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The Carbon Dungeon - Dirt #134

The Carbon Dungeon - Dirt #134


The latest issue of Dirt has an article I wrote about Adrian ‘Carbon Wasp’ Smith. The piece explains that Smith has been building his own bikes for years and that’s he’s been spending an unhealthy amount of time in his self inflicted carbon dungeon. Smith makes his own DIY full carbon full suss machines which ride much more beautifully than they look. In the latest iteration of ‘the carbon wasp’ he has embraced a new technique, he has Printed a bike. Literally. He’s used rapid prototyping technology, also known as 3D printing, and a printer he bought online for 400 quid. This enabled him to produce a new bike, specifically for the interview, in only 2 weeks (while working full time and going on holiday). The printed core is assembled then he wraps with carbon fibre to give it rigidity and strength, but as the article explains, it’s not as high tech as it sounds but works amazingly well.

You can find Adrian on twitter but he has his own website and a facebook group for DIY bike builders

Rapid prototyping has been maturing over the past 30 years to the point where you can now buy your own printer for hundreds rather than 10s of thousands of pounds. The technology is dripping down in to consumer products and even making its way in to the bike industry. It’s used extensively in the design and development process by bike, part and accessory manufactures to visualise the CAD data that is inevitably created.

However, like Smith, the process is finding it ways in to the manufacturing of components. The complete flexibility of process (other than material constraints) means that geometries or shapes previously unmanufacturable can become reality. Charge bikes have used a laser sintering process to produce titanium dropouts on their Ti Freezer frame.

freezer Ti printed dropouts

Raceware industries have been manufacturing mounts for Garmins over the last year. Normally plastic components such as these would require very expensive tooling for each model in their range. However, with direct manufacture, they can just make to demand, the only limitation being the time it takes.

In other industries, Nike are now manufacturing the sole plate of their latest football boot using a laser sintering process of Nylon. The shape of the sole plate means that it could not be made with traditional manufacturing techniques. It has been completely optimised for performance without being limited by how it will be made.

Another implication for this type of manufacture is customisation. As each part is made individually of thousands of layers it can be changed to suit the user or purpose. The only limitation is the creation of the data that drive the machine, the CAD. A different but much more visually appealing application of this is this custom dress for Ditta Von Teese manufactured by Shapeways.

Dita Von Teese in Michael Schmidt by Albert Sanchez

These machines and the software to run them have been finding their way in to schools and universities for years. Now that you can buy one to use at home for £400 quid the possibilities are endless. Their application and technologies will continue to find pervade our lives, the futures bright, the futures printed.


Here’s some of Adrian’s own production shots, it’ll give you an idea of the size of the constituent parts and how they jig-sawed together before being wrapped. Get adrian at carbonwasp@gmail.com

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  1. rod fountain

    Intelligent and brilliant. Dirt needs stuff like this.

    1. Nick Hamilton

      Love you Rodders…

      1. Ed

        Get a room will you!

  2. rod fountain

    There’s room for another Ed’…we booked a suite!

  3. chris-m

    I’m absolutely stunned as to what people can do these days. This just opens the door to bring new techniques to the table and/or the lay person wanting to make their design that has been in their head for years, but never had the chance to… until now.
    Thing is though, how much does it cost for the raw material for the printer to print? Oh, and if the printer is £400, how much in total would it cost to print a frame, Nick?

    1. Nick Hamilton

      Chris, I’ll find out from Adrian the exact model of printer he has but it came in kit form that he assembled himself. I think its a Makerbot derivation.

      It prints in ABS plastic and the cost of a kilo of that is only a few pounds, so to print the frame (baring mistakes) was only a few pounds. The carbon fibre and resin were again only tens of pounds. The expensive bits were the machined linkage plates (although he’s trying to print those now too).

      He’s now experimenting with making moulds using the printer and having a bladder to provide the pressure.


      1. chris-m

        That’s truly awesome! Thanks Nick.
        It’s crazy what you can do nowadays. So, it’s possible to create an idea and print it to see if it’s a viable option before you make it into the prototype working stage?! I’m bewildered by all this. I thought you could do really small parts, but to be able to print a whole frame in pieces is astonishing.
        I don’t think he’ll need it, but good luck Adrian. I also think the front end bears a resemblance to an Ibis Mojo, IMHO, which I really like! :)

  4. Jo

    Try this to get you started Chris-M


    The printer that costs a few hundred quid (used in this article) will be one that prints nylon and probably gives parts that are comparable in strength to Lego bricks and capable of printing objects probably not much bigger than a phone. These can then be glued together to form the mold for the carbon overlay. Material cost for any powdered Nylon is almost negligible, but its the machine time that is where the cost lies.

    Printing a whole frame using a metallic additive manufacturing process? I’m sure its possible, but not probably not worth doing over existing techniques.

    1. chris-m

      Thanks Jo!

  5. Craig B

    I quote my wife “we live in the future”. Awesome.

    1. Nick Hamilton

      Craig, Adrian printed his better half a bespoke pot lid holder for the kitchen cupboards to get over their storage issues… that really is the future!

  6. @CarbonWasp

    Hi chaps,

    My printer is a Printrbot plus, I print using ABS plastic which is about £25 a kilo, with a print bed of 8″ cubed (I can get a 250mm tube by printing diagonally). There are loads of affordable printers available now, as Nick says all Makerbot derivatives, even down to around £200.

    I seem to average two attempts to successfully make a new part, either the print fails or my design needs tweaking, but there’s very little material waste in the end, so you can pretty much cost it by weight. The front-tri pictured above was made in eight sections (also pictured), slotted together and fixed with a paste made by dissolving offcuts of the plastic in acetone. The acetone evaporates leaving a solid welded plastic one-piece behind.

    The carbon fabric is widely available at around £25 per square metre and resin is abour £25 for a 1kg pack. I’m experimenting with low temperature pre-preg at the moment (got something in the oven right now actually) which is a bit cheaper and even easier to use, as long as you get the moulds right. Everything else is available for cheap in Wilko’s.

    All I can say is this really is as simple as it sounds. With a bit of thought and research I’m pretty confident anyone could do this – including you. Give it a go and let me know how you get on!


    PS- I don’t think we’re many years off home-workshop laser sintering – that is surely the future!

  7. Terrid

    Do you think it’d be hard to make some carbon rims?

  8. Matt

    Is that bottle cage part of the frame? :{

  9. Saguenay

    Model: So it’s a Printrbot LC or Plus (printrbot.com)

    Using fabrication technique from: http://www.bmeres.com

  10. Drover

    I am contemplating my own carbon build but have hesitation mainly concerning the bearing recesses, among many others, in the photos it looks like the bearings will be mounting directly/indirectly with the use of cups into the plastic which has been reinforced by the surrounding carbon, is that correct or will the plastic play no part and the cups/bearings eventually be bonded straight to the carbon?


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