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The future of bike components is 3D printing. Well, that’s what Silca believes at least. Its first 3D printed product, a titanium computer mount called the Mensola, makes a compelling case for that future, offering a product that is functionally made better by this emerging manufacturing process.
A long way from Silca’s origins
Bike pumps. That’s what Silca has been known for for most of its century-plus long existence. But since Josh Poertner departed from Zipp and bought the company some eight years ago, the brand has been making steady headway into other areas, from tools to bike lube, creating genuinely industry leading products in each category it touches.
Poertner has always had high ambitions for Silca. But when your brand makes pumps, “you can’t just outright do something wild from the get-go,” he says. So it’s been a series of baby steps into different product categories since.
But the brand’s latest endeavor, 3D printed titanium components, could easily be its most transformative yet, upgrading those baby steps to a massive leap. But at the same time it’s a natural progression from Silca’s experience making the titanium Sicuro bottle cage. Poertner thinks this tech, already being adopted in the aerospace and automotive industries, is going to substantially change the world of bike components.
Three-dimensional printing provides a completely new way to develop products. Instead of starting with a block of metal and milling away material to shape a final product, 3D printing takes a metal powder and “prints” it exactly where it is needed to form a product. Think of a home paper printer that lays out shapes with ink, then imagine replacing that ink with a material like titanium and progressively moving the print head higher to add layers and create a three-dimensional product.
We’ve seen the concept in cycling before, actually. Fizik and Specialized have both rolled out saddles that use a 3D printed liquid polymer for the padding, allowing them to fine tune padding level in different areas.
The distinct advantage of 3D printing is being able to design the interior of a product, resulting in a lighter and stronger product which can be optimized in ways not possible by any other process. Silca’s first product, the Mensola computer mount, takes full advantage of this. A latticework inside borrows from aircraft design, allowing for high strength with minimal weight. The mount weighs in anywhere from 27 grams to 36 grams depending on what size stem it is made for (that’s about 10 percent less than CNC aluminum mounts), and Silca says it is six to 10 times stronger than an aluminum product made using traditional methods. The latticework design, open on the side, also makes for a super cool looking addition to any bike.
At launch today, Mensola stem mounts are available in nine standard sizes: 22mm, 24mm, 26mm, 27mm, 28mm, 30mm, 32mm, 33mm and 35mm. There is also a version to fit a Black Inc integrated bar/stem. Each version includes 4mm titanium bolts for further weight savings. And each one is made to order and as such can take seven to 10 days to make before shipping. Can’t find what you need? Silca has a form on its website to submit requests for different kinds of bars and stems. Pricing is set at $175 each, which isn’t surprising given the constraints—limited space in a very expensive 3D printer—Silca has in creating them.
If you’re wondering why the Garmin/Wahoo mount puck isn’t also printed into the design to save further weight, Silca says it acts as a sacrificial point in the event of a crash. Better to break a cheap plastic part than your GPS.
The computer mounts look to be just a start. This technology could be applied to many different components in a bike, creating stronger, lighter parts. It’s likely only a matter of time before we see Silca increase the number of printers it has to increase its capacity and expand to even more products.
Silca Is No Novice to Specialty Projects
Introducing this new manufacturing process is a big undertaking for sure, but behind the scenes Silca is no novice to specialty performance projects. Its parent company, Aeromind, has been working with professional cycling teams as well as consulting on specialty projects like hour record attempts for years. Plus, located in Indianapolis, Silca is in the heart of the nation’s aerospace and automotive engineering, allowing its engineers to experience first hand the latest leading edge innovations in those fields and apply them to cycling.
I have a 3D Printer. Can I do this?
By now, we’ve all seen 3D printers for consumers. So we’ll all be able to just print parts at home soon, right? Not so fast. Two things keep that from being the case—at least in the near term: cost and explosions. Yes, really.
Cost because metal printers are not your home 3D plastic printers. They’re priced on the order of a million dollars, not a thousand. The material itself is pricey, $100,000 for a 12-inch by 12 inch by 12 inch cube of titanium powder. And cost comes into play again because the highly volatile nature of titanium powder means special precautions, from antistatic paint to respirators and more, need to be taken. And just like making bootleg bathtub hooch is probably a bad idea, tinkering with a highly explosive material in your shed is right up there on the misguided undertakings list. Best to leave it to the professionals, even if you have the means.
More info: silca.cc