Enter SRAM's German headquarters and you enter a bit of bike history. From SRAM's first Grip Shift iterations to its latest electronic Pod unit, there have been significant advances in technology since the company's early days. With the introduction of their latest Eagle drivetrain group, we were allowed to not only take a peek into their front offices but got rare access to their test lab.
SRAM's facility in Schweinfurt, Germany, was once a manufacturing center for internal gear hubs under the name of Sachs. The facility's focus shifted when SRAM acquired the brand, and today it's the main development facility for almost the entire drivetrain range. Chains are developed in a close relationship with their own factory in Portugal, and crank development mostly happens in San Luis Obispo, California. Some team members have been with SRAM for 35-40 years, having previously worked at Sachs.Strolling Through the Halls
While the facility is no longer a major manufacturing center, it is still a hub of activity and innovation that is constantly growing and being altered in its structure.
The factory building also houses the SRAM Technical University (STU), which hosts workshops for dealers and mechanics, and SRAM Technical Service (STS) to provide service and warranty to products (including RockShox and other brands under the SRAM umbrella) that are sent in or are dropped off. In Germany, STS can be directly connected to the rider if they want to handle communication or even drop off a product on their own.
Also under the same roof is a small warehouse that handles European warranty claims and stores spare parts and equipment. Shipments to dealers or bike companies are handled from warehouses or distributors around the globe.
The engineering department, located next to the warehouse section, is off-limits to most people, as the team is typically working on projects that are two to three years ahead of the current state of the industry. Multiple types of engineers, like quality engineers, industrial design engineers, or test engineers work together on different projects.
Inside, the seating arrangement allows for a flexible concept where groups can move together to work as a team. Also, depending on the project, it sometimes makes more sense to mix people from different departments or to create groups of one specific department.
Inside the engineering technician area, prototypes from the prototype machine department are assembled and put on bikes to be secretly tested in the real world. Development requires more than test lab machines - a lot of testing still happens while riding test bikes outdoors.
The prototype department is dedicated to developing and testing new ideas, and run by machining experts, with the machining department having extended its capabilities through the use of advanced technology such as ERTD (Extended Reach Tooling and Drilling).Test Lab
The test lab at SRAM is one of eight around the world and is responsible for coordinating field testing and collecting data on various products. The team, currently made up of eleven people at Schweinfurt, custom builds most of their own test rigs and develops the software accordingly. Testing for durability and robustness is one factor for testing, strength and fatigue strength in particular - like cyclical loads on an e-bike for example - another. Some machines simulate real-world scenarios with changing load capabilities.
SRAM tests with loads taken from the field and also cycles from the field, but they also usually test beyond the real-world requirements to make sure that the end user runs into as few problems as possible. In order to be able to even build machines that simulate real-world conditions they have gathered (and are still gathering) huge amounts of data over the years and then broken them down to test for the range of data that they need.
SRAM has recently started testing with 3D high-speed image scanning via two Phantom cameras they can use outdoors to understand the workings of forces and impacts on the product, and to find better ways to correlate field testing to lab testing.
Around 4,500 samples per year are running through the machines, requiring a minimum of 250 meters of chain every month. Spread over the area, all types of components are tested in multiple ways, from derailleur to shifter.
One of the machines in the lab simulates shifting under load, allowing them to compare their products to competitors and previous generations. In addition to making sure the chain shifts smoothly in certain locations, they also work to prevent shifting in other areas. The team has gone through 900 cassettes for the latest drivetrain generation.
A machine, dubbed 'Death Star', is used to push the limits of cassettes and goes way beyond standard ISO performance testing – which doesn't require much to pass as it only resembles a static safety test of a 150kg person standing on a bike – to gather valuable data on durability and other factors. Since it can generate so much power, it acts as a performance/durability testing device where it can wear out and break cassettes over time or allows them to simulate real-world (and far beyond) conditions and loads on the products, including steep hill climbs and strong e-bike wattage, in order to learn from the results to make improvements.
The Death Star's primary function is to find the limits of the cassette. To get to that point, it can take multiple chains to be replaced, as the chains are running dry in the machines to not make a huge mess, with the negative side effect of reducing their lifespan severely due to heat buildup. As a development tool, SRAM tests to failure a lot to see if they want to improve a product further.
The climate chambers allow them to test products in different conditions, including dry and wet phases. Different types of dust - collected from different riding areas around the globe - can be added to the machine to simulate different geographic areas and different types of wear.
Some of the testing is not overly realistic but engineers sometimes want to see if the system can handle a certain kind of abuse.
SRAM has also created testing procedures for impact scenarios for singular major impacts. The drop test machine subjects the product to worst-case scenarios.
The bike swing came to life from playing around with new ways to abuse components in an easy and repeatable way. They usually also attach dots and high-speed motion cameras to the process so they can motion track the process. They can then calculate the energy of that impact along with friction and other factors.