Episode 2 - Peter Teschner

 

   

Today in the podcast, we talk to Peter Teschner, General Manager of Titomic. Peter has been the CEO of Teschner Bikes for over 27 years building bikes for elite cyclists and triathletes. He also had stints as Regional Tourism Manager of Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour and Tourism & Events Manager of Glen Innes.

 

In this episode we cover:

  • The history of Teschner Bikes’ humble beginnings.
  • How Peter taught himself the rudimentaries of designing and making bikes.
  • The materials he worked with to build bike frames and the differences between aluminium and titanium.
  • The story of how the company started its success and how it made him leave his job in the government.
  • A rundown of the companies, elite teams and cyclists who used Teschner bike frames.
  • How Teschner Bike frames’ workmanship, consistency in design principles and ability to build good bikes have helped cyclists win and place in races.
  • The difference of international frames and local custom frames.
  • The start of his joint venture and how dealing with international offshore products from China has changed his business.
  • The hurdles that Peter went through in building his business in Australia.
  • Story of how he joined Titomic as the General Manager of the Bicycle Division.
  • The qualities that make a Titomic bike frame special and the process of how it is made.
  • History of the process of making Titomic bikes.
  • Upcoming projects for Titomic.

 

Links

LinkedIn

Facebook - Teschner Bikes

Email - peterteschner@gmail.com

 

Transcript

FELICITY:

So I have here Peter Teschner.

Peter, your background for over 27 years was as the CEO of Teschner Bikes, which involved building time trial bikes for elite cyclists and triathletes. You've also done track bikes. You've been involved in the tourism industry in both Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour as the regional tourism manager there, and at Glen Innes, as manager for tourism events. Now, as the general manager for Titomic, which is a fascinating company and business, and I'm excited that you're here with us today to tell us about your journey. Please share with us your journey with Teschner Bikes and how did it all begin?

PETER:

Thanks Felicity, it's a pleasure to actually be on a podcast with you guys. Initially back in 1984, my father and brother and I owned a large jobbing shop. For those who are in the engineering field understand that that's a place where you have lathes and milling machines and welders and all those sorts of things, and you basically repair machinery that's broken down for anything as small as computer tills right through the big earth-moving equipment.

And in 1984 a guy by the name of Jim Pye walked into our factory in Toowoomba and wanted us to silver solder up a bicycle frame that he'd bought the tube set for and the lugs. He had fixed it to a piece of MDF, and my brother silver soldered it up. When I handed it back I thought, heck, I could do that one day. So I spent the next six years effectively reading everything I could find out about how a bike was made. In fact, in 1984, 85, I didn't even know you could buy a bicycle tube set to make a bike. In those days it was pretty well all steel. And so for over the next six years I taught myself the rudimentaries without any actual physical activity on it, it was all of the design principles.

Had an opportunity after we sold our factory to get back into local government, and hence a bit more spare time. In 1991 I set up a custom building shop in Byron Bay, and unlike what was happening in those days where everybody was building out of steel, I decided to do titanium. A big ask, but I did teach myself how to weld titanium. Similar to stainless steel but a little bit more difficult, and made about ten of them to look around.

At that point Eastern Aluminium were bringing in an aluminium tubing set, and I became the Australian agent for Eastern Tubing from about 2003-4 right through 2006, and had the ability to work with Eastern on some new designs also.

So that was really the, where I went from.

FELICITY:

Wow. So was titanium quite unique back then?

PETER:

From then on, started titanium bikes. There was one titanium manufacturer in Australia and he was in Melbourne. He was making frames out of what they call commercially pure titanium. Not a successful way of using it. There are better varieties principally. What tubes being used these days is what they call three-two-five, which is three percent aluminium, and 2.5 percent vanadium, and a much harder material to work with which is called six-four which is six percent aluminium and four percent vanadium. Very difficult to actually make tubes with that. Incredibly difficult to work with, so when aluminium came along, I felt, this is much easier. I could build a frame in eight hours rather than two, three, four days with titanium. And titanium, you tend to wear out your facing tools, your drills, your mitering tools and everything.

FELICITY:

Wow.

PETER:

That's where I headed to and started making my aluminium frames. Got involved with the Australian Institute of Sport in 1995 through Nathan O'Neil. He was a writer from my home town in Toowoomba. And as a result, I ended up making a lot of time trial bikes and road bikes for Australian Institute of Sport in 95-96. Albeit that they actually carried the brand name of another large manufacturer in the world but then actual fact I built them myself.

