The Arc Bicycle
Meet the Arc Bicycle, the futuristic-looking, stainless steel bike that was 3D printed by robotic arm-mounted welders. The bike was designed by a team of students at the Netherlands Delft University of Technology, working in conjunction with the 3D printing startup MX3D.
The importance of the new achievement goes far beyond merely the creation of a novel and aesthetically pleasing means of personal transportation: the methods used to print the bike represent a kind of proof of concept, and are a pioneering new application of multi-axis 3D printing.
The innovation lies in making a broader use of a process called Wire and Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM). It uses multi-axis robotic welding arms—a standard technique in mass production (and familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a car assembly line)—to print an object in midair, in any direction, without the need to rely on support structures of any kind.
Which pretty much means you can print a suite of objects much larger in size than what your run-of-the-mill home 3D printer could handle.
According to the team, “The method allows for multi axis 3D printing, using articulated robot arms because of the self supporting nature of the material. It also allows you to print larger objects than other types of 3D metal printing.”
Of course, the bike has a curious, mesh-like appearance, like a web of steel slung between handlebars and a pair of wheels. But perhaps that’s what we can look forward to in this brave new era of 3D-printed objects—familiar things in wholly unfamiliar shapes and configurations.
Check out the pictures of the slick new bike, and see also the video of it being designed, built, and ridden through the hazardous streets of Delft.
Bridges and More
MX3D has ambitions far beyond 3D printing bikes. Their next goal is to print a steel bridge right across one of Amsterdam’s numerous scenic canals, using the WAAM process and independently mounted robotic welding arms.
Ideally, the technique should be identical to that used to print the bike—scaled up, naturally, and with the difficulties of printing a bridge in situ factored in, of course.
But when we imagine to what future uses such technology can be put, the possibilities are truly staggering. If the idea of portable 3D printers spitting out whatever device one could want, and cheaply, is hard to grasp, think of large-scale printers manufacturing bridges, buildings, aircraft…just about anything.
The technology will revolutionize many fields of human endeavor—space exploration and colonization, medical technology, construction, architecture, economics, to name just a few. And that’s to say nothing of the social implications, in terms of manufacturing and construction jobs lost, formerly expensive goods now cheaply available, etc.
But for now, 3D printing is still in its infancy, and the revolution begins with a small Dutch startup printing bikes and dreaming of printing bridges across the canals of Amsterdam.