Products and Design

Designing Folding Bicycles using 3D Printed Aluminum: an interview with Mark Walker

Mark testing his 3D printed aluminum parts in the field

Mark testing his 3D printed aluminum parts in the field

A month ago we launched our 3D printed Aluminum. Since then we’ve seen some amazing products come into our factory. Here’s just one example.

Mark Walker of Montague Bikes has been using Shapeways for their their high quality full sized folding bikes. I spoke with Mark to discuss the advantages of 3D printing with Shapeways and how Montague Bikes using our aluminum to prototype their unique bicycles that combine performance with compactness.

Can you tell us a little about Montague Bikes and your role in the company?

Montague is a medium sized bicycle design and distribution company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While a number of companies in our industry focus on selling commodity products, Montague focuses exclusively on products where we have developed the technology from the ground up and own the IP. My role is heading research and development, and some in-the-field testing.

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How has Shapeways helped you create innovative prototypes for bikes? 

Shapeways has been a tremendous value to us by shortening the lead time from concept to product testing. Before, it would take months to CNC complex parts, often to find they did not fit the bill. Now, in a matter of days, Shapeways prints our parts initially in plastic – enabling us to quickly evaluate the form and fit of the concept. This alone is an incredibly valuable step where we can evaluate human interaction much more effectively than we could in traditional CAD/CAE environments.  Once we feel comfortable with this stage, we have Shapeways print in metal – usually only requiring a few weeks. Upon validating printed metal parts, depending on the project, we can often go straight to production, skipping CNC altogether.

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What advantages do you see for using our new Aluminum?

Most of the quality bicycles and accessories sold in our industry are made of aluminum. Having the ability to print in aluminum has been tremendous because it accelerates our path to production. It allows us to test the function of new designs without either the long lead time of traditional metal prototyping or the inherent weakness of 3D-printed plastic. In addition, in some cases we’ve welded printed aluminum parts to existing bike frames, something you can’t do with other 3D-printed materials.

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Do you have any recommendations or advice for designers who are new to using our Aluminum material?

I would recommend printing in plastic first, which allows for pretty rapid iterations if the project warrants it.  Once ready to print in metal, the nice thing about Shapeways aluminum is that it is DMLS processed, which has enabled us to perform post machining (e.g. tapping threads) as well as welding – in order to evaluate the function of certain parts in the larger context of our bicycles.

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The bikes Mark is developing look incredible, and they’re only one of the products that Shapeways helps bring to life everyday. With the industrial strength and lightness of 3D printed aluminum the possibilities are endless. What will you design and create?

Photos courtesy of Mark Walker and Montague Bikes

 

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