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World's first 3D-printed titanium bicycle frame could lead to cheaper, lighter bikes

By

February 8, 2014

The MX-6 Evo mountain bike, sporting its 3D-printed titanium frame

The MX-6 Evo mountain bike, sporting its 3D-printed titanium frame

Image Gallery (3 images)

When it comes to a high strength-to-weight ratio, titanium is just about the best material out there for manufacturing bicycle frames. Unfortunately, those frames are also quite expensive. They could be about to come down in price, however – two British companies recently teamed up to create the world's first 3D-printed titanium bike frame.

Renishaw, an additive manufacturing firm, joined forces with Empire Cycles to build the one-off titanium MX-6 Evo mountain bike. Empire already offers a production aluminum version of the MX-6.

The frame was built using an AM250 laser melting machine manufactured by Renishaw. In the build process, a high-power ytterbium fibre laser was used to selectively fuse together particles of a titanium alloy powder. Layers of those fused-together particles were built up one upon the other, to form the finished sections of the frame. Those sections were then bonded together using an adhesive.

The components of the seatpost bracket were printed together on one build platform

Because titanium has a higher density than aluminum, less of it had to be used if Empire wanted a finished bike that was lighter than the stock model. To make that happen, topological optimization software was used – it structurally assessed computer models of each part of the frame, and determined where less material could be used without negatively affecting strength.

As a result, at a total of 1,400 grams (3 lb), the finished Evo frame weighs 33 percent less than its aluminum counterpart. When its seatpost bracket was tested, it exceeded the EN 14766 mountain bike strength standard by six times. The strength of the frame as a whole is still being tested.

So, how could this project lead to cheaper titanium frames? For one thing, in the laser melting process, there's no waste – all of the titanium alloy powder that isn't fused to make one frame can be reused in another, plus the topological optimization process ensures that less of it is needed in the first place. Additionally, no special machining has to be created or set up for specific frame designs, which would be the case with cast metal.

It should also be relatively simple to tweak frame designs as needed, or to add custom features to individual frames. And finally, it shouldn't be any more difficult to create components with complex shapes than those that are relatively basic.

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) has previously created a 3D-printed bicycle frame, although it was made from nylon.

Source: Renishaw via Stuff

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
22 Comments

If you can laser weld powder into solid mettle why cant you laser weld two pieces of solid mettle together even if you need a little powder to help?

Slowburn
9th February, 2014 @ 01:36 pm PST

Frame 1.4Kg!

Danny Rose
9th February, 2014 @ 04:36 pm PST

Slowburn,

Direct metal laser sintering fuses a thin layer of powder at a time. Each layer is in the order of microns thick. It doesn't produce enough energy to penetrate deep into a part, which would also risk heat distortion. If you want to weld titanium parts, you'll have to rely on good, old fashioned TIG welding, which is too risky with a frame like this that's been lightened as much as possible.

Gadgeteer
9th February, 2014 @ 07:42 pm PST

I suggest the Author reads about laser sintering titanium and the costs. time and size all need to be taken into consideration. That's probably a good £40k frame they've built there - if not more.

http://www.core77.com/blog/exclusive/exclusive_photos_making-of_the_queens_baton_for_the_xx_commonwealth_designed_by_4c_design_ltd_25735.asp

Mark Penver
10th February, 2014 @ 06:04 am PST

Be careful on you phrasing of cause and effect. Lead is also denser than aluminum but it wouldn't make a great bike frame. Titanium is stronger than aluminum might be a better phrase.

Robert Craven
10th February, 2014 @ 08:16 am PST

The other thing to consider is bed size on the 3D printer. To do an entire frame in one piece would need a bed at least one yard or meter square. The picture looks like several parts were made concurrenlty on a bed that might be 8"x8". Still, quite the accomplishment. And like the 1911 recently done elsewhere, quite the price tag I bet.

Bruce H. Anderson
10th February, 2014 @ 08:40 am PST

Given the size of the bed that would be needed for printing and the inefficiencies that would go along with printing a whole frame, pieces are the key. And even though I have welded Ti quite a bit, the socketed route is the way to go. You only have to glue the pieces together. Where as the TIG welding of them would require a special jig, argon purging of the frame, specialized welding cups and skilled labor. And maybe the first couple bikes could cost in the 10's of thousands to help recoup R&D, but with an efficient crew that would keep the flow of parts flowing through their million dollar printer, I could see the prices dropping to a somewhat reasonable level.

Brainfarth
10th February, 2014 @ 09:11 am PST

Although the article says there is no wast, It appears to me that there is some wasted material. The base and the "sprue" sections in the photo appear to be titanium which would be separated and become scrap.

As far as joining the pieces, I believe titanium can be brazed, perhaps with a titanium/silver alloy in a vacuum furnace. That would result in an extremely durable final assembly.

