‘The 3D printed Bicycle’ by James Novak.

james novak features designerBicycle and 3D printing? These are two things that you wouldn’t usually associated in the same sentence. 3D printing is making it’s way into all different parts of our society and now thanks to James Novak there is a 3D printed bicycle. James is a prolific blogger of 3D printing and regularly updates his work through his online blog edditive.

We made contact with James Novak as the design of his 3D printed bicycle caught our eye and we wanted to learn more.  We fired him a few questions to learn more. This is a great interview!

Where did you first learn about 3d printing and what was the catalyst that convinced you to adopt the technology?

I was first exposed to 3D printing way back in 2009 while I was in my second year of a Product Design degree at Griffith University, Australia. I was creating an enclosure for one of my projects, and my lecturer connected me with an engineer at another campus who had this mysterious machine called a 3D printer! At that time it was the only 3D printer in our entire university, maybe one of the only ones in the entire state – some type of a dual material Fortus machine I think. I still have the 3D printed enclosure, it was definitely one of those “aha” moments. From there I was quickly introduced to Shapeways, and used them frequently throughout the rest of my degree, and indeed on through my professional practice after uni for prototyping. However it was not until 2014 that I really engaged with 3D printing as a serious research area. Jennifer Loy, who became the course convenor in my final year of studies, and is now a well known name in 3D printing circles, got in touch with me to help teach a class back at Griffith. I popped into uni for a meeting with her, and will forever remember that day as the real turning point in my career. Now there was an entire 3D printing lab, desktop machines and commercial machines, and I felt like something big was happening. I instantly told Jen that not only would I help her out with some teaching, but I quit my job and enrolled into an Honours program to make 3D printing my focus! At the time it was a scary move, going from a well paying job back to living on 2 minute noodles as a student, but I had always been a bit bored with traditional Industrial Design and had a feeling that 3D printing was just about to take off. And boy am I glad I took the risk!

3d printed bicycle

Looking at your 3d printed bicycle, what was the inspiration behind the design?

So the 3D printed bicycle is the project that formed my Honours research in 2014. While I had been lucky to create a lot of 3D printed prototypes in my professional work, and even had an ‘Up Mini’ desktop printer in our office, I had never found the time to really learn what 3D printing can do – what’s unique about it compared to other manufacturing tools? So I started out by pushing the boundaries, printing lattice structures, breaking the printers, developing new workflows in CAD specifically for 3D printing, breaking the printers, testing materials… did I mention breaking the printers? It was very hands on, it’s really the only way to understand 3D printing properly. Through my research, I was also starting to see some amazing 3D prints like Francis Bitonti’s dress for Dita Von Teese and Jack Evill’s Cortex 3D Printed Cast. However, I was also seeing a lot of bad 3D prints (I won’t say which!) that seemed to be praised as new and cutting edge, but were just copies of existing products 3D printed for the sake of a catchy headline. If a product has been designed and made for injection moulding, there’s no need to 3D print it – unless you completely re-imagine the design and create it to take advantage of the capabilities of 3D printing. So I guess what I’m saying is that my 3D printed bicycle was partially born out of frustration! I wanted to show people how you can take something like a bicycle, which has remained largely unchanged for over one hundred years, and design it from the ground up specifically for 3D printing. By that I mean:

  • The CAD model is completely parametric – the bicycle frame can be customised with a few dimensional changes to suit the measurements of any rider. Customisation of every print is a big advantage of 3D printing. By doing this, there is no need for adjustable parts on the bicycle since it perfectly fits the rider (eg. the saddle height), which also means the overall bike is lighter.
  • Complexity – the lattice structure of the frame could not be manufactured by any other method. It offers some new aerodynamic and weight-saving advantages.
  • Personalisation – the bicycle frame has my name embedded in it as part of the structure, since it is designed for my body geometry.
  • Safety – the frame also includes locations for LED rear lights, meaning that safety is not an optional accessory but built into the design.

What direction is the bicycle heading in? Will it remain a prototype or are you considering commercial manufacturing?

