solidThinking Inspire & the First 3D Printed Bike Frame

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


solidThinking today announced a major achievement in the additive manufacturing industry which may in future revolutionize the way components are designed and made. Renishaw, the UK’s only manufacturer of a metal-based additive manufacturing machine, used solidThinking Inspire® 9.5 software to help create the world’s first 3D printed metal bike frame. Chris Williams of Empire Cycles, a leading British bicycle design and manufacturing company, designed the mountain bike to take advantage of Renishaw’s additive manufacturing technology, allowing the creation of a titanium frame that would be both strong and light.
Renishaw used Inspire to perform the topological optimization and concept generation. Inspire generated a new material layout within the package space using the loads and supports as input. This provided a concept that not only met performance targets, but also achieved minimum mass. A tool such as Inspire goes hand in hand with additive manufacturing by generating component designs that maximize manufacturing freedom, leading to stronger and lighter components. Lightweighting was the ultimate aim of the project, resulting in parts that are designed for maximum strength with minimum weight. The new seat post is 45 percent lighter than the original.


Complete bike with 3D printed titanium alloy frame and seat post bracket


“We took the seat post bracket from 360 grams down to 200 grams, and weight savings does not require compensation in other areas. We have not yet fully exploited the possibilities of finite element analysis, which is a big job for a project like this. What we have been able to do is get close to optimum and test the bike in the real world with a whole host of sensors on the frame, collecting actual data and optimizing from there,” explained Robin Weston, Renishaw Marketing Manager.

“The seat post bracket created by Renishaw is a truly revolutionary use of solidThinking Inspire and additive manufacturing. A 45 percent weight reduction on this part not only helps to increase performance, but can also help to decrease material costs,” said solidThinking Program Manager, Andrew Bartels. “We are thrilled to see companies like Renishaw push the barriers of traditional manufacturing by utilizing Inspire for concept generation.”

With significant weight savings achieved on a single component, and some reservations Williams had about the design, the scope suddenly expanded. “While we had thought about extruded or hydroformed aluminum tubing or even carbon fiber for the frame, bonded onto some titanium bits at the corners of the triangles, we started to look at doing even more.”

Williams explained that the use of standard frame materials really inhibited design freedom. “As we looked at the main aluminum frame and its 2100g contribution to overall weight, we knew we could help to create something just as strong but much lighter. From there the idea that we could do more, even all of the major frame components, came together. As no tooling is required, continual design improvements can be made easily, and because component cost is based on volume rather than complexity, some very light parts are possible at minimal cost.”

Renishaw will present its work and exhibit the Empire bike at this year’s European Altair Technology Conference from June 24th – 26th, 2014 in Munich:

About Rahul Ponginan

Technical Manager - Academic Program
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