Way back in those crazed eighties when most kids were watching a Steven Spielberg movie on their Betamax or learning to moonwalk like Michael Jackson, I was doing my best impression of emulating the stars of BMX Bandits – although I never could find a girl that looked like Nicole Kidman collecting trolleys at the local supermarket.

We would visit Tom Dawson at his cycle shop and marvel at the latest Mongoose and Quicksilver BMX bikes – in sizes small and large – and Tom would look at our height and help us adjust the seat height and head stem for maximum efficiency.

Several decades later and not a lot has changed. Buying a modern bike involves measuring up some vital statistics, choosing a frame size and having an expert at your local cycle shop set the seat height and head stem at the correct settings to suit your body.

But that is all about to change.

Superstrata Ion is the first bicycle manufacturer in the world to create each bike based specifically on a rider’s height; weight; arm length and riding style. After various measurements are taken the details are fed into their CAD software and a frame that is specific to you is created on screen – and then 3D printed. Made from carbon fibre, of course, the frame is lightweight and strong and, most importantly, customised specifically for you. Add the required components to the customised frame and you ride off into the sunset using your available power in the most efficient manner.

Not since Suntour invented the slant-parallelogram rear derailleur in 1964 has the bicycle industry undergone such a revolution as that afforded by carbon-fibre. Forget Steel; Reynolds 531 tubing; Duraluminium or even Titanium. Carbon-fibre offers such an incredible strength to weight ratio – approximately ten times that of common steel alloys – that designers often throw out the traditional double-triangle design and start again. The 3D printed carbon-fibre bicycle is the latest iteration of development aided by this wonder material.

Gaining an extra few per cent efficiency from your bicycle is one thing but the 3D printing revolution is opening up an incredible world of development.

The basic concept seems simple. Everything that we know of on this planet is made up of 118 elements. Combine those elements in the correct fashion and you can ‘print’ anything. And manufacturers are doing just that.

The International Space Station has a 3D printer on board to print spare parts that may be needed. Why carry huge inventory in a limited space when you can just print what is required. Tools and musical instruments are being 3D printed. Food is being created and biology is now being developed with prosthetics, human body parts and even human organs. The list seems endless: skin; buildings; clothes; cars; shoes…even 3D printers are being made by using 3D printers!

At this stage, manufacturing high volumes of a product is still more cost efficient using traditional methods rather than 3D printing but the introduction of 3D printing has two significant advantages. Firstly, the production of customised or short-run products is faster and cheaper. Think of the Superstrata Ion as an example. A bike customised just for me using traditional methods would be slow and expensive (two words that may be used to describe me!) Secondly, manufacturers are now using 3D printing for rapid prototyping. A design can go from concept to prototype in a matter of hours not months. This helps bring new designs and concepts to mass market much quicker and at a lower price.

Tell me what you dream of 3D printing at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson

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