Sep 1, 2015 | By Alec

Despite all its making advantages, regular desktop 3D printers aren’t exactly known for creating objects intended for rigorous use and extreme pressures. In fact, that’s one of the few disadvantages often mentioned by critics. However, a brand new Italian project suggests that we might just not be getting the most out of the structural possibilities of 3D printers. For the Padua-based design studio Eurocompositi has developed an amazing 3D printed PLA ‘Aenimal Bhulk’ mountain bike frame capable of being ridden, and have on the Eurobike Gold award for their efforts.

To clarify, Eurocompositi is an unusual design studio with a remarkable and unusual focus on clever engineering. Founded in 2011 in Padua, Italy by veteran engineer Marco Genovese, they specialize in development of professional, rational and functional shapes that, in their own words, coexist with aesthetics. For shaping something, they say, isn’t just an exercise in style, but also about overcoming limitations and obstacles. That approach explains why they have been so active in the cycle industry, which is always trying to add structural integrity to professional frames while decreasing their overall weight. But despite that, it is still very remarkable that the Italian designers chose to 3D print a functional bike frame in PLA filament as part of this Aenimal Bhulk project.

However, as the team explains, their goal was to do much more than make a cool or functional bike. ‘The main target behind the AENIMAL project is to obtain ecological, environmentally sustainable bikes. A feasibility analysis was conducted to determine the most correct 3D printing processes and material. The result is the use of FDM technology combined with biodegradable, recycled and recyclable PLA biopolymers derived from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugarcane,’ the designers explain on their website. And of course, that is a very major advantage. Unlike virtually every other bike material, PLA is made from biological components and is therefore biodegradable. Pretty useful considering the speed at which the professional industry discards bikes.

Furthermore, the Italians immediately point to one big reason for choosing this particular type of plastic. Though still requiring energy to produce and to 3D print PLA, it requires much less megajoules per kilogram of material than other materials. ‘Measuring the impacts of the non-renewable energy use and comparing data between PLA and traditional polymers (like PET & PS), provides a good insight into how it performs,’ they say, which conclusively suggests it is a fantastic environmental option. This is further enhanced by the studio’s reliance on solar power.

However, most of us don’t know it as a pretty durable material at all. So how do you use 3D printing to make a structurally sound bike, capable of withstanding all the rigors of the sport and the weight of the user? Well, the secret is all in the design. The Italians have come up with a complex multi-component frame filled with honeycomb structures to overcome any weak points. ‘The knowledge and experience of the Eurocompositi team have been fundamental to design the right tube shapes and dimensions, in order to maintain a certain stiffness and durability with a material that surely doesn’t have the mechanical characteristics of the most advanced composite materials,’ they say. In the past, they extensively worked with traditional materials, like carbon, aluminum and wood, but this time they applied their knowledge to 3D printed PLA.

This effort – both of the design and the ecological front – is amazing, and quickly caught the eye of the judges at the Eurobike Show in Germany. ‘The Aenimal Bhulk could start a new trend. It’s the first mountain bike where a 3D printer is used to make the frame from biodegradable, recyclable and recycled materials. We’re presenting this innovation with an award because its technology is so visionary that it could revolutionise the way bikes are customised and manufactured,’ the judges said while awarding them with the first prize, having scored maximum points in the innovation and design criteria.

And we here at are equally impressed by the Aenimal Bhulk. The only downside? Nothing is currently known about any commercial plans, so none of us will be riding a 3D printed bike anytime soon.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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