TE Connectivity 3D-prints a functioning motorcycle
Unveiled at Rapid 2015 in Long Beach, California, TE Connectivity’s exercise in 3D printing demonstrates the ability to design a motorcycle on a computer, print it in plastic, add tires and a motor, then take it for a spin. While the result may not quite be ready to hit the highway, the concept is still nothing short of exciting.
Considering that fundamentalparts such as the frame and wheel bearings are entirely printed in plastic, onewould agree that TE’s goal to show that the technology can be used to manufacture load-bearingproduction parts has been achieved.
Modeled ina Harley-Davidson Softail fashion, the motorcycle measures around 8 ft (2.4 m)long, weighs 250 lb (113.4 kg) and consists of more components than itsdesigners can account for. Its frame, printed after a process of trial anderror, can support a total of 400 lb (181 kg) – that would be two adultpassengers. Apart from the small electric motor and tires, some other outsourcedparts include the braking system, electrical wiring, battery, belt drive,mirrors, sidestand and some bolts.
Thehighlight is, of course, its fully functioning status. A small 1 hp (750W)electric motor can power a 15 mph (24 km/h) ride for several minutes. Thoughthis may not sound ground-breaking, it doesn’t necessarily need a biggerbattery or a stronger engine to make a point as a showbike at a conference onprinting, scanning and additive manufacturing. All that matters is that, aftersome 1,000 work hours and US$25,000, TE Connectivity has come up with a proper motorcycleindeed.
The mainload-bearing parts were constructed with Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)technology, the process of injecting layer upon layer of ABS(acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic enriched with the heat resistantresin Ultem 9085. With this process, TE printed several parts with complex dynamicproperties, such as the frame.
The wheel bearings sound tricky to fabricate,especially the rear one that was printed into a single piece with the hub andthe drive sprocket. After some testing miles, both bearings reportedly held upagainst the load they must bear and the heat generated in the process. Equallydifficult work has probably been involved in the fabrication of the wheel rims,which have to support real motorcycle tires with fully-inflated tubes.
Some metalparts like the headlight housing were printed in bronze through Direct Metal LaserSintering (DMLS), where a laser melts the desired shape out of several layersof metal powder.
Apparentlythis is the second prototype or, more precisely, a rebuild of the first afterit suffered some damage during transportation. Thankfully creative minds sawthis as an opportunity rather than a calamity, finding the chance to make someimprovements on the original design.
Although itseems highly improbable for an electronic connector and sensor manufacturer tobuild any more motorcycles, TE Connectivity’s achievement highlights some promisingprospects. Already several DMLS applications are available to the automotiveand aerospace industries though companies like EOS. Stratasys, whose printersworked overtime for this project in TE’s labs, is currently in a partnershipwith Ducati advising the Italians on developing in-house FDM prototyping. Byprinting functional prototype engines, Ducati has been able to cut thedevelopment time of a new Desmosedici race engine for MotoGP from 28 to onlyeight months. Benefits from this process are expected to reachproduction models sooner or later.
TEConnectivity initially thought of printing a model of a motorcycle as a displayof sculpting skills. This had already been done, several times over. The ideaof a functioning bike was born in the process, probably out of the realizationthat it could actually be done. After all, the first printed car was unveiled and driven in public just last September.
3D printing technology is advancing by leapsand bounds, having progressed in just a few years from forming simpleornamental plastic parts to generating dynamic structures that function within moving mechanisms. In this sense, this motorcycle that lookslike a child’s toy may well prove to be a landmark product.