More and more manufacturers are discovering that 3D printing offers advantages beyond the point of manufacture. The latest bit of evidence comes from Empire Cycles, who, with the help of UK-based manufacturing company Renishaw, have figured out how to use it to manufacture an extremely lightweight titanium bike frame. The super light MX-6 can be “trashed downhill but allows a rider to sprint uphill without excess weight,” they say, and it also utilizes cutting-edge manufacturing techniques that are only possible with 3D printing. The result is a bike that is over a third lighter than a traditional bike frame.
The frame is manufactured using laser sintering, which uses a high-powered laser to fuse small particles of material (in this case, titanium) together. This has allowed Empire to build the frame from the ground up with no wasted weight. Don’t be fooled by the light weight, however: These frames are extremely strong thanks to a design process called topological optimization, which distributes material logically so that “material is removed from areas of low stress until a design optimized for load bearing is evolved.”
However, the innovative manufacturing techniques are mostly designed to produce in low volumes, and thus weight and cost don’t quite match. The bike can be ordered in two frame sizes and in custom colors, and costs £3,975 ($6,483).
However, as time goes on, expect to see some fresh iterations that will be more low-cost. ”As no tooling is required, continual design improvements can be made easily, and as the component cost is based on volume and not complexity, some very light parts will be possible at minimal costs,” the brand told Dezeen. The low-cost manufacturing process also means that the frame can easily be customized with personal features such as the rider’s name.
Check out some pictures from the development process below.