Thanks to Flying Machine, Freedom Requires Just Two Wheels
The Flying Machine Fleet offers bicycles that suit a range of preferred style and purpose, all striking in both form and function. The passion, attention to detail and creative thinking manifest within every bicycle that is hand crafted in house by Flying Machine. "We make bikes, but it's really not that simple. We are a custom bike maker that focuses on high-end products with a bend toward the creative and scientific approach throughout our processes," said Flying Machine's CEO, Inventor, Managing Director, Matthew Andrew.
"Were quite different from a normal bike company," said Andrew. Among many points that highlight the Company's uniqueness is Andrew's background, which is in fine art, architecture and project management prior to starting Flying Machine. The Company takes a significantly different approach to how things can be done and how they want things to look. Andrew explained that their work is driven from an aesthetic much different than many other bike brands and their typically sports-like appearance. "We strive for a more stylistic appeal in our designs — ours are definitely not run of the mill," said Andrew.
Andrew went on to explain that another one of the Company's main advantages is that they are small enough to be flexible as far as being able to customise virtually anything their customers ask them to do. "When we first started, we weren't making bikes anywhere near as customised as we make them today. But through the continuous process of being asked to do any number of customisations, we find that our process has become as customisable as possible. Having the flexibility built in to do that is key to our success," said Andrew.
If You Were a Bike Built and Ridden in Australia
What would you be like? If you're a Flying Machine bike, you're definitely high tech. Comfort is also of high importance, supporting long and enjoyable bike rides. The Company does build to cater to a variety of riding experiences, from comfort and leisure-based to adventure-based. “For us, it's about being able to ride everywhere — to and from work, to the pub on the weekends, to the market for shopping — leisure, transport and practicality in a modern city,” said Andrew.
And because Flying Machine heavily incorporates customisation throughout its operations, they've made a point of tracking popular trends throughout their requests for customisation as well as identifying specific design elements that they feel particularly strong about. They've then taken these customised elements and essentially standardised them through their own internal replication and refinement in some of the lines of bicycles they now offer. "A couple of our models were born of customer requests, such as our very popular UCX [Urban Cyclo Cross], which came about through a customer request about three years ago," said Andrew. All the initial client had to do was ask if the company could make them a bike according to their exact needs, and Flying Machine readily answered in the affirmative. This affirmative reply was accompanied by additional modicum of enthusiasm, since it turned out that the Company liked the customised design so much they decided to build themselves one at the same time they were building their customer's bike. "I liked the idea so much I made one for myself," laughed Andrew.
A keen alertness to daring new designs helped the Company identify early on in the process that they were going to want to include this particular model in their regular lineup, which really proved to help drive its development. It is this daring charge into the innovative unknown that continues to help pedal the business forward with great speed. The Company's brave embrace of innovation is combined with a deep-rooted passion to deliver on customer desires, creating an unbeatable force.
Top Factors Contributing to Steady Growth
Andrew is quick to recognize the power of the Internet as a significant enabler of the Company's steady growth. "We have the ability to communicate with such a broad audience all over the world on a daily basis while sitting in our studio here in Perth — it's pretty amazing," said Andrew. Of course, the Internet isn't anything new. But it does continue to help Flying Machine secure new exposure and increased publicity by getting them out in front of an exponentially larger audience, more often. The Company works to produce strong content and images of what they do. Flying Machine then works to apply this content and imagery in a number of different ways. Among the more recent applications that the Company has found to be especially powerful has been social media outlets. Andrew and his team have been experiencing significantly better results increasing business exposure through the spreading of their content via bloggers versus traditional paid marketing. "We find that many of our customers find us through customers that came before them or through our social media channels," said Andrew.
Through increasing Internet engagement and spreading word of mouth, whether it’s online social media or otherwise, approximately 40 percent of the Company's sales are credited to international buyers. Of that 40 percent, approximately 60 percent are U.S. customers, and the rest of the demographics are largely comprised of the UK and Europe, with a small amount reaching into Asia as well.
Another key component of Flying Machine's continued success is delivering on promises. "We do what we say we're going to do," said Andrew. "We want to make really nice bikes, good quality, made to last — that's what we intend to do, and that's what we do. This in itself helps us to get quite a few referrals from those who've had the chance to experience our bikes." Flying Machine then works to tie all of that into a tidy package that can be viewed and shared on the Internet so people can see exactly what the Company is capable of.
Pedaled by Design-based Background
Andrew credits his design-based background with much of the driving force behind the Company's distinguishing characteristics. Instead of the bicycle-mechanic, sports or racing background which is typical of the industry, Andrew has a background in the arts, possessing a Diploma of Fine Art and Design (Major in Printmaking, Minor in Sculpture) from the Claremont School of Fine Art. "We're creatively focused on what our customers are interested in. Yes, we like making bikes, and from a technical point of view we do indeed want them to be as high quality and cutting edge as possible. But there are all the other creative angles of what we're involved with which we embrace as much as possible," said Andrew.
Andrew points out that this embrace can come down to the smallest of factors, too. This is especially true with the consideration that the bike industry is fairly conservative in relation to adopting new ways of doing things. "Granted, there are always innovators out there. But as a general rule, the bigger companies in the industry are less flexible and slow to take on new things. And even from a customer point of view, people generally like what they understand, and if something's new and different, they can be a bit cautious. On top of that, people also tend to carry very strong opinions about their bikes," said Andrew.
