3D printing isn’t just for making random plastic cogs and sprockets, as the guys over at Empire Cycles have discovered. They have designed and created the MX-6 prototype. It is a third lighter than a normal metal bike frame and four times stronger than the most rigorous testing demands. Welcome to the world’s first 3D printed titanium bike.
Bolton-based Empire Cycles have teamed up with 3D printing people, Renishaw, to design and create the world’s first 3D-printed titanium alloy bike frame.
Let me be clear, the MX-6 is not the first 3D-printed bike. Along the way, there have been some chunky plastic efforts, and Australian-based Flying Machine have created a bike using off-the-shelf tubing with 3D-printed parts. Empire Cycles however, have taken matters a step further and printed the entire frame, in several sections, using laser sintering.
Using a unique process called topological optimisation, the CAD models of the bike were developed to remove any unnecessary weight, whilst still retaining its structural strengths. The result is a series of lattice effect joints and a bike frame that’s a third lighter than a traditionally manufactured frame. It’s a technique that aircraft manufacturers are experimenting with to create strong, light airframes. In fact, a lot of Renishaw’s work has been within the aviation industry. Chris Williams, MD of Empire Cycles, explains: “Because it’s essentially grown, you can create shapes and forms that you can’t create using any other manufacturing method…So you can do lots of undercuts and intricate shapes that would be impossible with solid machining or casting.” That also means it’s more efficient; rather than carving into a solid piece of metal, you use only as much material as you need.
The question remains: does 3D-printed metal stand up to traditionally cast components? “We’ve tested the seat tower in a test lab, and it’s extremely strong,” says Williams. “It quadrupled the European standard requirement for the component.” The guys over at Empire are not quite finished with the design just yet. “We’re currently growing a new one, because we’ve made some changes…It’s on the machine now, being built,” says Williams.
The latest version of the MX-6 will be on display at the London Bike Show, before being on display at the Science Museum for 3 days.
[Images via 3dprinter]