The lighter side of engineering: It’s a 3D world

For engineers, the key to the future lies in reinvention and continuous learning. So it’s no surprise that some of our best sources of new intelligence, products and knowledge are engineering students in some of our finest educational institutions.

Meet Michael MacKay McLaren, a Carleton University mechanical engineering student. His natural curiosity and excitement about learning has earned him fame as the creator of a 3D bicycle.

“It started out just for fun, but this project to build a 3D bike will become a supervised research project this summer,” says Michael. The bike’s sixth test run has now been completed, and one of his “lightweight” friends (who tips the scale at about 130 pounds) has completed a short ride.

Michael says he’s always liked bikes and bike riding and had an engineer’s curiosity about the 3D printer. It didn’t take much to marry the two and come up with an idea for building a bike with a frame and many components “printed” this way. Wheels, seat, pedals and chain were purchased separately.

“The printer is a Makerbot Replicator 2,” says Michael. “We use Autodesk Inventor to design the parts and then covert them to an x3g file. The material used is PLA plastic, and the pieces are assembled by snapping them together and using pins to keep them from coming apart.” The PLA plastic is essentially a spool of wire with a 1.75mm diameter. Michael says the printer can be used to produce selective replacement parts instead of the entire bike, which may come in handy when the corn-based plastic he’s using starts to degrade, as it surely will over time.

The marvels of 3D printing have a host of applications, from grafts and organs or parts of them in medicine, to walls and even houses in construction. Different materials are selected, depending on what you want to do and how you want to use the printer.

For Michael, his partner James Nugent and others who have signed on to help get this bike up and rolling, this project is just the beginning. “Creativity is the focus,” Michael says. “If you love something and get to use your passion, you’ll do it well.”

Check out their initial test drive of the 3D bike:

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