When an entrepreneur / marketing-guru and a former European motorcycle racing championships rider with a passion for engineering get together in business the recipe can only be one of success.
In the automotive world, after-market wheels normally have limited performance. Generally speaking improvements over the OEM supplied and standard items are more for aesthetic purposes. However, this is not the case with Blackstone Tek’s (BST) range of carbon fiber motorbike wheels. They offer signification weight reduction over standard wheels and overall improvement of the rotational inertia that gives the biggest benefit to the rider.
Improvements are made not just in acceleration and braking but the force required to move or steer the bike is reduced significantly. The common theme when asking riders what the biggest benefit of a BST wheel is is that it allows a 1000cc motorbike to feel like a 600cc in the area of steering.
Some of the OEM bikes that have Blackstone Tek rims fitted include Aprilia, Benelli, Bimota, BMW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, MV Agusta, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha
Blackstone Tek have recently been exploring adding colour to the rims
BST carbon composite motorbike wheels are made using the latest technology, materials and manufacturing processes. This lightweight and exceedingly stronger wheel is suitable for both racing and street use. The wheels have been through the Rim Technology and Eurotype Test Centre certification tests and passed all the tests for road certification. And most important of all, the wheels are a unique single unit therefore no bonding is used.
The fact that virtually 100% of Blackstone Tek’s product is exported, with most of them sold by aftermarket specialists in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia as well as now being specified by globally well-known original equipment manufacturer motorcycle brands, is a credit to the company and once again an indication that a South African company can compete in a highly competitive market.
Some of the OEM bikes that have BST rims fitted include Aprilia, Benelli, Bimota, BMW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, MV Agusta, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha.
Iconic motorcycle brands and ones that produce ultra-exclusive motorcycles such as Norton, Motus, Vuhl, Confederate Motor Company and Arch Motorcycles – names that make motorcycling enthusiasts drool – are now sold with BST carbon fiber wheels as the specified original wheels.
Blackstone Tek manufactures a number of components that go into the final production of the wheels. This includes the hubs, fasteners, internal bearings, spacers, sleeves, seals, components for air valves, sprockets and sprocket carriers
The Blackstone Tek rims
Managing Director Gary Turner’s passion for motor sport goes back to his teens. In the motorcycle industry since he was 16, Gary left South Africa and headed for the European racing scene before moving on to the USA. In Europe, he headed up Pro Carbon and Pro Britten, both international motorcycle race teams, as manager and rider for six years. He has had as many years before that in both off-road and circuit racing. After acquiring the last available Britten V1000 in late 1998, he formed and managed the Pro Britten Racing Team for the 1999/2000 seasons. This bike won at Daytona in the Sound of Thunder class.
While living in the Netherlands in the 1990’s and racing one of his two Ducati Supermono singles in the hotly contested European Supermono Championship run as a World Superbike support class, Turner was helping to pay for his racing by running a company called Pro Carbon, which basically manufactured and sold many different carbon fiber parts to Joe Average.
“During this time carbon fiber started appearing on factory superbikes. I hadn’t yet got round to thinking of designing and manufacturing a wheel yet. But then I was shown prototype Dymag carbon wheels that were being used by another racer on a Ducati Supermono, and that got me thinking. The Japanese maxi-singles like the Over Yamaha and BMR Suzuki were getting punched out to 750cc and more, and our 578cc Ducatis were struggling to keep up. So I thought we’ve got to get a bit more juice out of the bike, and hence I took to developing the carbon wheels as a way of reducing the rotational inertia, which helped improve acceleration and countered the extra torque those big singles had over us exiting a turn. That’s how I got started.”
Each wheel is initially built in two halves, which are then joined together into a sturdy but light unit before baking
Blackstone Tek manufactures all its own moulds
“South Africa had already been active in developing the application of carbon fiber as a material, specifically in creating the Rooivalk attack helicopter with a largely carbon fiber airframe. The knowledge spun off from that project allowed Aerotek the aeronautical division of CSIR, South Africa’s government-run technological R&D operation, whose job is to seek other applications for technical advances made in aviation design, to produce a prototype carbon motorcycle wheel in 1991 in conjunction with Adept, a local wheel manufacturer. Attempts to commercialise that idea foundered when Adept went bankrupt in the mid-90’s.”
Turner found out about the Aerotek carbon wheels, and tried to track down the remains of the project on returning to South Africa in 2000. He discovered that crucial technology was still available that he was free to adopt it in developing his prototype BST wheels.
