Editorial by Will Burgess
There may come a day where you can order that hard to get part you need and have it arrive directly to your home printer… Your 3D printer, that is.
With the right talent, any number of products can easily be reproduced in publicly accessible rendering software, or “Slicers”, to create functional real-world parts and components to repair and replace any kind of good you can imagine.
For example, 3D printing has the capability to make parts for broken cameras, components to rebuild old radios, and, in some cases, can even help construct a working computer.
But how does that translate into powersports? To be blunt: for now, it doesn’t.
The most conventional home printers lack several of the key functions you would require to make practical replacement parts. Commercially available printers tend to only be capable of replicating models with few options for final materials. Typically, these are either thermoplastics or resin, neither of which are ideal when dealing with heavy equipment that gets hot while in use.
Whereas carbon fiber and metal printers exist, as well as laser-cutters, in addition to sever other less conventional types of printers, these still have downsides, no less of which being the cost to maintain the printers as well as materials, to the energy required to operate, and even the space requirements, to name just a few drawbacks.
But first let’s take this to another level of impracticality to get a better scope of just how radically 3D printing could change the powersports landscape.
In 2016, a company called APWorks, a subsidiary of the aerospace giant, Airbus, revealed a prototype 3D-printed motorcycle.
Airbus, but more specifically APWorks—whose stated mission is to upend the traditional manufacturing process through projects like these—has experimented with 3D-printing in the production of their goods.
The aim with their so-called “Light Rider” concept, was to demonstrate how a light-weight (only 77 lbs!), yet sturdy, energy efficient vehicle could be mass produced in an economically viable way using their proprietary metal called Scalmalloy.
To reiterate, this is not something your average at-home printer could do, but imagine if your local dealership had all the machinery required build your bike to order, literally.
If your store stocked a certain quantity of engines, batteries, and other non-printable components, and with the support of capable technicians, within a few hours to days your new fully-custom vehicle could be ready and waiting for you without once sitting on a delivery truck.
For all of this to work, manufacturers need to adopt a major paradigm shift in design, operations, production, logistics, and so forth. Everything from CAD designers becoming 3D modelers, to your dealership becoming the final quality control authority on the road-worthiness of your newly assembled bike.
That’s a big step outside of the comfort zone for both the manufacturer and the retailer.
This radical change may not happen any time soon, but if it starts first in the industry that ranges from practical, light-duty commuter vehicles (ie: scooters and low CC bikes), all the way to recreational luxury goods. Within this stated market, the technology has the ability to not only reach consumers like the impoverished, rural commuter who lives in a remote area away from civilization and is badly in need of cheap transport, but also strike the interests of the cash-laden early adopter who wants that one-of-a-kind UTV with a roll-cage that looks like it’s made out of organic, skeletal parts.
From there, this technology could eventually work its way up to cars, and, yes, even parts.
For now, 3D printing continues to welcome more and more new hobbyists and enthusiasts as the practicality of printing grows easier to use and access.
For today’s home printer engaged in a vehicle repair project, they can replicate long lost parts to vehicles that aren’t produced anymore or are rarely uncovered in junkyards.
With the help of 3D printers even problems as notorious (or infamous) as the missing DeLorean left-front fender could someday have a surefire solution, if not the ability to simply print your own DeLorean from the ground up.
Which begs the next question: how can I 3D print my own time machine?
Cover: The Light Rider, a 3D-printed motorcycle, at an unveiling ceremony for parent company, Airbus, in 2016. | Credit: Airbus
Will Burgess is a journalist with Adrenaline Powersports Mag