3D Printed Motorcycle
In fall 2014, TE Connectivity burst into uncharted territory, becoming the first company to use the additive manufacturing process to print a functional 3D motorcycle.
In the new but growing realm of additive manufacturing, engineers are making strides toward producing more complex, robust products that actually function in the real world. Engineers start by programing a computer with the digital pattern for a product, which dictates how strands of plastic will print together in layers. As these layers print and overlap, they fuse together to form a single part. Over the years, engineers have used this technology to successfully print pizzas, chocolate bars, dresses, and even a flute and violin.
The 3D Motorcycle
In fall 2014, though, TE Connectivity burst into unchartered territory, becoming the first company to use the additive manufacturing process to print a functional 3D motorcycle.
“Additive manufacturing is the ability to take and create something by putting materials together,” explained Chuck Fry, a principal electrical engineer on the Additive Manufacturing Team at TE.
Additive manufacturing goes a step further than 3D printing because it allows engineers to add things as they go along in order to customize the final product.
“For example, the headlight was 3D printed and then it was finished, and then we added copper and then nickel plating on top of it,” Fry said. “Everything was done in an additive fashion instead of the standard methods of manufacturing. In additive manufacturing, you add things to it rather than subtract.”
The motorcycle is a custom hardtail design and features a frame, wheel bearings, handlebars and seat all printed in plastic. It is 8 feet long, weighs 250 pounds, and can support 181kg, or two adult riders. The motor produces 1 horsepower, allowing it to travel at 10-15 mph for several minutes.
TE chose to do a custom hardtail, rather than starting with designs based on common models because it allowed engineers to have more freedom.
“Starting with a custom design allowed us to display what additive manufacturing is all about,” Fry said. “And that’s the ability to make custom features, custom designs. That type of customization is something that is easy in additive manufacturing and difficult in regular manufacturing.
With this exciting advancement, TE has demonstrated the potential for 3D printing as a viable method to produce real-world products.
“We decided to do this motorcycle because we wanted to…demonstrate the capabilities of additive manufacturing and 3D printing,” Fry said. “We needed people to see what it was capable of. It can do things that can’t be done otherwise.