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Published on May 31, 2017

3D Printing Bicycles

  • 3D printing has been used to print many bicycle frames, lugs and other parts.
  • Metal 3D printing and 3D printing plastics have been used to make bicycles.
  • True value could be created in the long run by printing customized bicycles.

Many companies are looking at 3D printing bicycles. In some cases the bicycle is seen as an inexpensive platform to test new design ideas and showcase capabilities. In other cases designers and manufacturing companies are looking to disrupt bicycle design and the market by using 3D printing.

In essence the main advantages being explored by 3D printing bicycles at the moment are: by saving weight, by having little up front investment in tooling and by looking at automated production of bicycle parts.

Saving Weight

Weight is a key component of a bicycle the lighter a bike is the less effort will have to be made to create motion. By designing and manufacturing weight saving parts through 3D printing designers and manufacturers are looking at the role 3D printing could play in bicycle design. 3D printing lets you create shapes that you can not make with another technology. This lets you make mesh like structures for example that have been specifically designed to handle the forces that are entrusted to them while skimping as much as possible on material usage. This increases the bicycle’s performance while minimizing the amount of raw material that goes into it.   By using FEA (Finite Element Analysis) tools bicycle designers can analyze and create these kinds of optimal structures. New ways of approaching a bike frame or individual components can be explored. Space frame structures can be explored using 3D printing also The bike frame itself can also be made of one part, this could in and of itself minimize weight as well. Currently many people are sticking to past design paradigms in bicycles but in the future one could also potentially rethink the entire bicycle design using 3D printing.

Investment in Tooling

3D printing is the fastest way to go from an idea to a design to a part. The printer can on demand create a new design the next day or over the next few days. This is completely different from other manufacturing methodologies which would necessitate up front investments in tooling and things such as molds. This can be an advantage to bicycle manufacturers in the future, letting them produce more versatile designs more expensively. At the moment most 3D printed bicycles are experimental. The very nature of 3D printing allows for this experimentation. A single designer can with an idea print out this idea cost effectively. This has lead to a lot of people being able to experiment with 3D printing bicycles.

Automated Production of Bicycle Parts

Currently 3D printed bicycle components and frames are much more expensive than conventionally manufactured ones. 3D printing becomes expensive when one makes large parts. Large parts require time in your machine and many layers to be 3D printed. Materials are also very expensive at the moment. With metal 3D printing, getting to your first metal 3D printed parts is expensive. Series production in metal is more affordable but more expensive than traditional methods. By constructing the entire bicycle frame and parts such as lugs in one production run however the process becomes more automated. At scale this could lead to producing bicycles with much less labor than with traditional manufacturing methods. At the moment these efficiencies are not there yet but they could be realized with bicycle manufacturing in large quantities using 3D printing.

Optimizing Component Performance

What can also be done, but is not currently, is to optimize the performance of each individual component. Wind and other forces on the component could be calculated and an optimized texture could be developed to make the bicycle more efficient. Components could be designed to require significantly less parts and thus save on weight and assembly. Components could be optimized so that assembling them could be less expensive as well. Designing for 3D printing to increase component performance could bring significant further manufacturing, cost and weight advantages to 3D printing bikes.

Individualized Bicycles

The dream of course is to take the advantages of weight saving, low tooling cost and optimizing component performance to create individualized bicycles in a cost effective way. Every one of us is different. We have different arm and leg lengths and different ways of sitting on a bicycle. Our power outputs and the way through which we transfer power to the bicycle is different. Personalized bicycles have been around for a long time. These bikes have been inordinately expensive however and generally not available for all but the wealthiest or those riding pro teams. 3D printing has the potential to make custom bicycles cost effective. This is not possible right now due to cost but a company could industrialize 3D printing custom bicycles and make this a reality.