3D Printed BicyclesCase StudiesConsumer Products

How Santa Cruz Bicycles leverages 3D printing for custom rides

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Santa Cruz Bicycles is not just any bike manufacturer. The company, based in Santa Cruz (where else!), prides itself on producing some of the highest-quality mountain bikes in the world. However, the company’s manufacturing process can be seen as somewhat conventional: its carbon-fiber bike frames are mass produced in Asia. This meant that when professional street trial and mountain cyclist Danny MacAskill asked the company to develop a custom bike for him, the company had to go somewhat off-road.
To successfully create a customized carbon fiber mountain bike for MacAskill, the Santa Cruz team turned to 3D printing to help move ahead the R&D phase. “Developing Danny’s bike was really uncharted territory for us,” explained Santa Cruz design director Geoff Casey. “We’d never really made anything like that before in-house and determining the (production) timeline…was one of the biggest challenges because we were trying so many new and different things that we’d never done before.”
Santa Cruz Bicycles 3D printing
Test fitting a 3D printed mandrel in the composite lay-up tool
The mountain bike manufacturer came up with several design concepts, which were prototyped using 3D printing and ASA material. The physical prototypes helped the designers to ensure the frame was not only a viable concept but also the right dimensions for MacAskill. Importantly, the technology drastically reduced turnaround times for the product’s development.
“Having a real frame 3D printed in person is really helpful for us because we can see what we need to change without making a carbon tool and a real frame, which takes a lot of time and money,” added senior industrial designer Jack Russell. “It’s so nice to feel the frame in your hand and see the tube proportions in person. You just can’t get that from seeing it on a screen.”
Santa Cruz Bicycles 3D printing
Design concept prototypes made from ASA
Despite the successful implementation of 3D printing for the bike’s design concept prototype, the team was faced with another challenge when the final design was selected: how to efficiently produce a custom bike made from carbon fiber material? Once again, 3D printing proved to be a suitable solution, as it enabled the team to rapidly and cost-efficiently produce custom tools and molds. Specifically, Stratasys‘ 3D printing technology and ULTEM 1010 resin material were used to produce mandrels which formed the basis for mold tooling for the bike frame.

After the successful production of the initial tools, Santa Cruz actually decided to invest in its own Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printer. And now the company is happy to report that it is using additive manufacturing in several operations, including its design and engineering department and its test lab.

Santa Cruz Bicycles 3D printing
3D printed carbon fiber-filled nylon 12 holding fixtures used in fatigue tests

“Because of the great results with the Danny bike project, we actually decided to purchase a Fortus 450mc machine with nylon 12 carbon fiber and ULTEM1010 resin capabilities,” said Santa Cruz R&D manager Nic McCrae. “We’re actually running the printer on a daily basis. I feel like we’ll be able to utilize the vast array of technologies that Stratasys offers and in the end, just develop better bikes quicker, in a more efficient way, and put better products out there for people to enjoy.

“ULTEM 1010 resin helped us create latex bladders that are incredibly precise. They open up the design space to shapes that are traditionally very hard to machine, or would require multiple set-ups on a five-axis machine, which means time and money. With those (tools) we could turn around a design in just a matter of hours, iterate on the shapes and go from CAD to rideable prototype in a matter of weeks.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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