FELICITY:

Wow.

PETER:

And in 1996 the first 10 men in the national championship were on frames that I actually constructed. Places two to five in the women on the same day.

FELICITY:

Well we can certainly say you're an expert.

PETER:

.. was actually won by Kathy.

FELICITY:

Kathy, what did you say?

PETER:

Yeah Kathy Watt won the time trial race that day in Rubens, and immediately after became a stormy, and hence we made the time trial frames for the Commonwealth Games in 1998, which was quite a pleasure and worked with her to do that. But successes started to come pretty clear after that. From 1999, it actually it was up until 1999, I was starting to build about 170 to 200 custom frames a year. Now that's three to four custom frames a week. A lot of work, and I couldn't do that.

At that stage I was tourism manager in Coffs Harbour, so I made the decision that I can't serve two masters and I quit the job as the tourism manager in Coffs Harbour and started building frames full time. It was a big step, but within two weeks, believe it or not, I had an order for 250 frames out of America.

FELICITY:

Oh, my goodness.

PETER:

The decision to stop working as the tourism manager. It was quite awesome and that 250 frames ended up leading to over 500 frames in two to three years. Principally that was with another large manufacturer in America called Fuji, which a lot of bike riders out there will know and I built about 200 frames for the Mercury Pro team. I think it might even be closer to 250 frames and the other 250 frames were basically a range of team issue bikes that Fuji sold into the general public. Mercury over that period of time, in those two, two and a half years, won over 200 races a year, or something like that. It was just incredible. They were racing.  

I think we had a five year rate of six frames out of 250 on the pro team. That really cemented the workmanship and really taught us a lot about how to build a frame that effectively can stay together. Just by the by, I had a customer the other day, an older customer who bought a bike off me, probably about early 2000, and he sent me an email the other day to say that he's now covered 154,000 kilometres on that bike without an issue.

FELICITY:

That's amazing. (laughs) What a testimonial.

PETER: It is. Also from 1999 for seven years Eastern, sorry the AIS actually pulled away from Giant as a bike manufacturer so we ended up starting to make a lot of time trial frames for the AIS women. I think they may have still been the sponsors of the men's team, but from 1999 to 2005 we filled the first three places in the women's national time trial championship. And in 2004 we filled the first ten. So, we've had two first ten places on frames that are built by Teschner Bikes.

Paul McRudges won the world time trial championship on them, even though it had time rift. Emma Snowsill won the world .. Sorry?

FELICITY:

Oh, I was just saying you're being really consistent. You know, you've just had success through and through.

PETER:

Yeah, yeah.

FELICITY:

Sorry, went a bit funny.

PETER:

Look, Evan Steele still won the world triathlon championship on the bikes in 2003. One of the things that was in the 1990s was a series called Tooheys and it changed its name a number of times, but in those ten years, Teschner Bikes in the men nine out of ten years with us. They were the ones, and the one year, we got second place. We probably placed within that ten year period.

What I was saying was that it really showed consistency of design principles and ability to build a good bike, I believe. I can still remember James Victor, who was the ... I think at that stage, back in the early 2000s was the coach for the women's national road team. He said to us, "We know what the girls can do, we know their power output and all those sort of things, and they actually go faster than what they should, on the bike."

FELICITY:

Well, (laughs), everyone wants to hear that answer don't they? We all wanna go faster.

PETER:

It was really interesting in 1996 when we placed for the first ten places in the National time trial championship. It's a sad reflection, unfortunately, on the Australian marketplace. I hope I'm not being seen as critical, but if it's imported, it's gotta be better. If I was in America, my phone ... I would have had to take my ... stop working for two, three or four days and just take phone calls for orders in 1996 and 97 and 98, but not a single phone call after that other than Kathy Watt.

So, it's a sad reflection that we tend to buy international product. It's better because a pro team rider rides. When custom frame builders and producers in Australia can do certainly a better job and just as good a job. Admittedly, pricing is different. Those sort of things, and people can't choose to do that, but we actually did get up to nearly 200 custom frames a year, and that's pretty up there for the Australian custom market. Over the years that actually did build up.

