How BMW are pi­o­neer­ing 3D print­ing in bikes


‘It has sim­i­lar strength to a cast beam frame’ BMW’S THORSTEN BURKETT

In re­cent years 3D print­ing has been in the head­lines for cre­at­ing ev­ery­thing from pros­thetic limbs to guns so it’s no sur­prise bike firms have now got in on the act. The tech­nique be­gan to be adopted by the R&D de­part­ments of bike firms as long as 15 years ago, first for mak­ing pro­to­type parts in plas­tic. And as the tech­nol­ogy has im­proved, the parts have got big­ger and more com­plex, cul­mi­nat­ing with BMW 3D print­ing an en­tire S1000RR frame ear­lier this year. So how does it work?

In sim­ple terms, 3D print­ing in­volves us­ing a laser to melt pow­dered metal or plas­tic to from a solid. By do­ing this in very fine lay­ers it is pos­si­ble to pro­duce an ob­ject of al­most any shape or spec­i­fi­ca­tion. BMW’s Thorsten Burk­ert, Project Man­ager for BMW’s ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing de­part­ment, told MCN:

“The ma­te­rial which comes from metal­lic 3D print­ing is com­pa­ra­ble with cast­ing. We can use it for very fast it­er­a­tions of pro­to­type parts. With con­trolled so­lid­i­fi­ca­tion the me­chan­ics of the parts can be as strong as they would be with a cast item but of course you can work much quicker as you don’t need to cre­ate any tool­ing. We can work with alu­minium, some steels, ti­ta­nium and even gold.” Rapid pro­to­typ­ing is the main ad­van­tage of 3D print­ing as parts that would nor­mally be cast from metal or moulded from plas­tic can now be made from scratch in just hours. The other ad­van­tage is that there are vir­tu­ally no con­straints when it comes to shape. For ex­am­ple when BMW de­signed the pro­to­type S1000RR frame, they weren’t re­stricted to flat frame spars.

“We de­signed the frame for the S1000RR us­ing Fi­nite El­e­ment Anal­y­sis and it has a sim­i­lar rigid­ity as a stan­dard cast beam frame,” says Thorsten. “Mak­ing this frame from scratch would take about five days but that is still faster than a pro­to­type frame and it’s much eas­ier to change the de­sign.” Even so, it’s un­likely we’ll see mass-pro­duced, 3D printed frames any time soon as, although the tech­nique can pro­duce one-off parts fast, when it comes to mass pro­duc­tion it’s still painfully slow. How­ever, there are other ar­eas where 3D print­ing be an ad­van­tage for bik­ers. for ex­am­ple restora­tion. BMW al­ready uses the tech­nique to cre­ate parts that are no longer read­ily avail­able. This can ei­ther be done by con­vert­ing old blue­prints into CAD de­signs or, if not they’re avail­able, by us­ing a 3D laser scan­ner. And as the tech­nol­ogy gets cheaper it could be a boon for clas­sics own­ers. An­other area is in per­son­alised parts and ac­ces­sories. BMW al­ready pro­duce a range of 3D-printed trim pan­els for the Mini car and it wouldn’t take a huge leap for­ward for the next-gen­er­a­tion GS to have per­son­alised footrest plates or tank plas­tics.

S1000RR was cho­sen for pro­to­type printed frame

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