James McAllister
10th February, 2014 @ 09:16 am PST

Brainfarth has it right: creating the connecting pieces is where 3d printing works best. Once you have those joints it's easy to finish the bike with mass produced tubes.

moreover
10th February, 2014 @ 10:19 am PST

Be interesting to see case studies in extreme environments. Asphalt areas in the southwest U.S.A. apparently get around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The far north gets very cold too. Not to mention stress testing in extreme freestyle, downhill mtn biking, ect.... A very competent testing evaluation should be very interesting.

PerryRObray
10th February, 2014 @ 10:30 am PST

Picture each piece of the assembly being made on a dedicated printer and those parts going to assembly. This could be very efficient and cost effective. It is only the first units that would eat money.

As far as joining the pieces goes, modern, industrial gluing methods can produce very high strength, permanent bonds. It is also quite likely that if frame damage does take place a piece heated with a torch could release the piece without harming the joint such that an individual element could be replaced. All in all, it should be far superior to aluminum and easier than carbon composites of equal strength.

Jim Sadler
10th February, 2014 @ 11:00 am PST

It's amazing to see the progress being made in the field of 3-D printing.

As the technology is still in its infancy, who knows what incredible things will come about as techniques improve and costs plummet.

This is an exciting new field just ripe for entrepreneurial spirit.

JonathanPDX
10th February, 2014 @ 11:01 am PST

Not even worth the bother of reading the comments section any longer as the majority are negative or pedantic.

Great job to all who are told that nothing can be done! May you achieve even greater success if for no more reason that silence all the nay-Sayers.

steveraxx
10th February, 2014 @ 11:46 am PST

The problem with additive 3D printing is that the end product is weakest along the lines where the material is laid down. If this happens to lie on a stress point, the the item is damaged the first hit it takes at that particular spot. This is on the issues the 3D gun printers came across.

The same thing could happen here! And unlike a 3D printed gun, a bike would see quite a bit more use.

Ed
10th February, 2014 @ 11:50 am PST

A great idea. It'd be nice to know how it rides - hopefully stiff enough to inspire confidence, but not so light as to detract from that confidence. I assume there'll be trade-offs for each rider (eventually, at least).

I'd also hope that the "topological optimization software" can take files from (just about) any CAD program, so that when it becomes anywhere near affordable we don't have to learn something that may only be used a few times in our lives. Unless we can go into the design-and-build business.

And, since it's so easy to tweak the design, we need a method of turning bases, sprues and previous frame versions back into fusible powder for re-use...

leafygreen
10th February, 2014 @ 12:19 pm PST

Hey, what's with the rant steveraxx ? The comments here seem interesting, well balanced and informative to me. Maybe I'm missing something? Or maybe you already knew a lot about this technology?

Personally, I don't know anything about "sintering" or "argon purging" or how best to work with Titanium, but that's a good reason (for me) to read what people are writing. I'm just curious and learning (a little) about something new to me. I like that about Gizmag.

duh3000
10th February, 2014 @ 02:19 pm PST

This technology is extremely exciting to me. I see endless possibilities for business as well as health and personal use in a wide range of areas. And this is from a low tech 54 year old retired guy! Keep up the great work on informing me about this ever changing and very interesting technology.

WiderGlider
10th February, 2014 @ 02:21 pm PST

@Robert Craven

You are right about the density part. Density and strength have no relationship. Gold is probably the densest metal around but useless for the purpose.

I believe what the author is trying to say is that since Titanium is denser than Aluminium, to make the bike lighter less of Titanium could be used to make it lighter. Again even in this phrasing the word "could" can have 2 meanings. One would be "be permissible", the other would be " limiting factor". The first would relate to strength the latter to density.

pmshah
10th February, 2014 @ 07:10 pm PST

@ Gadgeteer

What would prevent you from putting two wedges together and then laser sintering in material to make the two wedges into a single piece of an even thickness?

Slowburn
10th February, 2014 @ 09:55 pm PST

Should be "higher tensile strength to density ratio"

Vladimir Popov
10th February, 2014 @ 10:50 pm PST

Presumably the idea behind using titanium instead of aluminium is that it is stronger. Because it is stronger, it can be made thinner than aluminium. So the overall strength remains the same. What then is the advantage? It is a more expensive metal. By the way, with regard to the waste metal in the sprues etc., this can easily be ground back into a powder.

One thought has occurred to me in this process: what happens to the grain structure of the metal? After all, the metal powder has been subject to high temperature melting, followed by fairly rapid cooling, I would imagine.

I wonder how much weight has been saved in this frame. Maybe the rider could lose a couple of extra pounds in weight (or maybe not), and then not need to spend thousands of dollars on an ultra-lightweight frame.

windykites1
11th February, 2014 @ 03:56 am PST

@ windykites1

Was the bully that beat you up every day fat?

Same strength less weight and simply not using aluminum is a good thing.

Slowburn
11th February, 2014 @ 10:21 pm PST
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