Bicycle builders generally use quite a bit of sophisticated tools, some very old, to make their bicycles.
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The builders use jigs for the frames. They bend and shape the materials, if they are a metal of some kind, perhaps titanium, steel, or aluminum.
For other materials, the jig provides a template for other, non-metal materials. Bamboo and carbon frames have to start somewhere, and a good model to work from is necessary.
A lot of and welding, some of it pretty specialized, comes into play, along with brazing, to get metal pieces to hold together. This technology has worked for what seems like forever but that may be about to change.
3D printers have hit the news in the last few years though rhe technology has been around since the 1980’s. The first working 3D printer was made by Chuck Hull in 1984.
In 2010, these machines became commercially available. Their value is obvious, as the 3D printer and services marketed in 2012 was estimated at $2.2 billion worldwide.
It’s a pretty interesting process. The short version is that the printer lays down layers, which build up to produce the 3D product.
The technology has come to bicycles. Bicycles made with a 3D printer. Fascinating.
Renishaw, a UK metal-based additive maker teamed with the British design firm Empire Cycles and brought out their 3D printed mountain bike frame this week. It’s the MX-6 all mountain bike.
The frame was printed in sections, using titanium alloy that was then sleeved and bonded together, which, the company says, “… offers several advantages in design freedom, construction and performance.”
Starting with a basic design, they remove material from areas of low stress. This ends up with a new design that is both lightweight and strong.
With the 3D process, these design changes are much faster and more flexible, allowing a finished design to come to market more quickly, resulting in less cost.
They used a Renishaw AM250 laser melting system to “print” the frame. The titanium alloy frame is strong, durable and lightweight. According to Renishaw, “… additively manufacturing the frame using titanium makes the parts denser — and thus stronger —than if they were cast.”
It’s what cyclists all around the globe look for. A strong, lightweight bike that will stand up to whatever riding they do.
How extensive this technology will be in bicycle manufacturing is anyone’s guess.
There will always be a place in the custom bicycle world for frames designed on a scrap of paper, laid up on a jig and expertly brazed and welded together. But everything changes over time.