Quite some time ago I promised to have a look at the potential of 3D printing in relation to quick production of frame prototypes. It seems that especially when it comes to fast turnaround on prototype parts, 3D printing offers clear advantages.
Recently the complete printing of a nylon bicycle has attracted a bit of attention. Interestingly in the last part of the article they suggest that this process may soon be the main source for the creation of molds for smaller parts.
A decade into the future you would probably expect to see Additive Layer Manufacturing used extensively with regards to complete objects. For the time being, rapid prototyping of parts is common.
This company has been at Taipei Cycle for a few years now. Their 3D printer was the subject of constant interest. Bystanders were able to watch the printer here at work.
Some of the objects that had been created.
This is a component mold around which carbon fiber is wrapped. The vendor is holding it in this position so the serial number is not visible and thus preserving client anonymity. The whole piece is made of around 7 separate pieces that can be quickly disassembled.
This capability would be great to have when developing a new frame. Moving from a design prototype to a working prototype would be much quicker. But once you get to a prototype built from the original material, fine tuning, weight distribution and other technical considerations means you need to be working with this material. No substitutes will do in this situation.
It would seem that the idea is gaining more acceptability in the industry although there is still little appreciation of the possibilities. As it stands, 3D printing is probably best viewed as a supplement to existing processes, although you would have to say that there is the possibility of revolutionary impacts down the road. The coming together of ALM and advances in composites in the future might prove very interesting.