“That has formed the basis of BST,” says Turner.
“I wanted to make a monocoque design, but hadn’t yet worked out the technique of doing the hollow spokes. Eventually I came up with the silicone idea, and then we had to get it all to work. One good thing is that composites as an engineering material offer you far more flexibility on what you want to do than any of the metals. It’s very difficult to forge or cast a piece of metal in your garage. But up to a certain point you can do a lot of experiments with laminates or composites in your home workshop, and that’s basically what I did to come up with the silicone idea.”
The mould store
Rims waiting to be machined on the new Victor Vturn760
In order to create a hollow interior for less weight, Turner developed a silicone jigsaw on the inside of each spoke, over which the carbon could be wrapped and shrunk. “There was only one company, in the UK, that made carbon fibre wheels. But the quality and design, for our purposes, was flawed and it was extremely expensive,” said Turner.
“I then met Terry Annecke – my business partner – in 2001 when Terry was looking for something new in her life. Terry had worked internationally in executive positions for two of the world’s most influential companies – IBM and Microsoft. At Microsoft Terry started and led the highly successful corporate sales team and the consulting business, and completed her stay at Microsoft as Director of Marketing. Terry was a finalist for Businesswoman of the Year in 2000.”
“I had finalised the design of the wheels and realised I needed to start a business to manufacture and sell the wheels. That is when Terry came into the picture. We then established Blackstone Tek.”
As Annecke says: “I responded to the offer to join BST in 2001 because carbon-fiber material ‘was such a game changer back then’.”
Blackstone Tek has four Haas machines on the floor
Blackstone Tek has two Victor machines in the temperature controlled room – a Victor Vcenter 70 CNC vertical machining center and a Victor VTplus 20 CNC lathe
“Initially we had some support from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Innovation Programme and in 2005 we won the SPII (Industrial Innovation) competition run by the DTI. We have developed the business over the last 15 years and now over 22 000 motorcycle wheels carry the BST name on multiple different sportbikes, superbikes, exotic vehicles and other custom creations,” said Annecke.
“Our unique 5 or 7-spoke carbon composite wheel is made using the latest technology, materials and manufacturing processes. This lightweight and exceedingly stronger wheel is suitable for both racing and street use. The wheels have been tested at Rim Technology and Eurotype Test Centre standards and passed all the tests for road certification. Our factory is fully ISO9000:2008 compliant, German TUV Approved with a fully documented production process, featuring part numbering, quality control and shipping,” said Turner.
“Because we can engineer with carbon fiber and maximise on its properties of high strength and low weight, we have reduced the weight in the spokes and rim without compromising strength. The weight is therefore concentrated in the hub, which means that rotational inertia is reduced, making the bike easier to handle, and allowing you to accelerate quicker and brake later. So not only is the wheel lighter, but it is engineered for maximum performance.”
“The carbon fiber we use is a combination of woven and unidirectional formats, and is embedded in a resin matrix made from toughened epoxy. Pre-preg is used as the machine application of the specific resin systems ensuring the most controlled and even application and therefore the highest quality material for use in all BST products.”
Blackstone Tek have a fully CNC operated CMM machine that is also housed in a temperature controlled room. The company carries out batch inspection on at least 10% of the components and another 10% of the final product
Blackstone Tek has their own in-house anodising plant
“We take this very seriously because of the critical safety orientated nature of the products that we manufacture. It starts off with all carbon fiber materials being stored under a controlled atmosphere – a minus 20ºC storage chamber. In this temperature, the material will remain durable for up to one year—but it must be removed from there once a day and warmed to 0ºC, to keep the resins fresh.”
“Our manufacturing area is also closely monitored and the one area where we manufacture components on a Victor CNC lathe and a Victor CNC milling machine is also atmospherically controlled in a clean room.”
“This engineering division is able to do prototyping, simulation, validation / verification, documentation and design using SolidWorks. We use Anysys software for the FEA. On the inspection side we have a fully CNC operated CMM machine that is also housed in a temperature-controlled room. We carry out batch inspection on at least 10% of the components and another 10% of the final product.”
“By performing in-house testing BST Engineering fully understands each product’s capabilities and constraints, allowing us to remain at the forefront of technological innovation. Each product’s key properties are characterised and optimised. This is then used to improve the accuracy of any future FEA.”
“For motorcycle wheel designs, the following standards are considered crucial: ISO 8644-2006, TUV No. 287 StVZO 1998, JASO T203-85 and BS AU 50.”
