Additive manufacturing races ahead

Having been employed by additive manufacturing specialist 3T RPD since 2000, Martyn Harris had a certain advantage when he started his new business, RaceWare Direct, to manufacture bespoke plastic brackets for mounting instruments onto racing bikes and to produce titanium components like chain catchers and handlebar stems.

The new venture came into being in early 2012, after he tried to buy a mount to secure a computerised power meter safely and neatly to his aero extension TT bars (forward facing extensions to a bike's handlebars that improve aerodynamics in time trials). He said, "All I could find was a horrible adaptor kit, which included cable ties to lash up the instrument to the bars, so I thought I would make my own mount using the EOS additive manufacturing machines at work. He quickly discovered via the internet that a lot of other people were looking for ways to mount power meters, global positioning systems (GPS), cameras and other instruments to their bikes, without using the manufacturers' clunky bracketry. One of Harris' contacts was cycling enthusiast Jason Swann, who sent through a CAD file of his ideal mount for a Garmin Edge GPS. It took just four months to progress from the first iteration to the wide range of products that RaceWare now sells online for mounting Garmin equipment onto road drop bars and aero extensions. They cater for every possible bar size and stem width combination to allow perfect central positioning of the GPS device. The mounts can be painted after vibro-finishing if the customer prefers a neon colour to the white of the EOS PA2200 nylon material from which the products are 3D printed. The variety of Garmin mounts manufactured means that batch sizes are small, from 10-off to the low thousands. It would not be cost-effective to produce them by injection moulding, as the tooling would be prohibitively expensive. Building 3D parts directly, layer-by-layer, not only involves much lower initial outlay but also speeds progress from the drawing stage, through honing the design in CAD and 3D printing prototypes, to production of the finished articles. Martyn continued, "People find it difficult to understand how we produce new parts so rapidly. They ask about lead-time and I reply 'two to three weeks', whereas they are used to hearing six months to a year. "It allows us to respond very quickly. For example, I produced in a matter of days two bespoke Garmin 500 mounts with lettering down the side saying 'Reading GP 2013', one each for the winner of the men's and ladies' races at a meeting in July." RaceWare also markets lightweight metal bike parts, which are manufactured additively in EOS machines designed for producing a nest of components, layer-by-layer, from metal powder rather than plastic. In addition to the hollow titanium chain catcher, which is now a commercial product, and the very stiff handlebar stem, which is still at prototype stage, Martyn has just started offering a titanium race number holder and will be looking to introduce more metal parts next year. The powder material used for these applications is EOS Titanium Ti64.