Without a doubt, innovations have made the manufacture of many products easier and less expensive. One of these innovative technologies is the application of 3D printing in the production of motorcycle replacement parts.
In this article, we would be considering the impact of 3D printing on the motorcycle part industry as it pertains to cost, pros, and cons.
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What does 3D mean?
3D is an acronym representing objects in 3-dimensional planes, meaning it has height, width, and length. A typical example is our environment, and that is because, as humans, our brain replicates images into a 3D visual representation.
What is 3D printing?
When we talk about 3D printing or additive manufacturing, we are simply referring to creating an object represented in three-dimensional forms from a digital 3D model or CAD model.
3D printing may involve several processes that entail deposition, joining together, and solidifying materials layer by layer under computerized control until a 3-dimensional object is formed. The material could be powder granules or liquid molecules.
3D printing was primarily used to produce prototypes. Only recently did some companies start employing it as a full-fledged manufacturing process.
How does 3D printing work?
3D printers operate more like a plotter; it moves a print head along the X and Y axis path, drawing patterns in the process. A 3D printer draws this pattern with polymer instead of ink. It makes 3-dimensional objects when the print surface moves down (upward movement of the print head), and the same process repeats itself when another pattern is drawn.
Several printers used for 3D printing or additive manufacturing exist, but we will be considering two of them: the fused-deposition modeling (FDM) and the Stereolithography model (SLA).
During the FDM printing process, rolls of filaments are first arranged as its source material. They are arranged in strands ranging from 1.75 to 2.85 millimeters in width rolled on a spindle. The printer increases the heat of the filament and pressures it out through an extruder nozzle.
The extruding material lays down layer by layer on a built surface, these layers are very thin, and as they are placed on each other, they fuse partially to form an object. Most objects created through this method consist of hundreds to thousands of layers.
On the other hand, Stereolithography (SLA) uses a liquid compound known as ‘resin’ as its formative material. A pre-constructed tray is released into the compound most times upside down, then induced light causes a chemical reaction to occur, which causes the resin to solidify; the light can be sourced from an LCD or an ultraviolet laser.
As one layer hardens after exposure to light, another layer is being raised out of the resin pool by the build platform for hardening. Fused-deposition modeling (FDM) is largely used for 3D printing involving material extrusion, while Stereolithography is mostly used for 3D printing involving light polymerization.
Both printing technologies have reached an affordable price range where consumers, educators, and small businesses can purchase them. Still, their use is limited to the making of nylon-like materials, plastic and plastic composites.
Other 3D printing models designed to fabricate materials with metallic properties include:
- Power bed model, which forms objects from fused powder.
- Laminated Object Manufacturing, which cuts objects into shapes after gluing sheets of materials together.
- Directed energy deposition, which operates with the combined technicality of an FDM printer and a welding machine.
Is 3D printing really expensive?
While the expense of 3D printing is mostly relative, it is far cheaper and less time consuming to employ 3D printing in the creation of prototypes, tools, and jigs.
However, after setting up and purchasing tools, traditional models like injection molding can quickly produce objects in large quantities and at a minimal cost.
How is 3D printing applicable in printing motorcycle parts?
3D printing is the creation of 3-dimensional objects from digital designs on your computer. Since replaceable motorcycle parts are relatively small in size, some small businesses and private owners have been able to use 3D printing to their advantage by making custom parts or replacement parts using the technology.
The first step in this endeavor is to get a digital design of the part to be designed. Since you do not have access to the original CAD (Computer-Aided Design) template of the motorcycle’s part, you most likely won’t have any design to work with, so you must find a way to produce it.
There are two ways by which you can produce the digital design. One way is to hire a CAD expert who would observe the module you want to replace and create a 3D model from his/her observation details.
The CAD expert would take information in all directions into detail and build a model from scratch. This could take a considerable amount of time. The challenge with this method is the co-joined nature of certain parts such as side mirrors; they would need to be taken out separately, observed, and then modeled in the CAD format.
The second method involves running a 3D scan on the object to obtain a digital model. This is, however, a simpler version of the first technique. The parts will be taken out, run through a scan, and a raw representation of the scan would be sent to a system where a CAD expert would trace the scans’ edges to recreate the 3D model.
After creating a 3D model for the motorcycle part, we can create the real objects after CAD (Computer-Aided Design) runs the model through slicers. The slicing process converts the 3D virtual model in the computer into machine movement sequences on a 2-dimensional plane.
It is safe to initially produce some prototypes with inexpensive materials initially because some 3D models do not get it right. You could use the prototypes to test for size with the motorcycle. If it does not fit in, then you have the opportunity to adjust the 3D model again. This can take several trials before the right 3D model is printed, and this depends on the precision of the CAD expert.
When choosing 3D printing materials regarding motorcycle replacement parts, plastic parts should be made of weatherproof ASA instead of ABS, which deteriorates under intense UV sunlight. Some parts still have to be painted to prevent them from degrading due to effects from weather elements. In most cases, different motorcycle parts are printed with the materials which best fit their use.
Lastly, the printed parts are trimmed from any stray structure that may have attached itself during the printing process, and their surfaces are then smoothened. While the interior side of the replacement motorcycle part can be ignored, the exterior is preferably smoothened manually by rubbing fine sandpaper on it. This also provides an ample surface for the application and retention of paints. You can then couple and test with the bike.
Several companies have now inculcated 3D printing in making parts of their bikes with some of these companies making bikes from the ground up through 3D printing. One such company is a small company named MotorbikeMad.
Other motorcycle companies with 3D printing in their motorcycle part production include BornMotor.CA and Alabama-based Curtiss Motorcycles.
Advantages of 3D printing for motorcycle replacement parts
- 3D printers are not very expensive to purchase, making 3D printing possible for local businesses and private owners.
- It saves time by allowing motorcycle part design to be stored in digital form only to be printed when needed.
- It is useful for small scale production and short-run manufacturing for those with entrepreneurial ambition.
- It allows you to create your motorcycle yourself, you only have to hire a CAD expert for the design, and if you are a CAD expert yourself, it saves you the cost of that.
- Firms have created jobs by employing personnel to work one chain or the other in 3D printing. Some could function as CAD designers, painters, trimmers, or assemblers.
Hiccups with using 3D printing
The ease of production may differ between printing models and materials.
If the wrong specifications were entered during virtual 3D creation, the parts would not fit, and the process has to be restarted.
You may spend some money hiring a CAD expert for designs.
3D printing has made the replacement of motorcycle parts easy and affordable. This modern and innovative process allowed users to design and create exact replicas of damaged or worn out motorcycle parts that otherwise could only be re-engineered before, which in most cases cost more. 3D printing has indeed raised the motorcycle production game and spiked the imagination and creativity of riders and designers alike.
About the Author
Okonkwo Noble understands the need for sustainable travel. He is a foremost travel enthusiast, an Electrical electronic engineer, and an adventurer. When he’s not writing for Road Racerz, he volunteers as a part-time English teacher for Internally displaced children.