3D printing isn't just for churning out plastic doodads, oh no.
The MX-6 bicycle isn't the first 3D-printed bike – there have been some rather chunky plastic efforts, and Australian-based Flying Machine has created a bike using off-the-shelf tubes with 3D-printed lugs. But Empire Cycles has taken things a step further and printed the entire frame – in several sections – using laser sintering.
Using a process called topological optimisation, the CAD models of the bike were refined to remove unnecessary weight, while still retaining structural strength. The result is a series of lattice-like joints with almost organic forms – and a bike frame that's a third lighter than a conventionally-manufactured metal frame.
It's a technique that aircraft manufacturers are experimenting with to create strong, light airframes – indeed, much of Renishaw's work has been with the aviation industry.
"Because it's essentially grown, you can create shapes and forms that you can't create using any other manufacturing method," explains Chris Williams, MD of Empire Cycles. "So you can do lots of of undercuts and intricate shapes that would be impossible with solid machining or casting." That also means it's more efficient; rather than carving into a solid piece of metal, you use only as much material as you need.
But does 3D-printed metal hold up to conventionally-cast components? The bike's been strength tested, and the results are startling. "We've tested the seat tower in a test lab, and it's extremely strong," says Williams. "It quadrupled the European standard requirement for the component."
This isn't even my final form
Because 3D printing means you can quickly tweak and produce a design, it's still being revised. "We're currently growing a new one, because we've made some changes," says Williams. "It's on the machine now, being built."