FELICITY:

Absolutely, it's so personalized and you can't leverage it. It's quite difficult to leverage it. There's only one of you, isn't there? If you have too many customers, or depending on the systems that you set up, but it's not as easy to scale that type of business.

PETER:

I actually did bring a guy on as a frame builder. A funny story in regard to that. He was a steel frame builder, he wasn't able to build in aluminium or weld aluminium so what we did is I bought a second hand welder that could do aluminium. He then went off and got a job at a place building aluminium fences. So he actually had to weld around tubes all day.

FELICITY:

Oh, yes. (laughs).

PETER:

After six months, he got so perfect at it that we ended up perfecting ... and I think a lot of it was actually perfecting the idea of what they called a torch dressed weld on the bikes. What we used to do was, we'd do a beaded weld and then you'd have to grind it and file it ... hours and hours of work. We then perfected a double pass weld which actually flattened out the weld and put a beautiful flat bead down. From that we didn't have to worry about doing all that extra handwork.

It also, from a mechanical aspect, took out the root of the weld, the edge of the weld, where it meets the tube. Which was always a failure point if it looked like it was going to fail around the bottom bracket area, that's where it was going to fail at the root of the edge of the weld. Actually that's on a beaded weld. We actually perfected that whole system of washing it totally out. A lot of people use that process these days. Some are good at it, some aren't so good, but it certainly assisted us in ensuring that minimal breakages.

In 2005, I did a joint venture with some guys on the Gold Coast and went from aluminium with some carbon stays and all those sorts of things to carbon manufacturing out of China, and what a change. Dealing with international or off-shore product. Ensuring that quality control was there, even to the point of putting your own QC manager in place to ensure that every product was inspected, and then having to accept a failure rate on your frames. Then having to accept that it's okay to have three or four or five little marks on the paint job because that's the industry standard. A big, big change.

I must admit that I was pretty tough on the product that came out. Upsetting I think, to some of the factories in China but sometimes it took six months even to get the industry in China to accept how I designed the bike rather than saying to me, "But that's not how Trek do it, that's not how Colonado do it, that's not how Scott do it." And when saying, "I don't worry about Trek or Scott or Giant, or any of the manufacturer's in the world. This is how I want you."

FELICITY:

It's your own brand so it's got your own stamp on it.

PETER:

I can still remember building, designing a frame in 2011 which was called the best out of ten. Nine months to actually get the design right and get the down tube shape right to what I exactly wanted, even then it was probably only 95%. I had just to stop. People will say I'm pedantic, but quality is an issue that keeps the customer service.

FELICITY:

Absolutely, and if you've always got a great quality, then you know that you can lie in bed straight at night and know that you've done the best that you can do and rest assured that you've done the best that you can do and you've got a good product out there if you know that it can be better. I know there's got to be a commercial viability to everything, but you also need it to be in alignment with your values, don't you?

PETER:

Well, that's for sure and the other thing, I guess, I would give any personal in Australia who is looking to start in the industry and has a passion, to understand that it took me six years before I put a torch to a tube. And that was a lot of the basis, in terms of it's nice to be able to do a good weld, it's nice to be able to do a good paint job, but at the end of the day, if it doesn't handle, then it might as well be a motor car without a motor. So they'd be disappointed in the fact that it could take you two, three, four years of researching and testing and trial and talking to people.

One of the hardest things I found myself when I first started was that no one in Australia would talk to you. You were seen as competition, they didn't want you to learn anything. In America, I could talk to anybody in America and they'd tell you what you wanted to know.

FELICITY:

They're very open over there, aren't they?

PETER:

Very open. People in Australia are very admirable too but it's just that, trying to look for that knowledge ... I was lucky that I was brought up in a big jobbing shop, workshop where I could learn how to file, I learned how to weld, use a lathe, a milling machine a welder. All of those techniques that I really didn't have to start worrying about those things.

FELICITY:

You’ve got great skills.

PETER:

So, it wasn't a decision one day to do it, the next year start. It was really right from when I was about twelve years old, when I started welding and then going right through that whole process. Even the learning of how to design a bike, was a six year process. It was researching gigs and riding and trails and head angles and all of those sorts of things. You've just got to learn from the industry vets and some of the industry vets will not tell you and will not share with you.

FELICITY:

Yes, and that's been a fantastic foundation for you, Peter. You've now transitioned from being the general manager for the bike division of the company Titomic. Tell us about that, can you explain a bit about the process and how that's so different to carbon fibre because that's an amazing new technology process that is being implemented and tested and researched?

