Jan 29, 2015 | By Simon

As 3D printers become more capable of creating large-scale objects (whether in one print or in multiple sections), it’s only a matter of time before objects we once only thought could be built with “traditional” manufacturing techniques are able to be 3D printed and hopefully, recycled into modified editions of a product as designs change.  Additionally, the ability to produce designs without expensive and complicated tooling can dramatically bring the manufacturing price down...which also trickles down to the consumer.  

One example of a large-scale product that has been produced using 3D printing versus traditional manufacturing methods is with industrial designer Matt Clark’s 3D printed (and fully-rideable) Innervision IV-1 bicycle, which has been in development since 2008.

The California-based designer wanted to explore producing lightweight and custom-engineered frames by creating an "Innerframe" and an outer structure as a single unit. "This method is the only way I've been able to produce a rigid bike frame out of plastic." Clark told 3ders.org.

Clark created his bicycle design by using a support structure method known as space framing.  The method is used commonly in performance cars and architectural structures to provide strong support with minimal material usage thanks to its natural makeup consisting of load-bearing geometric patterns.  

example of a space frame

"From the birth of the auto industry, manufacturers have relied on stamped steel panels to create automobile bodies and chassis." Clark explained. "Originally, they began with body-on-frame and eventually evolved to the current unibody construction. Before the introduction of carbon fiber monocoque construction (and even after it: BAC Mono, for example)---the best high performance vehicles utilized spaceframe chassis. The Lotus Seven, Mercedes SL gullwing, Shelby Cobra, Ferrari F40 all used spaceframe chassis because of their rigidity and light weight."

"Unfortunately, exotic spaceframe chassis construction is an incredibly labor/time-intensive process. It requires proper sizing and hand-welding of tubes...much like traditional bicycle construction. To date, it's been completely unfeasible to mass-manufacture spaceframe chassis cars. That's why unibody construction is still the primary method of vehicle construction. Yet, its highly compromised by inadequate spot welding and flexible, stamped steel panels."

To date, 3D printing has been the only method of manufacturing that allows Clark to be able to offer a lightweight bike. Additionally, using 3D printing as a form of production creates an increase in the accuracy of the design, designs can be customized into the 3D printed frame reducing the need for expensive paint jobs and traditional bike-building labor methods including welding and metal cutting will be dramatically cut down.

While there have been previous attempts to create and market 3D printed plastic/composite bicycles, many were limited in their performance due to the frame's rigidity, which Clark aims to solve using his space frame design. Eventually, he hopes to see the Innerframe method used to construct complex vehicle spaceframes quickly and affordably. "If the Innerframe method was successfully implemented into mass-produced bike manufacturing, it could easily be applied to vehicle chassis." he told us.

"That would mean that vehicles with lightweight, carbon or fiberglass reinforced plastic chassis could become commonplace and more cost effective than the current methods. All while dramatically increasing the rigidity and safety of a vehicle chassis. It could usher in a new era for vehicle manufacture facilitated primarily by 3D printing." Clark said.

Clark would like to see the final production version of his bicycle fabricated out of fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene, which is an affordable and rigid material that can be sourced from recycled material.  Due to the early stages of his bicycle development, Clark hasn’t yet chosen the type of printer that he would use to produce the final bicycle designs although he believes that thanks to the additive manufacturing industry moving as fast as it is, he will be able to find a suitable large-scale 3D printer and put the bike into production before the end of 2015.

"3D printing overcomes a number of major development hurdles." Clark said. "The primary obstacle is tooling. With a large, plastic design the cost of molds can be very prohibitive. 3D printing makes molds obsolete and enables an unprecedented ability to modify a design without requiring modification to the tooling. Also, it's the one way to fully realize a seamless Innerframe design; devoid of any type of fastening or assembly."

“Like many people, I find 3D printing to be a facilitator of manufacturing's future,” he adds.    

“The utilization of the Innerframe method can make it possible to expand the capabilities of plastics/composites in a cost-effective manner.”



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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zeek wrote at 2/1/2015 1:15:03 AM:

a company in netherlands or something madea plastic injection molded bicycle frame in the 80s for a year. i saw a couple old non-rusty bikes at an old bike shop in new york once. i spoke with the owner of the shop about them. they are novelties. there is ZERO advnatage to a pastic frame bike. many disadvantages. as always , the promise here is in prototyping. that said, people with welding skills an arc welder and lots of junk metal hanging around can hackup and prototype bike framse FAR FASTER than any combination of cnc and extrusion fused deposition or other 3d printing addititve process. the reality here is that there is a sweet spot in prototyping for 3d printing and that is for things that cannot so easily be prototyped with traditional methods. when it comes to bikes, there are actually a great many examples of 3d printing being useful, for example , in titanium frame design. in this plastiic example, the printing would be actually useful for exotic frames and minutae as well as asthetics that could not easily be achieved with a welder and appropriate cutting tools. in this case, the plastic could be useful for prototyping integrate frame racks, integrated frame couplings for things such as electric motors, extra seat, exotic addons and other frame integrated goodies. see if it works, then go to the metal shop.

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