The first question I always get asked at exhibitions and events about the bicycle is, “can I ride it?” Obviously the bicycle is still a plastic prototype, originally printed using SLA in a single piece (very fragile), and more recently printed in 3 sections in Polyamide for better strength. But still far from ridable. I’ve since moved into a PhD, which has gone in new directions away from 3D printing specifically, so the bicycle has not been developed much further – I never expected a fraction of the success that it’s had, it was just meant to be a project to get me to the next level of research. However, in a couple of months I will be visiting the Materialise factory in Belgium, where the first few frames were printed, and I will definitely be bringing up the idea of printing the bicycle in metal!

What CAD packages and 3d printers do you use to create your prototypes?



I’m in a really lucky position being at a university that highly values the work we’re doing around 3D printing – so I have many toys at my disposal! Solidworks is definitely the foundation CAD package that I use and that we teach all our designers (the bike was completely designed in Solidworks), however I also use Rhino more and more now, and regularly use free software like Meshmixer, MeshLab, or even 123D Design. I’m amazed at how powerful the free software is getting. Personally at home I have a Cocoon Create (bought from Aldi, basically a Prusa i3), a Solidoodle Press (now hacked to create drawings since it was a complete failure and is responsible for sending Solidoodle bankrupt), a 3Doodler Pen, and will soon have the Tiko 3D printer which I helped fund through Kickstarter. I won’t list every printer we have at uni, but a collection of UP Plus 2’s form the backbone of our desktop machines, we let students use these as much as they want as they are extremely durable and reliable. Many of my first bike prints were done on these machines, and I still love using them whenever possible as they just work so well. We have a range of other desktop machines so that we can print in multiple materials or at different sizes, and even 3 Choc Edge 3D printers – yes, chocolate 3D printers, which seem to be all the buzz at the moment. On top of desktop machines we have a Fortus 250mc and a Projet HD3500, both for more detailed and accurate requirements, an SLS machine which is currently being installed, and a metal 3D printer on its way. So I guess we have something for every occasion! 3D scanning is also an important part of my toolkit, and we have a variety of scanners at university – and I am actually in the process right now of building the Ciclop scanner from Cowtech for myself, another Kickstarter success.

What’s your material of choice for your designs and why?

I’m an ABS type of guy – I don’t have any exciting reasons, I just find that some of my designs need the durability offered by ABS, and it’s nice and cheap. I also like the range of ways you can post-process ABS prints, whether it’s using acetone or heat, painting, and being able to easily join parts with super glue. Obviously certain designs work best in certain materials, but generally my printers are loaded with ABS. I do make sure to collect all the scraps and failed prints so that if I get an extruder one day, I can recycle it all.

faceted light

In terms of the future of 3D printing, where do you see the technology heading over the next decade?

All the talk at the moment is about speed. 10x faster, 50x faster, 100x faster… This will definitely help make printing more mainstream as it will give a more instant gratification, rather than waiting hours for a relatively small item. But do I see everyone having a 3D printer in their home in the next 10 years? No. While I personally couldn’t live without a 3D printer any more, not everyone is interested in making things, so I don’t believe everyone will have one. However, I do believe everyone will know how to use them as schools are rapidly bringing them into their design classes, and it won’t be long before all students have taken a class where they get to try printing. This means that if a replacement part is needed at home, these people will know how to take their file to their local library or a stationary store (like Officeworks in Australia or Staples in the USA), and print that part. I guess there will be less mystery in the community about 3D printing. There are so many things that will evolve over the next decade in 3D printing, and indeed many complementary technologies like 3D scanning, we could talk all day about the dreams of the future – this is in fact part of my PhD research, looking at what’s coming. But to quickly mention one of the key areas where 3D printing will mature, manufacturing end-use products will be a big growth area. We are only just scratching the surface at the moment in terms of using 3D printing as the final production method for products (additive manufacturing), for example aircraft parts or medical implants. As the materials research catches up, and print speeds increase, we will see a huge shift in manufacturing where parts may be optimised for specific applications, using the complexity possible through 3D printing to make light-weight structures for example, or parts may be customised for each individual consumer using ever more accessible cloud-based tools. Overall the next decade is going to be very exciting, and hopefully I can continue to play a very small part in guiding this technology, and sharing it with as many people as I can.

To read more about James and his work then check out his blog edditive and to check out his free designs click here.


For social media updates follow his twitter account.

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