PETER:

Yeah, that's for sure. I actually sold Teschner Bikes about seven years ago to some guy in Belgium and then decided that after going to China 25 times in 5 years and not seeing my daughter while she grew up between 13 and 18 years of age, and 19 years of age, that I needed to become a family man. I applied for a job at Glen Innes as the tourism manager and got that based on the fact that I've been tourism manager in Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour. So, I get up to Glen Innes and still muck around in the shed a little bit here and there.

About three years ago, the guys in Belgium who I sold the business to, gave it back to me.

FELICITY:

Oh, (laughs), okay.

PETER:

So, believe it or now, I've got a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth of moulds in China, I've got my frame building jigs and my welders and my lathes and the milling machines and some stock that's been sitting there for a couple years that I'll eventually start to move along.

However, an interesting thing. After nearly five and a half years of being the tourism manager, my accountant in Coffs Harbour has actually three of my bikes and the CEO of Titomoc's father lives in Coffs Harbour and my accountant is his accountant also. So they started chatting and my accountant said, "Well, there is a guy in Australia who probably could help you there." And they said, "Oh, yeah, no. Righto" So, anyway Jeff and I spoke with each other and the rest is history. They invited me to come and join Titomic to be the general manager of their bicycle division, which I started on the 5th of February.

Titomic is a company that has the patent to cold spray titanium powder onto a scaffold, and a scaffold is like an internal structural whatever. The titanium powder, the six-four high strength titanium powder, is blown onto an aluminium or a disposable scaffold inside a bike frame at a thousand metres a second. That's right, about a kilometre a second from about a half inch away. In that process a mechanical bond happens between the titanium powder and the scaffold that it's being sprayed onto. In the case of a bike frame, we make an aluminium scaffold in the shape of the bike in the frame that you want. We have two robots that spray and manipulate the frame around and we end up with a tool path that's pretty special, which is really the product that sits behind this whole thing. It will spray a monocoque titanium frame. No welds, no joints, no cuts in thirty minutes.

FELICITY:

Phenomenal.

PETER:

Having a bicycle frame, made in titanium in thirty minutes. We are looking to bring a frame out in the first instance at about 700 grams in titanium where traditionally it was probably about 900 to 1000 grams, to 1100 grams in a titanium frame unless you do a very ultra-light, where the tubes are all double double-butted and everything. But they can be affected by heat zone areas from welding. So, we don't have to miter, we don't have to cut, we don't have to do anything like that. We have a skeleton which is later taken out of the frame either by heat or other processes and you end up with a monocoque structure the same shape as you basically would for a carbon frame.

Now, in China, the Chinese factory needs one staff person, or a full time equivalent employee can build somewhere between three and possibly four carbon fibre frames a month. We build one frame in 30 minutes. We also can do a bicycle rim in about three to four minutes, where a carbon fibre rim in a layout will take nearly eight hours, and we can do that in three to four minutes.

FELICITY:

That's ridiculous.

PETER:

(laughs) Where does the process come from? The process comes from the Russians. Back in the 1960s, the Russians developed this cold spray process and it's been used by the American army to repair some of their helicopters, those sorts of things where you can cold spray the titanium powder in an atmospheric area. But what nobody ever thought to do was to actually connect the two, basically a couple of robots and spray it onto a scaffold to get a complete shape. It was really done for repair industry where now using it to make it a manufacturing industry.

Titomic actually has the license to use the patent that was built in conjunction with the CSIRO to actually use the scaffold process. We got the patent in China, America, New Zealand, all around the world. If anybody else wants to come up with an idea of spraying ... this method, titanium powder onto a structure, either to be lifted or removed, they'd bridge the patent.

So what will eventually happen is that the process ... the company itself is looking to do several things. One is to be a manufacturer, principally to be a seller of equipment and the provider of the powder. The process that's currently used to make titanium parts in the bike industry is done by 3D printing process in a vacuum argon gas unit with a laser. Equal spherically shaped grains of titanium powder that can cost you four hundred, five hundred, eight hundred dollars a kg. We do not need to produce a product in an oxygen free environment. We can produce a product in an oxygen flooded environment. So we're the fastest rate of deposition in a 3D process using a vacuum or an argon based cabinet, it's probably, generally about three kgs an hour. There is a process that can do nine. We're at 45 to 60 kgs an hour of titanium powder. We’re hoping to extend to at least 80 or 90 or 100 in a year or two.

