That's Jim Kor, with the Urbee - the world's first 3D-printed three-wheeled vehicle. Kor talks about 3D printing, digital manufacturing and how these technologies may change the way motorcycles are designed and produced in the near future...
Based in Canada, Jim Kor graduated as a mechanical engineer from University of Manitoba in 1974 and spent a decade designing farm machinery – tractors and combines etc. These days, though, he’s on to something that’s a bit more exciting. His companies, KOR Product Design (an international design consultancy with operations in Canada, the US and Europe…) and KOR Ecologic are now in the process of building the world’s first 3D-printed car – the Urbee – which is actually a ‘trike’ since it only has three wheels.
So, what exactly is 3D printing? Well, originally used exclusively by engineering types for verifying prototype designs, 3D printing is now being considered as a means to mass production. Digital manufacturing? Yeah, well, the time has come for that, it seems. Things like a remote-controlled model airplane and a bicycle have already been 3D printed, so why not a trike? Or, indeed, a motorcycle…?
For more on 3D printers, 3D printing and how it works, go here. In this article, we’ll stick to how 3D printing may be relevant to motorcycles in the future.
The Urbee is the first vehicle that features full-size ABS plastic body panels that have been 3D-printed, not produced in a conventional factory. Yes, the Urbee has been ‘printed’ by the Stratasys Fortus 3D Printer. ‘During the development program, we became aware that this manufacturing process has significant potential for producing extremely light, strong, and environmentally-benign structures,’ says a note from the company. ‘We feel 3D printing is transformational as a manufacturing process, because it constructs in a manner similar to how bees build beehives. We believe only the 3D printing process can create structures as sophisticated as found in Nature,’ it adds.
Another note from Kor explains that in many countries, the Urbee will, once it’s ready to the road, be registered as a motorcycle since it only has three wheels. This bike/trike/3-wheeled-car has been designed so it’s ultra safe and will ultimately be fitted with all the accoutrements that will make it fully roadworthy and street-legal. It’s still (very) early days, of course.
“We are not, as of today, in a position to produce cars. We are only at the start of the second prototype stage. After the second prototype, we would need a pilot-run of 10 or so units, and then an initial production run could be considered,” says Kor. “As of today, the project still requires millions of dollars of investment before we are in such a position to sell cars to the public,” he adds.
With 3D printing, Kor’s aims are to simplify the manufacturing process and make it less expensive, reduce wastage and produce vehicles that are lightweight, fuel efficient and very functional. And if that can work for cars/trikes, can it also work for motorcycles? With that in mind, we caught up with Kor for a quick chat, and here are some excerpts from what he had to say about the possibility of 3D-printed motorcycles:
On whether 3D printing can really be used to produce motorcycles and the advantages of using this technology over traditional manufacturing methods
I believe it is already finding application in the custom motorcycle business. Here, volumes are typically low and yet the builder can use plastic production parts within the motorcycle without the need for expensive tooling.
The plastic part that typically holds the instrument cluster comes to mind as the perfect initial application for 3D printing. If this part utilized tooling, the design of the part could not change over time – tooling produces many of the same part, and tends to 'freeze' the design, because tooling is typically very expensive. With 3D printing, each part can be different, based upon the design, and this capability closely fits the idea of 'custom' motorcycles.
The cost and strength of 3D parts makes this practical, and the process is now called 'digital manufacturing' or the making of production parts using 3D printers. Redeye on Demand / Stratasys, located in Minneapolis, is a world leader in the emerging field of Digital Manufacturing.
On whether 3D printing will provide more flexibility in terms of motorcycle design and the materials used to build a bike
Yes, absolutely. Using 3D printers liberates designers to think of highly complex structures at the concept and design stages, knowing that digital manufacturing can make these parts, which they can visualize, in production.
Opportunities will arise, I believe, in the areas of making of very light and strong parts, utilizing a wide variety of materials (plastics, metals, etc.), and hopefully more environmental materials that are 100% recyclable. Also, reducing or eliminating waste because this is an additive process that only places material where one needs it, allowing greater customization and flexibility at the production level (due to no need for tooling)
3D printing will also allow easier and faster entry into production by both start-ups and established manufacturers (mainly because no tooling is required) and will allow the integration of many traditionally simpler parts into fewer, much more complicated 3D printed parts. This will possibly be more economical and may also lead to overall better design.
On whether the next-generation of powered two-wheelers, perhaps those that use electric propulsion rather than an IC engine, is likely to benefit more from 3D printing technology
I think digital manufacturing will benefit a wide variety of manufacturers and customers. Early adopters will likely be start-ups – possibly such as next-gen electric motorcycles – but the very large corporations that visualize the potential benefits are also proving to be early adopters.
On 3D printing tech going mainstream in the motorcycle production context
Production parts [made using 3D printing technology] are being made NOW, that are built into production motorcycles and cars that are sold to the public. I have no doubt that these parts will grow in number and in variety as the advantages of digital manufacturing are better understood, and as costs involved continue to come down.
We think 3D printing technology is pretty fascinating and we hope it comes to mainstream motorcycle manufacturing sometime soon. We also thank Jim for taking the time to talk to Faster and Faster, and wish him all the best for the Urbee and other future projects