Rims in the cleaning department
All rims go through a stringent testing process
“For passenger car wheel designs, which is a relatively new development in the company, the following standards are considered crucial: ISO 3006-2005, ISO 7141-2005, TUV No. 287 StVZO 1998, SABS 1208, SAE J175-2016 and BS AU 52.
“The most arduous tests from each standard are performed, along with any other notable strength tests. For wheel testing, we have three tests that are carried out on our in-house equipment, namely impact and rotational bending fatigue testing and torsional fatigue testing. Only once the testing team is satisfied with the properties and strength of the product will it be approved for production.”
“Fundamental to the creation of an accurate component is a well-defined scope. Through direct interaction, a project is developed into a workable and planned structure. With regular sign off intervals, our experienced engineering team will create or fine-tune your conceptual idea into an optimal composite solution.”
“The latest Solidworks CAD software is used to generate our 3D designs, which are evaluated and optimised using the FEA software. All designs go through a stringent approval process before manufacturing begins.”
“The cutting of the fiber material components is done on a 2D machine using the Nestfab software, for maximum use of the sheets. Because heat distortion causes problems when cutting the fiber material we only use a blade.”
New machines on the floor include a Takumi v18 CNC vertical machining center and a Takumi VC 1052 CNC vertical machining center, both supplied by F&H Machine Tools
Rims waiting for packaging before being sent to clients
“The material is then sent to the layup room where we have at least 60 different moulds that we have developed and manufactured ourselves. The materials used for the manufacture of the moulds are plastic tool steels DIN1.2378, DIN 1.2311 and DIN 1.2312. Aluminium is used for moulds with low volume production. We have a range of tooling at our disposal to machine the moulds. Years of experience in mould design enable us to create the moulds for any geometry, from basic to complex.”
Each wheel is initially built in two halves, which are then joined together into a sturdy but light unit before baking. Every step of the process is logged, and the entire history of each wheel is stored with its unique serial number, which means that BST wheels can be repaired or refurbished, even in the event of crash damage or a rim damaged by a careless tyre fitter.
Gary Turner’s insistence on the unitary hollow design of BST wheels, to reduce the weight in the spokes and rim without compromising strength, was made feasible by his invention of that jigsaw of specially shaped silicone intensifier inserts (originally starting as a liquid to which hardener is added) that are laid in the mould’s metal spokes, then wrapped with carbon sheet. The complete wheel is then wrapped in a special plastic bag, and baked for between four and five hours together with up to seven other wheels at a time, in one of BST’s two pressurised autoclave ovens at 257 degrees Fahrenheit and 87 psi of pressure. The silicone expands under heat and pressure to fill and shape the spokes, but then as it cools it shrinks back to less than its original size, which means the jigsaw can be extracted via the holes left in the wheel’s unstressed sections.
The cooked – as in finished – wheel is now removed from the mould and closely inspected for any visual defects, then weighed to ensure it meets specification. The rough wheel is then machined to spec and finished off, fitted with the hub unit and bearings, sprayed by a special South African made Aer-o-Mix automotive paint which is supposedly good for fifty years of UV protection, then inspected once again. The hub is attached to the carbon wheel using a unique fastening system combining high strength aerospace fasteners with mechanical locking mechanisms, as well as high strength aerospace adhesive. All rear wheels are then fitted with an appropriate size Metzeler tyre and pressure tested at 58 psi overnight, with absolutely no leakage. BST is now also making carbon fiber single-sided swingarms for the Ducati 1098 and MV Agusta models, including designing and making the complicated tool to wrap the carbon sheeting around it. Various other structures are continually in the works.
“We also have our own in-house anodising plant and where necessary components are sent for anodising.”
“CNC machining plays a big part in our manufacturing process. Besides rough and final machining on the rims of the carbon wheels and the manufacturing of all our own moulds, as I have mentioned before, we also manufacture a number of components that go into the final production of the wheels. This includes the hubs, fasteners, internal bearings, spacers, sleeves, seals, components for air valves, sprockets and sprocket carriers.”
“Most of these components are either made in aluminium or stainless steel.”
“We also design and manufacture all our own jigs and fixtures either used on the CNC machines, in the layup and prototyping rooms, in the ovens and autoclave and in the other areas of manufacture. We like to be self-sufficient.”
Terry Annecke and Gary Turner
“Our equipment in this section includes 14 CNC machines and they include four Haas machines, four Victor machines, two Takumi machines, an old Gildemeister lathe, a Hartford machining center and a Robodrill.”
