May 6, 2016 | By Alec

As any designer will tell you, a design can only be as good as manufacturing realities allow it to be. It’s a problem that has often confronted exclusive motorcycle developers Confederate Motors, who build custom rides for prominent clients such as Tom Cruise and David Beckham. It’s exactly why the company recently teamed up with 3D Systems to develop complete assembly kits for their P51 Combat Fighter motorcycle, consisting of more than 140 different 3D printed parts. The final results perfectly captured the integrated aesthetic Confederate Motors was looking for, and they are already planning to 3D print more motorcycles in the near future.

Confederate Motors needs no introduction for motorcycle lovers, as it’s one of the premier American road bike manufacturers. Consisting of just a small team of top level engineers, they specialize in unique builds with a distinctive ‘skeletal minimalism’ style. Founded 25 years ago, they produce very small batches of motorcycles and until recently used around 60 different machines for each bike. As the company unleashes their creativity on every part of a bike, their name has become synonymous with fantastic and high quality motorcycles.

But throughout that process, prototyping takes up most of their time. For the development of their second-generation P51 Combat Fighter model, Confederate Motors therefore approached 3D Systems to accelerate prototyping through their on-demand stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing solutions. It’s an interesting partnership that completely got out of hand. After first meeting in 2014, they quickly decided that 3D Systems’ services would be best used for the hundreds of prototypes they needed. But after being so impressed by their work, they soon teamed up for a full-fledged manufacturing process and the production of complete 3D printed metal assembly kits.

3D Systems’ Quickparts on-demand manufacturing services of course provide a full arsenal of 3D printing solutions, and were found to be a perfect partner for this project. “Our relationship with 3D Systems is probably the best thing that's happened to me since I've been in this business,” Confederate Motors founder and CEO Matt Chambers says. “It takes so much of the pressure off our small team and lets us focus on what we love to do, which is design the best possible bike imaginable.”

Specifically, 3D Systems’ services were used to prototype and produce more than 140 motorcycle parts. All parts are widely different in terms of complexity and size, and include everything from the handles to the key and engine components. While many companies outsource production and development to different partners, designer Jordan Cornille said it was a breath of fresh air to work with just one primary vendor. “Parts go together better, and we can be assured that the part finish of everything will match. With the exception of some engine components, wiring, wheels, tires and lighting, 3D Systems makes every part of the Fighter,” he says. Even the carbon fiber fenders were 3D printed in their Accura® Peak material.

Though most prototype products are of a disappointing quality, this wasn’t the case with 3D Systems’ models, says production manager Jason Reddick. “The thing that holds me up the most when we are prototyping is when a part doesn’t come in as advertised,” he said. “The 3D Systems parts for the G2 P51 came in as we asked for them, in the order in which we asked, on time. The prototype stayed on schedule and actually finished ahead of time, beating our projection by several days. This is the best prototype we’ve ever done.”

Of course there were some parts that could not be 3D printed, and in those cases 3D Systems still guaranteed production quality with their QuickCutCNC process. This was done for, among others, the master patterns for P51 carbon fiber parts. Again, the motorcycle men were impressed. “3D Systems allows us to design extraordinary forms and shapes out of solid materials,” says Cornille. “The machines are so precise that there were very few changes to be made going from prototype to production. The only tweaks that were needed were design changes on our end.”

The 3D Systems ProX 500 SLS 3D printer.

The result is the amazing P51 Combat Fighter, an absolute beast that can deliver 200 pounds of torque. It has already received fantastic reviews, with one Cycle World reviewer praising the design. “The Confederate did what it was designed to do, attracting more pedestrian attention than any motorcycle I’ve ever straddled, with an awesome power delivery and exhaust note, plus that unique aesthetic,” he wrote.

For Confederate Motors, it was also a complete eye-opener and game-changer. “It’s unfathomable for me to explain in words just how much better it is to be free to do something we are really great at, which is design. It’s changed our entire program, not just for the motorcycles we are working on now, but for the four or five new bike designs we’ll work on over the next three to four years,” Chambers said.

Tom Cruise on his F131 Hellcat by Confederate Motors.

Designer Cornille agreed, saying that 3D Systems’ services are perfect for a small-scale developer such as themselves. “We don’t produce thousands of copies of each model, and 3D Systems allows us to change designs frequently without committing to thousands of dollars’ worth of tooling,” he said. In short, prepare yourself for a lot more amazing 3D printed motorcycles just across the horizon.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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