Additive manufacturing (AM) is moving to make life better both at work and at play. Most businesses could profit from having a 3D printer around the office both for advertising purposes and for rapid prototyping. AM is also beginning to be a part of leisure activities outside the office, such as surfing and snowboarding.
Bicycling has already benefitted from 3D printing by producing various parts for competitive cycling. Renishaw and Empire Cycles have pushed the envelope further, designing and printing the entire frame of a bike using AM. The completed titanium mountain bike frame is not only as strong as a frame built using traditional methods, but is 33% lighter, making for an easier ride.
Chris Williams, managing director of Empire Cycles, first approached Renishaw to assist in building a lighter seat post bracket. The project was so successful that Renishaw and Empire Cycles decided to attempt to build an entire bike using AM and principles of design freedom offered by the technology. Although some bicycles have begun to use carbon fiber, titanium was the material selected not only because of its strength and reduced weight, but also for its durability.
“The durability of carbon fiber can’t compare to a metal bike, they are great for road bikes, but when you start chucking yourself down a mountain you risk damaging the frame,” said Williams. “I over-engineer my bikes to ensure there are no warranty claims.”
Williams had already been experimenting with 3D printed bicycle parts, and with the assistance of Renishaw’s technical staff was able to put together a plan to build an entire frame using Renishaw’s laser melting AM process. The original seat post bracket was produced with a 44% savings in weight. The overall reduction in weight of the bicycle frame was not only due to material, but also the result of eliminating support structures that were found to be unnecessary in the final AM-built design.
Both Renishaw and Empire Cycles intend to continue to develop better designs and build practices to construct rugged bicycles purely with 3D printing. The lack of tooling required for 3D printed parts, combined with the rapid turnaround time associated with AM, makes the technology an ideal platform for building the bicycle of the future.
As might be expected, these aren’t the only companies using AM to improve bicycle design. Below you’ll find a video about another attempt to mix 3D printing and cycling.