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Introducing engineering
Introducing engineering

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2.5.1 Brompton production 2012

Previous sections have presented an historical view of product development for this successful product. The scale of the manufacturing operation and the size of the company have changed considerably. However, the core values, and indeed the core processes largely remain from the first production run. This is a testament to a well conceived and tested design that has always focused on its customer needs.

The Brompton bike is exported all over the world. It is produced in several variations, with different accessories and also different materials for the frame to provide a lighter product, essential for some customers in this increasingly competitive folding and portable bike market.

Activity 13 (self-assessment)

In the Brompton bicycle you have seen examples of the following activities:

  • proposing a possible design
  • analysing the design
  • testing the design or prototypes
  • identifying customer requirements
  • developing brand
  • manufacture.
  • a.Give an example from the Brompton case study of each of these activities. Please note that this is not a list of successive activities that follow one another. Indeed the activities keep being repeated as the design gets refined. You may also find Web information on the Brompton a useful point of reference to help answer this question, although it is not essential. For example the Brompton website illustrates how the brand is being developed. I want you to give at least one example of each type of activity.
  • b.I want you to pause for a moment to think about how a designer can try to ensure that a design meets the requirements of its potential customers. Can you identify ways that Ritchie and his team used to discover they had a feasible design that consumers might purchase.


  • a.Activities in manufacture might include: (i) assembly of supplied items, e.g. pedals and wheels and frame at the company factory; (ii) manufacture of frames in the company factory. For this exercise I don't want a comprehensive answer – just a few words on specific things the company does.
  • b.I will list a few. First, the frame material and structure were tested for strength and stiffness. Second, prototype bikes were tested on the road. Third, the weight and compactness were tested by going through cycles of typical use where the bicycle is folded, unfolded, carried and stowed in the course of a commuter journey.

The Brompton bicycle is a niche design, marketed at high cost to a specialised market. It competes in a crowded market for folding commuter bikes. It meets a need for a compact, reliable means of personal transport that has achieved a reputation for reliability and durability, as well as its primary functional characteristics of quick and compact folding.

Bicycles are essentially simple products. Brompton has a few suppliers: a simple core subsystem – the frame – is manufactured in-house. Assembly requires little in the way of specialised equipment. There are some specialised jigs and fixtures used to hold the frames during manufacture and assembly as well as specialist welding equipment for making the frame. Specialised manufacture will take place for several components at their supplier's plant. We have noted how several of these are relatively standard and produced using specialised facilities in large volumes supplying several bike manufacturers. Examples are the rear wheel hub with its gears and the folding pedals. As with many simple consumer products the economics of design and manufacture depend on a careful balance of costs, using the available supply of high volume components at lower cost combined with the higher cost of special components made by the company specifically for their product. Getting this balance right is one of the keys to a successful design and designers must keep this in mind constantly as they develop a product.