A collaboration between South West-based tech and precision engineering companies Altair, HiETA and Renishaw has allowed bike-production startup Robot Bike Company to create designs for bespoke bikes unique to every customer in a matter of seconds. 20 seconds in fact.
“Think of Robot Bike Co. as the Savile Row of the bike world”
The titanium joints – or lugs – (see right) of the bikes are created by HiETA which prints them in three dimensions at exactly the right angles to fit pretty much any size bike using a technique called additive manufacturing (AM).
All you need to do is put in your measurements using Robot Bike Company’s online site, which has a database of over 225,720 geometric possibilities, and in a matter of seconds the algorithms will come up with a frame design that is ready to be made and perfect for your size.
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As Ed Haythornthwaite, founder of Robot Bike Company tells us “If you are trying to produce the very best frame it makes no sense to then only offer it in a small number of sizes when the people you are selling it to come in all shapes and sizes. Think of Robot Bike Co. as the Savile Row of the bike world.”
Optimisation is key to great design
Simulation specialists Altair optimised the design of the connectors, reducing their weight and reducing the amount of components needed without compromising performance.
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As Paul Kirkham, Team Leader at Altair’s Bristol office explains: “Additive manufacturing is the perfect partner for design optimisation techniques as it allows us to produce components and systems that are far closer to the ideal balance of weight and performance.”
Not possible before now
Robot Bike Company’s aim to create a bespoke bike from start to finish is only possible due to the advancements in AM as a manufacturing process, and Bristol-based HiETA is at the forefront of AM development and has its own advanced engineering technology centre, stocked with AM machines provided by Renishaw.
“Additive manufacturing literally opened up a whole new playing field for us”
Impressively, the Gloucester-based company is the UK’s only manufacturer of metal additive manufacturing systems (see left) which user lasers to fuse metal powder together into the desired shapes.
As Ed Haythornthwaite, founder of Robot Bike Company tells us, “Additive manufacturing literally opened up a whole new playing field for us. Without this advancement in technology we simply wouldn’t have been able to create such a high performance custom frame.”
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The process required to make a bike frame fit to the exact measurements of a customer would normally takes months, as it would require retooling and resetting the machines used to make the frame. Hence most bike frames only coming in two or three sizes. Now with computer aided design (CAD) that feeds into additive manufacturing machines they have eliminated the need for moulds.
“We want to show we can do what everyone says you can do with additive manufacturing”
Mike Adams CEO of Heita (pictured left) – who specialises in designing AM components – believes the bike is a way of showcasing the potential of AM. He explains: “We want to show we can do what everyone says you can do with additive manufacturing.”
Ed adds: “Aside from allowing us to create custom frames the AM process also gives us a distinct advantage when it comes to product development and reacting to new trends and standards, as we aren’t constrained by expensive tooling.”
A from-start-to-finish product
The bike is a clear demonstration of the success of engineering in the South West.
“[The bike] showcases a real example of AM facilitating mass customisation from web browser to customer”
The companies involved in the collaboration see the potential for this new engineering process to stretch across other industries and projects beyond bikes. As Mike explains: “[The bike] showcases a real example of AM facilitating mass customisation from web browser to customer.
This collaboration has come at exciting time for Renishaw who turned over £2billion last year, while HiETA and Altair, both based at the Bristol and Bath Science Park, continue to grow by pushing the boundaries of what is possible in bespoke engineering.
The retail price of the bikes will be around £4,395 with a lead time of 4 weeks, and you can add your own specifications to design your own bike to the website right now.
If you would like a custom bike made specially for you, orders are being taken through the Robot Bike website. Alternatively, you can keep up to date with more exciting South West created engineering projects by following @, @ and @ on Twitter.