HomeNews & FeaturesThe Future is Here - 3D Print Your Own Bicycle

The Future is Here – 3D Print Your Own Bicycle

The 3D printing revolution is upon us and, although it will be years until desktop 3D printers become commonplace, this burgeoning technology is delivering astounding results. Truth be told, 3D printing (rapid prototyping) has been around for decades, however it is only recently that it has become affordable with personal 3D desktop printers available for under $2000. 3D printing has already been used in medicine for custom printed prosthetics and experimentation is continuing in 3D printed food and fashion. I know you’re thinking what I’ve been thinking: can you 3D print a bike?

Matthew Andrew of Flying Machine is a pioneer; he builds custom bicycles and has put considerable though into 3D printing bikes. He has the privilege of access to the CSIRO who have the only Arcam machine in Australia – that’s a machine that makes it possible to print metal. But before you get the idea that a complete bicycle emerges from the 3D printer, at this stage the 3D printing is for the lugs which form the foundation for the bicycle frame construction.

3D Print Titanium Bicycle Lugs
Custom Titanium Frame 3D Printed

3D printed titanium lugs and basic frame assembly

 

 

I asked Matthews about his custom titanium bikes to understand the production, the advantages, and what 3D printing means for bicycle manufacture.

 

BNA: While the material advantages of titanium are known, what advantages does the 3D printing offer?

Matthew Andrew: 3D printing removes the requirement for any kind of tooling requirement for the lugs which both saves a significant amount of money in the setup and gives unlimited freedom to make refinements to the parts as we progress.

 

BNA: When forming metal, the metal grain structure affects the strength. How does this work with the 3D printing process for titanium? Are there differences or advantages in this process with regard to structural integrity?

Matthew Andrew: There are a couple of different processes for producing 3D printed titanium: one using a laser to melt the Ti powder, and one that uses the much stronger electron beam, the E-Beam (Arcam machine), that the CSIRO has which we are using to produce a denser product than the laser technique, coming out at very close to 100% density in comparison to cast and forged Ti.

Flying Machines F-One-HD Titanium Printed

Flying Machines F-One-HD dropouts

Flying Machines F-One-HD

Matthew built the Flying Machine F-One-HD for himself

 

BNA: The bottom bracket isn’t a complete cylinder (from the photo on your website). What is the reason for this and does this affect the strength?

Matthew Andrew: This is done to allow the parts to better fit inside the build volume of the Arcam machine which is only a 200mm cube; the space needs to be used as efficiently as possible to keep the costs down. The printed parts have a sleeve in them of seamless Ti tubing which reinforces the bottom bracket area giving it the strength required.

 

BNA: Is there a point at which 3D printing is not cost effective (e.g. a high number of orders with identical printed parts)?

Matthew Andrew: The printing process is expensive, so if parts were all identical there would certainly be a point when it lost cost effectiveness. Our parts are all different though for every frame. This is the real advantage of 3D Printing and what drew us to the process. Our 3DP models do not have any kind of standard sizing, each is completely made to measure for a millimeter perfect fit for every customer.

BNA: On a side note, for the Gates carbon drive, is there a coupler or does the frame ‘brake’ or disassemble at a certain point?

Matthew Andrew: The frame has a split on the drive side that is integrated into the dropouts and connected with a titanium bolt. We are also working on a derailleur geared chain version to be called the F-22 which will not have this split.

Flying Machines F-One-S Titanium Lugs

Flying Machines F-One-S Titanium

Flying Machines F-One-S

The Flying Machines F-One-S is the first customer bike with the 3D printed titanium parts

 

BNA: How does the partnership with CSIRO work if you commercialise? Will they continue to support commercial production?

Matthew Andrew: The CSIRO have priced our parts at what they believe to be a realistic commercial rate. They currently have the only Arcam machine in Australia. The Arcam machine is significantly cheaper for our parts as the E-beam allows things to be printed much faster, which directly relates to the end price. At some point someone else will have this technology available, at which point we will move to working with them. We would love to buy one our selves, but at $1.6 million it’s a little out of our reach for the moment.

 

Take a closer look at the Flying  Machine bikes: flyingmachine.com.au

Photos Supplied © Flying Machines


Christopher Jones
Christopher Joneshttps://www.bicycles.net.au
Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a design agency, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.
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