The world's first 3D-printed road bike frame has arrived and it's like nothing you've ever seen before.
Students from the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands came up with the radical open mesh design that utilises no tubing whatsoever.
There's an Australian connection to this ground-breaking machine. One of the members of the development crew (Arc Bicycle Team) is Harry Anderson, an industrial design student from Melbourne's RMIT University.
Created with the assistance of MX3D – a research and development start-up in Amsterdam that specialises in multi-axis 3D printing – the bicycle took 100 hours to build, with a clever robot welding each piece of steel together, one millimetre at a time.
"3D printing has exploded in popularity in the last decade but for those wanting to print medium- to large-scale objects, there are still significant limitations in the technology," Anderson says. "This method of 3D printing makes it possible to produce medium- to large-scale metal objects with almost total form freedom."
And while it may look lightweight with all those airy gaps you can poke your fingers through, it probably won't be making an appearance on the pro-tour anytime soon; the bike tips the scales at just less than 20kg.
"Our main concern when designing the frame was strength," a press release from the team says.
"We didn't know how the material would behave, so we chose to make it extra strong and sacrifice a bit of weight. Our frame proves it's possible to produce a bicycle frame in this way – that was our goal."
To test the frame's strength, the students took turns at riding it around the cobblestone streets of Delft, where it performed admirably and no doubt attracted plenty of attention. Arc team member Stef de Groot said it was important to design a functional object that people could use every day.
"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," he says.
It's not the first time 3D printing has been applied to bicycle technology. British technology company Renishaw created a titanium alloy mountain bike in 2015 using 3D printing, which was recognised as a world-first by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Meanwhile, an Australian company, Flying Machine, has been using 3D-printed lugs to create a beautiful titanium-framed racing bike – the 3DP-F1. The CSIRO's Melbourne-based LAB 22 (an open axis 3D printing facility that specialises in working with metal) has been assisting with the project, giving Flying Machine access to the only 3D printer in the southern hemisphere capable of doing the job.
Aerospace-grade epoxy adhesive is used to bond the 3D-printed lugs to the tubing. The Perth-based company says using the bespoke lugs results in a much faster turnaround than conventional methods.
Founder Matt Andrew says the technology still has a way to go, especially when it comes to affordability, but he agrees that prices for printing machines are coming down. "I see a time when small builders such as myself will be able to afford their own 3D printer; it's certainly headed in that direction."
CSIRO Lab 22 director Alex Kingsbury says 3D printing has the potential to revolutionise product design in a way that hasn't been thought of before. "It's a very new, and very important tool and it is about to open up new markets that previously didn't exist."
Kingsbury's lab has already created a 3D-printed jet engine, a sports mouthguard, a horseshoe, and a rib and sternum implant for a Spanish cancer patient.
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