After a discussion with Stratasys representatives at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show about Trek's bike prototype, I discovered prototypes aren't the only thing being 3D printed for bikes. Final frames for a bike made by Renishaw have been 3D printed in titanium, and bike component maker Kappius uses EOS machines to produce complex metal end-product parts.
UK-based Renishaw says it's used its additive manufacturing (AM) technology to make the first ever 3D-printed metal frame for the MX6-EVO mountain bike designed by Empire Cycles. A seat post bracket was also produced with this method. The titanium alloy frame is 33% lighter than the previous aluminum alloy version, dropping from 2.1 kg to 1.4 kg (4.6 lb to 3 lb), and the seat post bracket is 44% lighter than its aluminum alloy version, dropping from 360 g to 200 g. This was made possible by using topological optimization technology.
As we've told you, this sophisticated software is one of the secret weapons behind successful use of carbon composites and other innovations in aerospace and automotive designs. In this case, it was also used to optimize the bike frame for the AM process by eliminating a lot of surfaces that would otherwise need support structures. As we've reported, these can produce a lot of waste material.
The titanium frame is also stronger, even though it was produced in sections and then bonded together using Mouldlife's adhesive. The frame and the seat post bracket were made on Renishaw's AM250 laser melting system, which is another name for laser sintering. The machine has a 250 x 250 x 300 mm build volume and handles stainless steel, tool steel, aluminum alloys, titanium alloys, cobalt-chrome, and inconel. The company also makes vacuum casting and injection molding machines.
Kappius Components had a different problem to solve: could their complex design be made at all? The small, specialized company makes its own designs for bike components that directly affect the ride, like hubs and drive assemblies. To tweak the iterations of its oversized hub design during development and get fast turnaround of dimensionally accurate parts, the owners tried EOS' direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process. According to an EOS case study, ten drivetrain assemblies can be made in two builds on an EOSINT M 270 machine. The material used is heat-treatable maraging steel, which has excellent hardness and strength.
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The complete MX6-EVO mountain bike designed by Empire Cycles, with 3D printed titanium alloy frame and seat post bracket manufactured by Renishaw. (Source: Renishaw)
Ann, I avoid using terms like "Barvbie Dolls" because those words set off all kinds of responses in some circles, and that distracts from whatever point that I am hoping tom get across. But that would be a novel use for 3D printing, if it could be done from photographs. What an interesting way to reverse engineer some item. I wonder if the FARO scanner folks have thought about that possibility. Maybe a new market segnent for their products.
I thought you might be. That's the problem with most discussions of 3D printing--they're all about consumer apps. But that's not where most of the tech and dollars are going, or have been going, for several years. The biggest influence is going to be in much less visible areas like aerospace & medical, where it's already progressed considerably, as well as industrial and perhaps also automotive.
Ann, I was thinking much more about the production of consumer products. A run of a thousand parts may be a lifetime supply for many aerospace parts, while it would be a pre-prototype run for a lot of consumer items. So there is a large difference in that aspect. Even that new dreamliner is still very much a specialty item, where tooling costs are a much more important consideration, and just about every part usually requires human effort as a result. I was thinking more about all of those Walmart type products.
William, the perception of how fast or slow 3D printing operates has to do with what methods and industries it's being compared to (as well as with how many parts you can do in a run). As we've seen before--and will be emphasized again in an upcoming post--aerospace is one area where it's much faster than the regular method, especially so if it's a replacement part and there are no changes in design, and especially with metals. The real comparisons should be made between total lead times.
Ann, it does seem to me that with 3D printing the future will continue a bit like the past, where the most successful applications will be those that reduce the cost and enable products that would be hard to make with any other technology. But at least for quite a while there will still be a lot of things that are much cheaper to produce using other methods.
The main limitation of 3D printing is that it produces one item at a time, although there are some work-arounds that allow more than one part per batch. So the other technologies are not going away in the forseeable future.
At the same time, 3D printing is advancing and the costs of producing parts is dropping, along with the price of the printers. What separates the process from "everyboy's toolbox" is the challenge of producing the computer model for the parts. All printers require a 3D model file to produce a copy, and while code to produce those models is becoming less expensive, and not quite as skill intensive, it is still a long way from being a trivial effort. In addition, those less costly printers don't print in the higher strength materials such as steel, or even aluminum, nor do they have the acuracy and resolution to produce working gears and such. Of course the creative folks will come up with all kinds of things that are possible within those limitations. But it won't be everybody .
William, the problem with your statements is that they do assume a monolithic 3D printing market--at least in the sense that they assume there's no place for widespread use of 3D printing at the low or consumer end. In fact, that's been blossoming all over and is expected to expand, due to cheaper and better printers, more variety in materials, and services such as Cubify and Amazon. Wastebaskets? No. But jewelry and household decor? Yes. Will this be as important as industrial/commercial use? Probably not, nor will the dollars be anywhere as close. 3D manufacturing is *already* focusing on "things that are not so simple to make with standard methods" and has been for a couple decades, but in industries that aren't visible to most of us, like high-end race cars, aerospace, and dental models. That's no longer a statement of the future, but of the present and the past. The future is here and it already looks quite different. A lot of new methods and materials and capabilities are coming out of R&D at a very fast rate. I think we'll all be surprised.
Ann, you are certainly correct about how broad the 3D printing spectrum is, which is at least as braod as the general "manufacturing" spectrrum. The main difference is that for quite a while there will be a lot of things cheaper to make using their present methods, while the 3D manufacturing will focus on things that are not so simple to make with standard methods such as injection molding, blow molding, casting and machining. The other thing is that 3D printing is mostly a better deal for short production runs because of not usually needing special product specific tools. So there will remain a place for the different types, instead of the 3d SYSTEM TAKING OVER. As an example, plastic wastebaskets are not likely to ever be cheaper or better when made by a 3D printer. Likewise for standard automotive engine blocks. But that 9 cylinder 3 by 3 racing engine would be a different story, where 3D printing would be the best option.
A tiny humanoid robot has safely piloted a small plane all the way from cold start to takeoff, landing and coming to a full stop on the plane's designated runway. Yes, it happened in a pilot training simulation -- but the research team isn't far away from doing it in the real world.
Some in the US have welcomed 3D printing for boosting local economies and bringing some offshored manufacturing back onshore. Meanwhile, China is wielding its power of numbers, and its very different relationships between government, education, and industry, to kickstart a homegrown industry.
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