FELICITY:

It just seems like every aspect that you've mentioned blows everything out of the park, out of the water.

PETER:

Look, it doesn’t come without a stiff coffee. You know titanium powder in an environment has the ability to be explosive, a little bit like working in a milling factory with flour. All of that's got to be controlled and everything. The accelerant for the powder to be sprayed at that is nitrogen, so that's the accelerant. Over the next year, we're working on a number of other projects with the CSIRO, Melbourne Institute of Technology and University. You can see this on the Titomic website and I can't mention their name, but we're actually working on a project with a large North American bike company. We're doing one of their top end frames out of titanium for 2019.

FELICITY:

Well, that's not far away. That's only next year, so that's very exciting.

PETER:

Well, it is very exciting. But look, Titomic is just not about making push bikes or designing push bikes. It's involved in the defense industry, the aircraft industry, all of those sorts of things. Just to give you a quick example, a Boeing, or an airbus can use between 50 to 70 thousand kgs of titanium billet for every plane. So that's 50 to 70 tonnes. For every 400 block billet of titanium, they mill approximately 340 grams out of it and they end up with a product of 60 kgs. So basically 340 kgs.

We can spray it at the same part from what's called inept near zero. We can hit zero safe where we just start spraying onto a table and building up a wing spar and maybe three mil bigger than what the shape needs to be. That then goes into the CNC machine for the removal of 10% of the material they don't need, rather than 80% of the material that they don't need.

The Russians control 93% of the titanium market around the world and I guess we're going to be a disruptor of that whole process. I did mention earlier that this cold spray process has been around for a fair while. There are a number of other companies around using a similar process, but not as large as what we're doing and certainly not as much experience behind them as Titomic has, as they've been working with the CSIRO for nine years implementing a system. I would believe from the conversations that I've heard that we are probably the better part of a year ahead of, maybe two years ahead of anyone else around.

FELICITY:

Right. Well, it's certainly going to revolutionize a number of different sectors. Aviation, space, the marine and then consumer goods, so that's very radical and I really look forward to seeing and hearing more about this progress. It will be exciting.

PETER:

I got a smile on my face.

FELICITY:

Yeah, absolutely (laughs).

PETER:

I'd actually said to somebody, "It's not often you start a new job one day after you're 65th birthday."

FELICITY:

No, that's right, and it's so wonderful though that you've got all that experience. It's just an amazing role for you, but it's such a great role with all your experience to be integrated. It's fantastic.

PETER:

Don't take it away from the fact that I do have a lot of experience, but there are good frame builders in Australia. You've got Daryl McCulloch, at Llewellyn in Brisbane, Darren Bourne who's in Geelong, he builds in titanium. There are a couple of others that are starting to come to the fore in South Australia and Canberra, Western Australia. I would be a total advocate for all of those guys and ensure that the.. Yes, I've got experience, but at the same time, these guys got a, builds they’ve been building for a while and a long time. They've certainly got good experience too. I'm just blessed, I guess to have been chosen to head up the division for Titomic in this day and age.

But that doesn't stop me referring to those other builders and seeking other advice outside of my own circle of business associates and friends and sharing my knowledge if someone wanted to get in contact with me at the same time.

FELICITY:

That's wonderful. Well, I really appreciate you sharing all that with us today, Peter. It's been absolutely fascinating. I know that Titomic has obviously got a lot on its plate, would you ... if people wanted to get in touch with you or if it might be appropriate necessarily, do I just direct them to the website?

PETER:

If I can, I am on LinkedIn, on Professional Bikes on Facebook. People can contact me there if they wish to. It's pretty easy to ... my email address is peterteschner@gmail.com if they try that first,  it's a pretty easy one.

FELICITY:

Lovely. Well that's..

PETER:

I can try to help or I can, but sometimes you just can't.

FELICITY:

No, that's right. Exactly. I really enjoyed our conversation today and I'd like to thank you and I hope our listeners enjoyed it as well and I look forward to seeing your progress in the future.

PETER:

I look forward to catching up when we actually have those machines running.

FELICITY:

Absolutely, that sounds really good.

PETER:

Well, thanks Felicity.

FELICITY:

Thanks Peter.

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