Empire Cycles x Renishaw – World’s First 3d Printed Complete Bicycle Frame

Worlds first 3D printed mountain bike frame from Empire Cycles and Renishaw

We’ve seen 3D printed frame parts and accessories from both metal and plastic, but this takes it to a whole ‘nutha level with the world’s first complete 3D printed mountain bike frame.

UK metal-based additive machine manufacturer Renishaw partnered with British design firm Empire Cycles to showcase the potential of their 3D printing and materials technology. The result is a frame they say is both strong and light, coming in 33% lighter than the original prototype. Claimed weight for the front triangle here is 1440g (3.17lb).

The secret to it is both the materials and the “topological optimization”. According to the tech brief, using Renishaw’s metal additive process with titanium results in a finished material that is denser than if the part had been cast, so it’s stronger. And the topological optimization simply means they could precisely design the exact amount and position of material as the parts were being printed, so there’s no excess material to add weight.

The design is based on Empire’s MX-6 mountain bike, but with tube shapes optimized in partnership with Renishaw to take full advantage of their tech…

Worlds first 3D printed mountain bike frame from Empire Cycles and Renishaw

The frame segments were printed individually, then sleeved and bonded together. Once assembled, it went through the standard EN testing to prove it could handle real world abuse. Example: The seat post bracket was tested to 6x the normal standard without failure.

What’s the point? This project was clearly to showcase both companies’ capabilities. The larger view is to show the potential for the process and materials, which can lead to quicker creation of rideable prototypes; the ability to create ultralight but strong parts; and easily produce ultra complex shapes. And all that can be done without the cost of new tooling.

Comments

NASH - 01/28/14 - 10:39am

This is really cool, wonder if it be a third lighter than cast or hydroformed frame. Was the prototype cast of Pb and not Ti hence the 33% lighter? The extra material for the overlap sections wouldn’t do much for weight reduction.

Michael - 01/28/14 - 11:10am

Well. I was waiting for this from some time, but still not what I was thinking. Definitely there will be 3D printed bikes in the future but we need better material. Something like Maguras injected carbon technology. 3D print bike mould for injected carbon technology and here you go. More/less as I don’t know limits of this technology. But once we will have light and strong printing material, we will be able to print frames from scratch. Key is in material. Like always.
I guess we will have to wait little longer.

Colin - 01/28/14 - 11:55am

this is properly cool

more photos/ details PLEASE

Andre - 01/28/14 - 11:59am

Carbon composite 3D printers are around…curious to see strength ratio tests results on bike frames

nsp234 - 01/28/14 - 12:11pm

This is quite cool, even though there are some weird points:
- its quite strange to see a cutting edge manufacturing process combined with a frame layout that seems a bit dated
- I’m aware that it was due to printable size limitations, but to really take advantage of the process, the pieces should be in one piece.

I’m looking forward to seeing more coming out of this direction! I guess there’s quite some potential.

chris root - 01/28/14 - 12:28pm

Interesting! Still very early obviously but could be a real game changer. I wonder what weights could be like for a hardtail frame…

edge - 01/28/14 - 12:59pm

“The seat post bracket was tested to 6x the normal standard without failure” to me that means it could be optimized further.

Will - 01/28/14 - 1:00pm

Looks like they’ve developed an all or nothing dropper post. Once it goes…it’s gone.

muf - 01/28/14 - 1:28pm

33% lighter weight sounds like a lot, since it’d make the titanium lighter than carbon.
carbon being molded, it should be +- as good as 3D printing, except that carbon has a better strength to weight ratio.

I suppose that, as with any such announcement, numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, until we see the frame out there (which in this case I bet we won’t in it’s current form)

Stephen - 01/28/14 - 3:25pm

“According to the tech brief…” Can we get a link to that source document?

greg - 01/28/14 - 5:21pm

the bike has this old layout because that’s what Empire’s current bikes look like.
33% lighter is probably comparing to their current frames, which are cast. at least this way you can have hollow tubes. you can also vary wall thickness very precisely, or have a grid or mesh pattern on the inside if you wanted better impact strength for a given wall thickness..
this is just the very first step

ccolagio - 01/28/14 - 5:33pm

link to tech PDF: http://resources.renishaw.com/download.aspx?lang=en&data=55480

saves front triangle went from 2100 grams to 1400 grams

Inspector Gadget - 01/28/14 - 6:22pm

No mention of cost to manufacture. Having looked into DMLS in titanium before this would cost about as much as a small car at a 3D printing service company in North America.

Why the overlap joints and bonding when it could be welded and save a lot of material?

edge - 01/28/14 - 7:23pm

” The seat post bracket was tested to 6x the normal standard without failure.” To me this means the frame is NOT optimized.

ginsu - 01/28/14 - 7:29pm

@inspector_gadget: I agree, the bonding is the weakest link in this build, although I’m assuming that is because they want to develop this technology with a focus on ease-of-assembly. Certainly, bonding Titanium is easier for the average person than welding.

