the paint area for clearcloating. Multi-part frames – such as full-suspension mountain bikes – are pieced together in yet another area; then it's off to the main assembly area.

Yes, folks, giant uses lasers to check alignment - lasers: yes, folks, giant uses lasers to check alignment - lasers

Yes, folks, Giant uses lasers to check alignment - lasers

Giant builds its complete bikes in a way that you're unlikely to see in any local shop. First and foremost, frames are positioned upside down, mounted on padded posts that are inserted into the seat tube. In this way, workers have complete access to every part of the frame (and can spin it around as needed) without creating any risk of marring the finish.

The assembly stands are simple yet effective. bikes are stable once the pegs are inserted and the plastic materials don't leave any visible marks: the assembly stands are simple yet effective. bikes are stable once the pegs are inserted and the plastic materials don't leave any visible marks

Assembly stands are simple yet effective. Bikes are stable once the pegs are inserted and the plastic materials don't leave any visible marks

Parts are installed in what most would perceive to be a logical order. Headsets, forks, stems, and bottom brackets come first, followed by cranks, brake calipers, and derailleurs.

Build kits are organized into sub-assemblies: build kits are organized into sub-assemblies

Build kits are organized into sub-assemblies

Wheels are built just off the assembly line using a mix of hand labor and automated machinery. Bare hubs are actually by hand – and from what we saw, the workers are exceedingly good at it, loading up nearly entire hub flanges with one handful of spokes. Spokes are laced by hand, too, but the actual process of attaching them to the rim is done by machine.

So you think you're fast at building wheels, eh? check out how many spokes this technician is loading into a hub at once: so you think you're fast at building wheels, eh? check out how many spokes this technician is loading into a hub at once

Check out how many spokes this technician is loading into a hub at once

Another small army of machines made by Holland Mechanics – the leader in the industry – takes care of truing and tensioning with incredible speed. We watched as one 32-hole wheel was tensioned and trued to within +/-0.8mm in just over 40 seconds.

Wheels are automatically tensioned and trued: wheels are automatically tensioned and trued

Wheels are automatically tensioned and trued

After the wheels are completed, rim strips, tires, tubes, cassettes, and disc rotors are installed as needed depending on the intended bike model. Complete wheelsets are then sent overhead by another set of moving hooks back to the assembly line where they're installed on the frames.

Pneumatic tools are preset to ensure proper torque specs - and to save the hands of the factory workers: pneumatic tools are preset to ensure proper torque specs - and to save the hands of the factory workers

Pneumatic tools are preset to ensure proper torque specs – and to save the hands of the factory workers

Handlebar assemblies are also built separately with controls, grips, and handlebar tape being installed before meeting up with the rest of the bike. Cable housing and brake hose lengths are predetermined based on bike model and size, too, so there's no guesswork later on that can slow down the process.

Finishing touches

Workers can finally finish everything up once all of the subassemblies are in place. Interestingly, though, the handlebars are never actually bolted into the stems. Instead, they're hung from brackets that enable the workers to connect all of the cables and hoses. Even intricate brake and derailleur adjustments are done with the controls essentially hanging in free space – and with the bike still perched upside down.

Gears are adjusted with the bike mounted upside-down on the assembly stand. note how the handlebars aren't even attached: gears are adjusted with the bike mounted upside-down on the assembly stand. note how the handlebars aren't even attached

Gears are adjusted with the bike mounted upside-down on the assembly stand

Nevertheless, it all still gets done, and very quickly at that.

At the end of the line, the last few pieces of packing material are installed, the bars and front wheels are securely attached to the rest of the bike, and it's all fed into a cardboard box that's then automatically glued shut.

Completed bikes are dropped into the boxes, which are then fed down the rollers into the gluing machine. afterward, the boxes are then automatically hauled away to their proper storage locations: completed bikes are dropped into the boxes, which are then fed down the rollers into the gluing machine. afterward, the boxes are then automatically hauled away to their proper storage locations

Completed bikes are dropped into the boxes, which are then fed down the rollers into the gluing machine

Finally, that box gets labeled and transported via elevator to a warehouse where it's stored and processed for shipment.

And there you have it – how to build carbon fiber and aluminum bikes in four easy steps. Sounds easy, right?

James Huang

Technical Editor, US
James started as a roadie in 1990 with his high school team but switched to dirt in 1994 and has enjoyed both ever since. Anything that comes through his hands is bound to be taken apart, and those hands still sometimes smell like fork oil even though he retired from shop life in 2007. He prefers manual over automatic, fizzy over still, and the right way over the easy way.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, Colorado, USA

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