Santa Cruz Bicycles Case Study
Bicycle enthusiasts not only love the ride their bikes provide, but they also are often willing to pay for newer technology especially when it will increase their speed or comfort. Innovating new technologies for bikes is only half the battle for bike manufacturers. Designing the process to manufacture the bikes is often the more daunting challenge.
Consider the case of Santa Cruz Bicycles. It digitally designs and builds mountain bikes and
tests them under the most extreme conditions to bring the best possible product to their
customers. A few years back, the company designed and patented the Virtual Pivot Point
(VPP) suspension system, a means to absorb the shocks that mountain bikers encounter when 17 “Technology: How Much? How Fast? How Revolutionary? How Expensive?” Fast Company 56, 62, http://www.fastcompany.com/online/56/fasttalk.html (accessed on May 30, 2002)
on the rough terrain of the off-road ride. One feature of the new design allowed the rear wheel to bounce 10 inches without hitting the frame or seat, providing shock absorption without feeling like the rider was sitting on a coiled spring.
The first few prototypes did not work well; in one case, the VPP joint’s upper link snapped after a quick jump. The experience was motivation for a complete overhaul of the design and engineering process to find a way to go from design to prototype faster. The 25-person company adopted a similar system used by large, global manufacturers: product life cycle management (PLM) software.
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The research and development team had been using computer-aided-design (CAD) software,
but it took 7 months to develop a new design, and if the design failed, starting over was the only solution. This was not only a drain on the company’s time but also on finances. The design team found a PLM system that helped them analyze and model capabilities in a much more robust manner. The team uses simulation capabilities to watch the impact of the new designs on rough mountain terrain. The software tracks all the variables the designers and engineers need so they can quickly and easily make adjustments to the design. The new system allows them to run a simulation in a few minutes, which is a very large improvement over their previous design software, which took 7 hours to run a simulation.
The software was just one component of the new process design. The company also hired a new master frame builder to build and test prototypes in-house and they invested in a van-size machine that can fabricate intricate parts for their prototypes, a process they used to outsource. The result was a significant decrease in their design-to-prototype process. What used to average about 28 months from start of design to shipping of the new bike now takes 12 to 14 months.
Santa Cruz Bicycles Case Study Discussion Questions
1. What, in your opinion, was the key factor in Santa Cruz Bicycles’ successful process redesign? Why was that factor the key?
2. What outside factors had to come together for Santa Cruz Bicycles to be able to make the
changes they did?
3. Why is this story more about change management that software implementation?
Source: Adapted from Mel Duvall, “Santa Cruz Bicycles,” www.baselinemag.com (accessed on February 24, 2008).
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