Robot Bike Company Turns to solidThinking for Custom Mountain Bikes
Simon Martin posted on July 11, 2016 |

As more manufacturers combine additive manufacturing (AM) processes with innovative design techniques using modern software, the products once thought of as "one-size-fits-all" are becoming increasingly personalized. One such manufacturer is UK-based Robot Bike Company.

Due to the unique construction method, all Robot Bike Company frames are configured to a rider’s individual specifications. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
Due to the unique construction method, all Robot Bike Company frames are configured to a rider’s individual specifications. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
Founded by a team of four friends with the goal of "creating the best bike frames possible,” the Robot Bike Company tailors high-end mountain bikes to individual customers. Discerning riders input their weight, height and riding style. The customized bike is sent to the customer within weeks.

Although other industries have demonstrated the potential for AM finished parts—particularly F1 racing and aerospace—the bicycle industry has yet to bring a finished commercial product to market that is both customizable and priced competitively. At least, it did until now.

The parametric baseline frame design allows the company’s design engineers to quickly input customer fit and ride requirements and output a design in a streamlined process. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
The parametric baseline frame design allows the company’s design engineers to quickly input customer fit and ride requirements and output a design in a streamlined process. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
To design a world-class mountain bike that takes full advantage of AM technologies, Robot Bike Company teamed up with simulation specialist Altair to aid in optimizing the bike's additively manufactured parts to the specifications of customers.

The design team used topology optimization, more common in automotive and aerospace industries, to maximize product performance. Using Altair’s solidThinking Inspire, material in the frame’s titanium connections could be removed, reducing the overall weight without compromising the part’s structural integrity or performance. This also helped to eliminate the need for additional parts

In this exclusive interview with ENGINEERING.com, Ed Haythornthwaite, cofounder of Robot Bike Company, delves into more detail about how the company brought "the best bike frame possible” from sketch to reality using today's advanced manufacturing tools and processes.


What makes your bicycle different from other additively manufactured bikes?

It isn’t an additively manufactured bike, per se. We use additive-manufactured titanium lugs and proprietary CFRP [carbon-fiber–reinforced polymer] tubing to enable the frame to be produced bespoke to a customer’s measurements, also enabling a unique double lap shear joint in the areas where the titanium and carbon meet. This enables us to offer the most robust bonded joint possible.

 

How is the user experience different from buying a traditional pre-fabricated bicycle?

With a traditional bike, you typically walk into a shop and choose which one fits you best from a range of three or so sizes. Obviously, riders come in many more shapes and sizes than three, so that “best” fit is almost always going to be a compromise. Even if you are lucky enough to get the fit right, you may not like the way a bike handles.

In contrast, when buying a Robot Bike Co. frame, each and every one is custom-made—so it fits you perfectly and rides just the way you want it to. You may have to wait a little longer to get hold of one, but we believe the wait is more than worth it.

Think of it as the difference between buying an off-the-peg suit compared with a bespoke one from [a tailor such as] Savile Row. With a Robot Bike Co. frame, you also get to speak directly to the people making the frame. You can even come and see it being made.

Robot Bike Company worked with solidThinking for topology optimization to ensure parts are lightweight without compromising structural integrity. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
Robot Bike Company worked with solidThinking for topology optimization to ensure parts are lightweight without compromising structural integrity. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
 

Tell us a little bit about your design process, starting from the concept stage. How do solidThinking Inspire and Evolve fit into your workflow?

After developing the suspension kinematic, construction design methodology and aesthetic design, we utilized solidThinking Inspire in conjunction with Altair to enable the detailed design through stress-based topological optimization, giving us confidence that we have a robust yet lightweight design based on the load cases acting on the bike.

Once the basic optimization was carried out, [it] was integrated into our final parametric CAD model developed in conjunction with HiETA Technologies—a specialist AM development and project engineering company based in Bristol, UK—using SOLIDWORKS, giving us the functionality to output unique frame designs based on a customer’s geometry input at the click of a button.

 

Why did you choose solidThinking Inspire and Evolve rather than other design packages?

solidThinking Inspire and Evolve were chosen as they enable us to generate a very efficient design [for] a complex product with multiple load cases and sell our product with the full confidence of a lifetime warranty.


What are some standout features in solidThinking Inspire and Evolve that you think contributed to the success of the finished product?

We were able to balance multiple load cases with manufacturing constraints to enable a lightweight product which is efficient to manufacture, while offering high performance.

 

Were any other supplementary software tools used in the design?

We also utilized Altair HyperWorks to carry out finite element analysis, followed by SOLIDWORKS for detailed design and parametric model development.

A finished part in titanium, chosen for its strength, resilience and light weight. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
A finished part in titanium, chosen for its strength, resilience and light weight. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
Frame assembly showing AM titanium parts in place. (Image courtesy of Robot Bike Company.)
Frame assembly showing AM titanium parts in place. (Image courtesy of Robot Bike Company.)

 

Has your “rapid prototyping process” changed at all considering that your finished product is also 3D-printed?

With the strong CAD tools [we] used and working closely with Renishaw’s support with its AM machines, we have been able to move effectively from design concept to a final product seamlessly. [We produced] seven iterations of the test bike, all of which have been exhaustively ridden and validate to improve and develop our concept to production.

 

Due to the nature of how your bicycles are manufactured, do you think that there is a possibility that Robot Bikes could soon have a distributed manufacturing-based supply chain where bikes are manufactured locally near a customer?

In theory, yes, it could be done—but our construction technique does require some specialist expertise, especially when it comes to the bonding of the lugs and tubes. For this reason, we want to keep assembly in-house to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance.

 

What are some of the unforeseen hurdles that you have run into which might be different from those seen in traditional manufacturing processes?

AM offers new possibilities in terms of design, but there are manufacturing constraints—[they are] just different ones compared to conventional techniques. The biggest challenge is managing residual stress build-up in the parts and ensuring distortion is controlled by following AM process design rules. Fortunately, we have a lot of experience in this area and have balanced design techniques with support structure design and post-processing know-how.

 

What do you think the near future holds for digital fabrication—both for Robot Bikes as well as other product creators?

For us, we see the technology as a key enabler—to grow a fantastic, innovative new business and massively improve people’s experiences out on the trails by offering a product personal to them. This potential for mass customization crosses over into many areas, from jewelry and consumer products through to helping people with disabilities.

The final frame designs have been tested thoroughly by a World-Cup-level test rider. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)
The final frame designs have been tested thoroughly by a World-Cup-level test rider. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)

With its unique and innovative approach of fitting the frame to the rider using modern design tools such as solidThinking Inspire and Evolve, Robot Bike Company is not only blazing a trail for other bike manufacturers to follow––but entire other industries as well.   

The retail price for the R160 mountain bike, which is now available in the U.S., will be around $5,691 (£4,395) with a lead time of four weeks. Those interested can input their personal specs at the Robot Bike Company Frame Customizer to start the process of creating their own customized mountain bike.


Altair solidThinking has sponsored ENGINEERING.com to review this product. It has provided no editorial input to this review other than verification of the technical facts. All opinions are mine. —Simon Martin

Recommended For You