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The bike frame
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The bike frame was sleeved and welded together
We first learnt of Empire Cycles desire to make as many bicycle parts from 3D Printing back in July last year when Group Editor Jim Woodcock went up to Bolton to see Chris Williams. At that stage he had a bike with some parts printed on a Stratasys UPrint but had the desire to make a full metal frame using additive manufacturing.
Here is where Renishaw step in, the only UK manufacturer of metal AM machines they were the obvious choice for Chris to collaborate with.
After months of development with Renishaw we finally we get to see the fruits of this intensive labour as Renishaw and the British bicycle design firm announce the details of the final prototype.
That final product has seen the frame 3D printed in titanium alloy and bonded together and is some 33% lighter than the original prototype that we saw at TCT Show + Personalize 2013. The seat post bracket - the part Renishaw originally agreed to manufacture before having such success that they agreed to make the frame too - is 44% lighter than aluminium alloy version and that’s just the first iteration!
European standard testing for strength of the bike is proving successful as the seat was tested to six times the standard without failure. The frame is still going through rigorous testing by Bureau Veritas UK, and on the mountainside using portable sensors in partnership with Swansea University.
That mountainside is one of the reasons that Chris Williams wanted to produce this bike in the first place. His passion is for mountain biking and while lighter carbon fibre bikes are available the managing director of Empire Cycles felt that was an unsuitable material for this rugged of pursuits, “The durability of carbon fibre can’t compare to a metal bike, they are great for road bikes, but when you start chucking yourself down a mountain you risk damaging the frame. I over-engineer my bikes to ensure there are no warranty claims”.
The bike is shaped with topological optimisation; weight is removed from low stress areas and redistributed to high-pressure areas meaning weight is not used in wasteful area. This requires the ability to build complex internal structures, which we all know is one of the best properties of additive manufacturing and something, which Renishaw are veritable experts on.
Another reason that Empire Cycles and Renishaw are perfect bedfellows is the fact that they’re both based here in the UK. Chris has become increasingly frustrated with the monopoly the Chinese manufacturers have over the bike frame market, as he informed Jim in the September issue of TCT: “My dream was to bring bicycle manufacture back to the UK. We have a glorious manufacturing past and present but we are totally underrepresented in this area. The problem comes from being price competitive with lower-cost economies in the Far East. It’s simply not possibly to compete like-for-like with the higher energy and labour costs here in the UK.”
The partnership between the Gloucestershire-based Renishaw and Bolton-based Empire Cycles is certainly one made in the UK. The two parties met approximately half way between the two HQs at the NEC in Birmingham at the only Additive Manufacturing show in the UK… TCT of course.
This project has highlighted that excellent results can be achieved by working closely with customers. If you have a component that would benefit from additive manufacture please contact your local Renishaw office for further information.