When Marcus Hays first heard about an electric bike, he was less than enthusiastic. Why load a bike with battery weight, turning the human motor into passenger in the process? That was 1995 and Hays was working with Lee Iococca to develop electric cars and bikes.
Electric bikes use less than 1,000 watts of total power and can be used on bike paths. When Hays first encountered these hybrid vehicles, most models were imported from a variety of countries. They relied on an injection molding manufacturing process which produced parts made of a variety of thermoplastics. While initially pleasing in appearance, the plastic parts raised questions of reliability and tended toward unsightly discolorations and dangerous cracks. “As an advocate for electric bikes,” said Hays, “I felt these problems had to be solved.”
To efficiently produce a more reliable and environmentally friendly electric bike, Hays’ company Pi Mobility took a minimalist approach. For Hays and his team, the longer a product will last is a key factor in making it more sustainable. Rather than rely on brittle plastics for a multitude of parts, Pi Mobility used an elegant, solitary arch of recycled aluminum for its bikes’ iconic frame. The recycled aluminum lasts longer than plastic and the batteries and electronic components reside safely within the aluminum tube rather than an injection molded plastic battery enclosure.
Recycled aluminum requires one-thirteenth the amount of electricity to produce compared to virgin aluminum. And, a Pi Mobility bikes produces 300 lbs of carbon dioxide per 12,000 miles of travel, making it 20-30 times more efficient than a motorcycle or cart. The single tube used in the PiCycle and PiMoto models’ battery agnostic design means they can conceivably handle any battery or chemical process that produces electricity, allowing for easy upgrades in the future.
Thanks to the less labor-intensive design of the single tube, Pi Mobility has been able to maintain production in the US and still be profitable. “We can form a tube in about 30 seconds,” said Hays. “With the help of Autodesk software, changes to the design can be embedded very quickly. Our manufacturing method offers very rapid scale at competitive prices, but it also reduces the required labor to a fraction of more traditional electric bikes. By producing our bikes locally, much of the transportation carbon that often affects even environmentally sustainable good can be eliminated.
The company’s testing program makes durability and sustainability its top priorities, before appearance. Pi Mobility seeks to combine all three elements at every opportunity. The Autodesk solution for Digital Prototyping helped the company to optimize its design and bring new products to market faster.
Hays said,” We use Inventor, Vault, Alias Design, and Showcase. Our design team took to the software immediately. After just three weeks the team produced a 3D digital prototype using Inventor. It proved that by increasing the diameter of our tube by a half inch, we could save $335,000.”