Then this makes me wonder, why would you develop this for the ‘average’ bike enthusiast? It doesn’t seem likely they would have a 3d Printer capable of making Titanium parts.

So yeah, the technology is amazing, I’m just not sure how this is being envisioned for the market. Is your LBS supposed to build it for you? Are we going to have Local 3d Printer Shops?

Brad - 01/28/14 - 9:20pm

Arguing that 3D printing is the ideal way to make a bike is like arguing that artificial insemination is a more efficient alternative to sex.

fleche1454 - 01/28/14 - 9:28pm

Im confused what the benefit of this is over say a carbon main triangle. It is bonded in a similar but the lay up makes them into pretty much one solid piece if you buy it from a good company.

Nick - 01/28/14 - 10:15pm

I’ve yet to see a product where additive manufacturing techniques actually improve something about the product.
I just don’t see the excitement in “look, we found a different way to make something, that is terrifically expensive (now, I know the hope is for it to become a cheaper alternative in time) and has no performance advantages versus existing techniques!!!”

Graves - 01/28/14 - 10:44pm

The 3D-printed thermoplastic frames that are around the corner are going to make your Chinese carbon bike seem like a De Rosa-made Colnago, built for Eddy himself.

Psi Squared - 01/29/14 - 1:46am

This isn’t being marketed to Joe Public in the hopes that he’ll buy a 3D printer capable of building titanium parts. This is targeted at builders and companies and is an example of what Renishaw’s equipment can do. Why else to you think Renishaw is printed on the bike’s down tube? The more industrial 3D printers that hit the market and the more markets they hit, the more their price will come down and the more such printed products will reach end users like us.

I’d recommend that people check out the Renishaw website. They make some amazing equipment, particularly their optics based equipment……like 3D printers. I’ve used and fondled one of their laser encoders in the lab, and it was fine enough to make a guy soil himself.

Ilikeicedtea - 01/29/14 - 5:48am

@Nick

You’d say the same about movable type, I’m sure.

Psi Squared - 01/29/14 - 6:07am

Nick might want to focus on that one tree less and see the rest of the forest. I’ll bet Airbus (using printed Ti parts) and SpaceX (using some printed Ti parts in rocket engines) could offer some facts about how such parts are an improvement from them. It’s also probably a good time to remember that it wasn’t long ago at all that only very big or very specialized companies had rapid prototyping equipment that only produced plastic bits. Now, some 3D printers are priced so that they’re affordable for a regular joe to buy. It won’t be terribly long before some bike manufacturer will have their own 3D printer for manufacturing metal bits.

Alas, there are always people poo-pooing necessary steps like this in the advancement of technology.

JD - 01/29/14 - 6:42am

Right, as a research engineer in composites, I can tell you now 3-d printing of composites is not around the corner….perhaps 3-5 years as a best guess and then it will still be very expensive.

How much do you think this frame cost?????? Again, if you need to ask…….

Bonding of titanium is not simpler than welding. By the time you have read the prep instructions for bonding a good tig welder would have probably completed the weld!!

Nice demonstration part though!! We actually made a pint pot, using the same technology, just for laughs!

ginsu - 01/29/14 - 4:12pm

I guess this leads me to ask, “Are 3d printed titanium parts actually weldable?” Are there some issues with the porosity of the material?

I just don’t understand why the bike is bonded together if we agree it would be easier and better to weld it and it’s a product targeting manufacturers. Somebody obviously decided against it.

EmilMP - 01/30/14 - 12:10pm

@JD How about this one!? http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/news/new-3d-printer-by-markforged-can-print-with-carbon-fiber-16428727
Looks cool, but i don’t know if it is any good..!

ve - 01/30/14 - 5:09pm

You can not effectively print carbon fiber or composites. The strength just won’t be there because the fibers won’t be linking the layers together. Even if you tried to mimic UD carbon, the layup process is very different from the way 3d printers currently print.

swish - 02/02/14 - 4:16pm

To the comments about strengths of the bonding. In the testing the titanium sheared before the the bond broke! It uses an aerospace grade adhesive and is impressively strong.

Costs are a bit difficult as it’s a one off (well a small batch) but I would estimate it to be in region of a few thousand.

David Lewis - 02/03/14 - 10:27am

3D printing wows people with short attention spans. Also see puppies, fail videos and the like.

Good people have been making bicycles for a long time the old fashioned way. This is a solution desperately seeking a problem.

I saw a video of dropouts being made, and small fitments like these are the best candidates for this type of manufacturing, especially for prototype development.

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