Carbon fiber revolutionized the bicycle industry with it’s lighter than titanium, stronger than steel properties, but the time and cost to produce carbon bikes combined with quality control and environmental issues have relegated carbon bikes to the realm of the “money-is-no-object” marketplace.
Now, a Silicon Valley startup with financial backing from In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA among others, has showcased their 3D printed carbon fiber bike which combines the fast production of 3D printing with the strength of carbon fiber. Arevo, headquartered in Santa Clara, CA has developed a new process for producing carbon fiber bike frames that completely revises the process.
Traditional carbon fiber production involves laying down multiple sheets of carbon fiber in a mold in layers, then baking them under high pressure for hours (sometimes days) then joining as many as 500 individual parts to build one high-end bicycle frame. Arevo’s process is completely different not only in the material used but the process. Traditional carbon fiber is comprised of short fibers. Arevo’s press utilizes a single continuous carbon strands and a printer head mounted to a robotic arm to lay down the entire frame. In addition to the new process, a thermoplastic called PEEK (polyether ether ketone), which has been traditionally used in industrial parts and spinal replacement surgery.
The robotic production process pioneered by Arevo takes the labor-intensive process of building a carbon bike from months to days. Jim Miller, Arevo’s CEO said, “The most interesting aspect of this is the capability. Imagine walking into a bike shop and getting custom-fitted to a bike and, because the supply chain is local and can print the bike quickly, you get that custom bike in a few weeks rather than months.”
The revolutionary process will also give existing bicycle manufacturers and advantage in rapid prototyping. Current factories are set up for production stability and not flexible or open to change. Robotic 3D printing would give these comps its the ability to test and prove a design works or doesn’t in a fraction of the time and effort currently required.
While the company admits they are still in the prototype phase with their bike, they are looking to partner with existing bicycle manufacturers to get into the growing bike share, e-bike, and utility bike markets. Their cost-effective robotic production could even make it possible for U.S. based bike manufacturers to compete with Chinese and Taiwanese-made carbon frames.