“The newest of these machines to arrive is the Takumi v18 CNC vertical machining center with XYZ travels of 1 800 x 850 x 750mm, a table size 1 900 x 850mm, a maximum table load of 2 000 kilograms and a spindle speed of 6 000rpm.”
“People do not realise how big these machines are until they see an operator on the table inside the machine setting up the fixture for a mould. This machine has been supplied by F&H Machine Tools.”
“Also new on the floor is the Victor Vturn760 that has a maximum turning diameter of 760mm, a swing of 900mm, X axis travel of 380 + 40mm, Z axis travel of 780mm and a rapid traverse of 20 m/min.”
“We already have two Victor machines in our temperature controlled room – a Victor Vcenter 70 CNC vertical machining center and a Victor VTplus 20 CNC lathe – and another Victor CNC milling machine on the main machining floor.”
“Also new is the Takumi VC 1052 CNC vertical machining center with XYZ travels of 1 052 x 520 x 610mm, a table size 1 000 x 520mm, a maximum table load of 650 kilograms and a spindle speed of 12 000rpm, also supplied by F&H Machine Tools.”
BST moved into its current 5 000m² home in Northlands Business Park, North Riding, Gauteng in July 2002, and the first BST customer wheels left the Johannesburg factory in October that year. Production has gradually ramped up to 4 500 motorcycle wheels per year, 250 car wheels per year and between 7 000 and 8 000 components per year.
BST is now also making carbon fiber single-sided swingarms for the Ducati 1098 and MV Agusta models, including designing and making the complicated tool to wrap the carbon sheeting around it
The motorcycle wheels include six designs made up of 30 different wheel moulds, in sizes ranging from a narrow 2.5-inch-wide wheel for a 125 GP bike, to an 8.5-inch-wide design for a custom cruiser. The range is split between sizes ranging from 12 to 23 inches in diameter.
All are built in the same way by BST’s team of skilled assemblers, around half of them women, working in two separate clean rooms with positive air pressure to ensure there’s no dust on any of the parts that might compromise the integrity of the finished product further down the line.
BST generic wheel
Traditionally motorcycle wheels are created for a specific motorcycle, however, the BST generic wheel allows for one wheel to fit many different motorcycles. This interchangeability is achieved using both a brake adaptor and sprocket carrier that can be changed, depending on the motorcycle.
In addition to the generic nature of the wheel, many of the aluminium parts previously used in the assembly of the carbon fiber wheels have been replaced with carbon fiber. This reduces the amount of aluminium in the wheel assembly by 32%, allowing for a lighter and optimised structure.
Other carbon fiber structural components
“Because we can engineer with carbon fiber and maximise on its properties of high strength and low weight, we are now manufacturing other structural components. For example, in the wheels we have reduced the weight in the spokes and rim without compromising strength. The weight is therefore concentrated in the hub, which means that rotational inertia is reduced, making the bike easier to handle, and allowing you to accelerate quicker and brake later. So not only is the wheel lighter, but it is engineered for maximum performance.”
“We have now combined all this knowledge to create other components for motorcycles. These include the fuel tanks, tank covers, frames, sub-frames, fenders and fairings. These are for motorcycles that are used in road and race environments.”
“Again they are all our own designs and we have manufactured the moulds and tooling used to manufacture them.”
“Relatively new to the business is the manufacture of passenger wheels where we see a growth opportunity. This year we have an order for 250 wheels from one manufacturer. You can also find our wheels on the VUHL 05RR, Mexico’s most exhilarating export and precision-engineered lightweight supercar. Again it is all about reducing the weight so the vehicle can go faster without compromising the strength and safety.”
“Currently we are exploring the furniture and jewellry markets. An interesting project that we have manufactured components for is the Veloce range of coffee machines that look like a Formula One engine.”
Over the years the company has won a number of awards for the integrity and design of its products, the most recent being the JEC Europe Innovation Award in the sports and leisure category, for its generic carbon fiber rear motorcycle wheel.
Both Turner and Annecke are passionate about their business and have put together the vital ingredients in a winning formula that has made Blackstone Tek the first company in the world to create carbon fiber wheels in a repeatable and “handmade” industrialised process in a very competitive market. It is a credit to them and their staff that they have made significant inroads internationally.
For further details contact Blackstone Tek on TEL: 011 704 0026 or visit www.blackstonetek.com