Dec 9, 2016 | By Benedict

Alta Motors, a Californian electric motorcycle brand, has been using CLIP 3D printing technology from 3D printer manufacturer Carbon to 3D print road-ready motorcycle parts made from Carbon’s RPU material.

With its groundbreaking Continuous Liquid Interface Production Technology (CLIP), Redwood City-based Carbon (formerly Carbon3D) is rewriting the rulebook on just how fast 3D printing can be. According to the company, CLIP has the potential to 3D print objects up to 100 times faster than standard FDM 3D printers, a claim that has made the M1 CLIP 3D printer a hot topic within the industry. Not content to watch its super-fast 3D printers reel off static parts, however, Carbon is now harnessing that rapid-fire printing power to create speedy machines of an altogether different nature: electric motorcycles.

When Alta Motors was founded in 2010 by Marc Fenigsetin, Derek Dorresteyn, and Jeff Sand, the startup decided that it wanted to create the best electric motorcycle on the market. The trio of co-founders wanted to build a machine not just green and energy-efficient, but also safe, cool, and lightning fast. However, to make its speedy bike a success, the company had to hit top gear in the workshop too, by accelerating development cycles so as not to be overtaken by others in the electric vehicle industry—a field in which “new products, new segments, pop up constantly,” according to Fenigsetin.

Fortunately, as a small company, Alta was nimble enough to make fast developments, with one of the main components contributing to that speed being an in-house rapid prototyping lab. Using 3D printing equipment, Alta could constantly try out new ideas for parts without waiting days or weeks for those new parts to arrive. But the company also wanted a 3D printing system capable of fabricating production-standard parts, so turned to Ohio-based 3D printing bureau The Technology House (TTH), where they discovered the lightning-fast CLIP additive manufacturing technology from Carbon, a fellow Californian company.

After being introduced to Carbon’s CLIP 3D printing process, Alta knew that the technology could be used to improve the company’s electric motorcycles. Now, a strong working relationship between Alta and TTH has seen the motorcycle developer receive a number of CLIP 3D printed parts, such as a charger housing and diagnostic tool enclosure. “We’re able to iterate with TTH over the Internet,” said Nick Herron, a mechanical design engineer at Alta Motors. “We send them CAD files, get parts, and iterate on them quickly. When we get parts from TTH, we do fit and mechanical tests; this is the first level of validation. Shock and vibration, ingress protection; this is a second level of validation.”

In addition to being an incredibly fast 3D printing technology, CLIP can also be used with high-quality resins—something that has benefitted the Alta team in many ways. The particular 3D printing materials used on the Alta electric motorcycles are Rigid Polyurethane (RPU), for the diagnostics and charger housings, and Elastomeric Polyurethane (EPU), for wire seals and grommets.

“The material properties are a lot closer to manufactured parts, which gives us more confidence as we go into production,” Herron explained. “The parts aren’t brittle so we can do inserts or thread form without stripping or shattering the parts. We can seal grooves and keep out water, conduct pressure and spray testing, and ingress testing. With CLIP we have a lot more confidence when we go into production.”

Adopting the CLIP 3D printing process has reportedly allowed Alta to fabricate components that can’t be tooled, as well as one-piece 3D printable parts that incorporate different features and components. But that’s not the end of the Alta additive manufacturing story: the company is now experimenting with designs that reduce the number of parts by making one part that can do the job of six, streamlining design to improve usability for its customers.

This year, former pro racer Josh Hill finished 4th in the supercross-inpired Red Bull Straight Rhythm race while riding an Alta Motors Redshift electric motorcycle, complete with 3D printed parts. The result shocked electric vehicle skeptics and put Alta firmly in the spotlight. “Announcers were dismissive of electric at the beginning of the event, but by the end, they took us as a serious competitor,” said Fenigsetin. “That was a career-defining moment for me.”

Alta believes the future is bright for electric motorcycles and other vehicles, and with 3D printing helping to bring the vehicles up to speed, the road to widespread adoption of electric bikes could be smoother than expected. “There are 300 million motorbikes and lightweight vehicles on this planet,” Fenigsetin said. “At some point in the next 20 years, they’re all going to transition to electric.”

 

 

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