We have heard of 3D printing in a variety of contexts, but typically this has been in a plastic material. A team of students from the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands has now pushed the boundaries of 3D printing by designing and producing a fully functional 3D printed stainless steel bike.
Being in the Netherlands with the huge number of cyclists, the student team didn’t have to look far to find inspiration as to what they would design and build to demonstrate that it is possible using this method of 3D printing to produce medium to large scale metal objects: a bike.
“It was important for us to design a functional object that people use everyday. Being students in the Netherlands, a bicycle naturally came to mind. A bicycle frame is a good test for the technology because of the complex forces involved” said Stef de Groot (Arc Bicycle team)
The actual printing was done with the help of MX3D up the road in Amsterdam. This R&D start-up specialises in 3D printing and they have developed a ground breaking method for using multi axis robotic arms as 3D printers, which allows metals as well as plastics to be printed mid-air in any direction without the need for support structures. Last year the company hit the news when it released plans to 3D print a steel bridge in Amsterdam. The process used is known as WAAM or Wire and Arc Additive Manufacturing.
The students have proved the frame’s strength by riding the bicycle around the city of Delft. At 12kg it weighs about the same as a normal steel bike and performs well on the bumpy cobblestones of the city.
The overall project was completed in just a few months, a tight timescale to design the bike and for MX3D to write algorithms for the printing. Given that this first 3D printed steel bike took close on 100 hours to print, it’s not likely to challenge mass production methods, but it certainly looks like a way to test out new designs – even if the result looks like a cross between spider’s web and conventional bike.
Interesting to see another printed bike, after we covered the Aenimal Compostible bike frame which won an award at last year’s Eurobike show and the earlier 3D printed titanium mountain bike produced by Empire Cycles.
Want to get into 3D printing of your own bike? Then take a look at OBI – the Open Bicycle Project where two Industrial Design students are producing an open source 3D bike design. They work with software called Autodesk Fusion 360, a free CAD program which would allow you to customise and or manufacture your own bike at home. The design is modular so each part can be easily removed and replaced and they estimate that it would be possible to make your own bike for €400.
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