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How 3D printers made a motorcycle, skis and snowboard

Lucas Mearian | May 22, 2015
Large production parts can be commonplace now with 3D printing.

Even the bearings are plastic, which Fry said have held up to the heat and stress of more than 20 miles of riding. "The bearings proved to be very rugged," he said.

Aside from the motor,  which was purchased separately, the only parts of the bike that weren't printed were its belt drive, side mirrors and its kickstand, Fry said. Those parts were afterthoughts, and the mirrors were added for bling and the kickstand for convenience when showing the motorcycle.

Building a large object like a motorcycle doesn't come without some major frustrations, including 3D printers that malfunctioned, power outages that shut down a print midway through, and misprints that forced engineers to go back to the drawing board.

"It took us 150 to 170 hours of build time for the frame," Fry said. "As we got halfway through some prints, they'd fail; that can really add time to the build."

An odd speed bump in the build process was created by residual solvent left behind after being used to remove an extensive amount of support material left over from the 3D-printing process. Support scaffolding is often printed to hold up parts with gaps and projecting cantilevers until printing is finished. Then the support material is either cut away or dissolved using solvents.

The solvent fluid would settle in nooks and crannies of the motorcycle and continue to weep from the bike for weeks, often fouling finishing operations and leaving streaking on the surface of parts.

Fry said he learned the hard way to meticulously clean the solvent from bike and finishing processes.

3D printing your snow sports

Like TE Connectivity, industrial 3D printer maker Stratasys had something to prove when its Skunkworks division set out to manufacture working skis and a snowboard.

Dominic Mannella, a senior applications engineer with Stratasys Skunkworks, said the one thing he didn't have to concern himself with was designing the skis or snowboard.

There is, what Mannella called, a "vibrant" online DIY ski community, and he was able to find all the plans he needed to construct the skis from CAD drawings.

The only part not printed were the skis' bindings.

The skis, modeled after ones from the snow sports company K2, took 120 hours to print. As with all ski bottoms, a slippery layer of P-Tex (polyethylene) became the base on which all other layers were added.

The center, and the thickest layer of the skis, were printed on an enormous Stratasys Fortis 900c 3D printer using an FDM process extruding Ultem 9085 polymer filament. The Ultem is strong and resists moisture, Mannella said. The skis required 50 layers of Ultem to complete.


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