Designers and engineers at the Technical University of Ostrava have created the world’s first 3D-printed scooter with a stainless steel bionic frame in collaboration with the UK-based manufacturer Renishaw. Their prototype, inspired by skeletal structures of fish and fowl, is both stronger and a quarter lighter than conventional models.
The scooter was designed in Protolab, an additive manufacturing centre based at the university, VŠB, and partly funded by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic. ‘Additive manufacturing’ describes technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material. In this case, the material is a fine metallic powder, which is melted in the 3D printer.
The VŠB team consists of designers Lukáš Jančar and Jakub Měsíček, who did the topology optimisation – a mathematical method that optimises material layout within a given design space for maximum performance – and engineers Petr Štefek and Marek Pagáč, who are also handling business development and marketing.
Earlier, I spoke to Lukáš Jančar about the scooter project and asked him how it all came about. He said the team was looking to develop a 3D-printed product with potential wide appeal but which had not yet been realised. “So we decided to try to design a scooter that no-one else had produced before. The aim was to produce a 3D-printed scooter frame and have it as a representative model for additive manufacturing abilities.”
When did you start to seriously discuss it, and how long did it take to produce the first 3D-printed model?
“We started discussion in the spring of 2018. We can divide it into two parts. The first part, which involved preparing the models, the design study, the topology optimisation, and the finite elements, validation of the stiffness of the frame. That took us about four months. The second part, the production part, with the 3D-printing itself, and welding and gluing the frame together, took us about two months. So, altogether it took about half a year to produce the scooter.”
To your knowledge, this is the world’s first scooter with bionic, stainless-steel construction. Could you explain to listeners what bionic means – inspired by nature, basically?
“Exactly. The bionic shapes are inspired by nature, and 200 years after the Industrial Revolution, people came to the point where they found that the shapes we can find in nature – for example, the bodies of birds or fish, or bone structure – that they’ve got an ultimate stiffness and are also lightweight.” “So, even the topology optimisation itself often leads to this kind of design, and the big advantage is that it is stiff when you reduce the mass. And the way the item looks is bionic, an organic shape. Moreover, with our scooter, the construction is also hollow, so it’s inspired by the bones of birds.”
The VŠB team is working on a second-generation scooter in which a 3D printed frame can be produced in one piece, reducing welding costs and production time. They hope to unveil it in October at the International Engineering Fair in Brno.