TROY (WWJ) — The Troy design software developer solidThinking Inc. announced that its Inspire 9.5 software was used in the manufacture of the world’s first 3D printed metal bicycle frame.

Renishaw, the United Kingdom’s only manufacturer of an “additive manufacturing” machine that works in metal, made the frame for Chris Williams of Empire Cycles, a British bicycle design and manufacturing company.

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Empire designed the mountain bike to take advantage of Renishaw’s additive manufacturing technology, allowing the creation of a titanium frame that would be both strong and light.

Renishaw used Inspire to perform the topological optimization and concept generation. Inspire generated a new material layout within the package space using the loads and supports as input. This provided a concept that not only met performance targets, but also achieved minimum mass. Lightweighting was the ultimate aim of the project, resulting in parts that are designed for maximum strength with minimum weight. The new seat post is 45 percent lighter than the original.

“We took the seat post bracket from 360 grams down to 200 grams, and weight savings does not require compensation in other areas,” said Renishaw marketing manager Robin Weston. “We have not yet fully exploited the possibilities of finite element analysis, which is a big job for a project like this. What we have been able to do is get close to optimum and test the bike in the real world with a whole host of sensors on the frame, collecting actual data and optimizing from there.”

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Added solidThinking program manager Andrew Bartels: “The seat post bracket created by Renishaw is a truly revolutionary use of solidThinking Inspire and additive manufacturing. A 45 percent weight reduction on this part not only helps to increase performance, but can also help to decrease material costs.”

With significant weight savings achieved on a single component, and some reservations Williams had about the design, the scope suddenly expanded.

Williams said the use of standard frame materials really inhibited design freedom: “As we looked at the main aluminum frame and its 2100-gram contribution to overall weight, we knew we could help to create something just as strong but much lighter. From there the idea that we could do more, even all of the major frame components, came together. As no tooling is required, continual design improvements can be made easily, and because component cost is based on volume rather than complexity, some very light parts are possible at minimal cost.”

Renishaw will present its work and exhibit the Empire bike at this year’s European Altair Technology Conference from June 24-26 in Munich, Germany. More about the event at

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