"We're very happy to be engaged in that whole process of looking for new ways of doing things. People don't always agree with what we're doing, but we don't take that on board too much. And we definitely get more positive than negative," said Andrew. And it is this courage to go against the grain and not just operate according to what has already been established as popularly acceptable that underlines the Company's innovative and pioneering spirit. The industry certainly wouldn't have Flying Machine's "sexy bikes" to enjoy. "We like to think that if you upset some people’s sensibilities then you're probably doing something right," Andrew said of the way the Company blazes their own path.
3D Printing Adds New Dimension of Success
In the last year, Flying Machine has been doing exceptional, groundbreaking work with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The CSIRO is Australia's national science agency and one of the largest in the world, delivering solutions for agribusiness, energy and transport, environment and natural resources, health, information technology, telecommunications, manufacturing and mineral resources. Their work delivers improvements to every aspect of life from oceans to energy, metals to medicine, and sustainability to food. CSIRO also works at the forefront of emerging sectors such as gene technology and nanotechnology.
With the significant impact that CSIRO has on so many sectors, Flying Machine is therefore quite enthusiastic and appreciative of the opportunity to work with them. "We've been working with CSIRO on 3D-printed titanium parts," said Andrew. "The titanium products are our highest end items with the highest degree of potential customization — they've been one of the most significant factors behind our recent growth spurt. The key to our titanium products is their ability to be flexible. Every time we make a set they can be changed. Literally every bike we've made has been a slight design improvement on the one before it. We thought were going to have to wait years for the price of this technology to come down. But it just came down to meeting the right people and the right technology."
"The key element of this process from a customer point of view is the custom fitting. The 3D-printed parts allow us to really tailor the bike frame exactly to someone's size requirements as opposed to having to buy a bike off the rack," said Andrew. While the Company's standard size bikes obviously deliver solid performance, customers can expect a truly exceptional ride from their customised models.
Andrew went on to point out the cost savings benefitted by the company. For example, the tooling to make one set of parts for a bike in production might have been in the $20,000 to $50,00 range to make, whereas, there is no tooling required using the 3D printing process. The 3D printing process allows the Company to make the smallest of changes whenever they want without the extreme cost of retooling. "We can do it with complete flexibility. No tooling needs to be changed. There are far fewer limits. For example, we've made 12 different versions of a particular model within just this last year. From a manufacturing standpoint, that would have required each version to have its own tooling, and would likely take years rather than months. From a development point of view, it is very quick," said Andrew.
The metal printing machine that CSIRO's uses to produce the titanium parts is a much faster process than other metal 3D printing technology. A significant difference in their process is that it uses an electron beam rather than a laser. So, printing with the CSIRO 3D printer is much faster. And the printing isn't the only part that's quick. The same day Andrew heard a particular account on the radio about CSIRO and their 3D printing and titanium, he sent an email to CSIRO, which led to a phone call the same day, within a week they were working together on starting the design for parts, and just six weeks later they had their first frame built using this process.
Flying Machine also has a desktop model 3D printer, which allows them to print sample parts and test fittings, providing very handy, immediate technology for everything from testing and prototyping to production. Not only does this help save tooling costs, but it also prevents expensive mistakes through sample prints, as opposed to building with expensive titanium and then learning that it's an improper fit, etc. From these test prints, the Company can then move forward with full speed and confidence on the final build.
In addition to the newer titanium projects in the last year or so, Flying Machine continues to stay busy with new projects. Once again, it is the Company's dedication to providing their customers with comprehensive customisation that has been helping drive Flying Machine's continuous innovation. "We've been working on new developments based on a request from a customer who wanted us to make him a ‘road bike’, a full derailleur geared bike, which is slightly different from what we usually do. Instead of titanium tubing, he wanted us to use carbon fibre because he wanted a very light bike," said Andrew.
"Since that order has come through, we've been able to significantly reduce the size of the titanium connection parts used, because we're now reinforcing those parts with the carbon fibre," said Andrew. This concept approach provides for a lighter bike, saving approximately 400 grams of titanium per bike, while still providing exceptional strength and reliability. "We're also working with delivering full carbon fibre frames, giving our customers multiple options. One very interesting thing we found through our research is that we're able to use a non-petroleum based resin for the carbon fibre elements, so it's essentially a biocarbon made from a byproduct of paper processing. This equates to no hydrocarbons and a significantly lower greenhouse footprint," said Andrew. This is still a relatively young process for the Company, but they are looking to continue developing it, possibly positioning it as ‘green’ carbon fibre which is quite unique within the industry.
Furthermore, Flying Machine has engaged with a fundraising outfit, the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board (ASSOB) to do a capital raising with funds to be used for setting up a new facility and tale on additional staff. This investment would help create much needed work space and aid in helping the Company keep up with their growing orders and customer base.
As it is, there aren't many other custom bike manufacturers in Australia. On top of this, Flying Machine continues to distinguish itself with its dedication to research and development, continuous innovation, and impassioned spirit for providing the perfect riding experience for every lifestyle.