Dimitris Katsanis’ passion for cycling cannot be denied. Once an elite cyclist (he was a member of the Greek National Cycling team in the 1980s), Katsanis is now an important figure in bicycle design and engineering, supporting bicycle production for top-tier sporting events like the Olympics and the Tour de France. Notably, Katsanis’ company Metron Additive Engineering has been a pioneer in the adoption of 3D printing technologies for bicycle design and production.
Before diving into his company’s use of AM, it is helpful to take a look back to understand the Katsanis’ remarkable trajectory in the world of cycling. After riding on the Greek National Team in the 80s, Katsanis took on the role of assistant coach for the team. By the early 1990s, he decided to turn his focus away from coaching, enrolling in an engineering program to learn more about bicycle construction and performance—something which he had been passionate about for some time.
“I did a bit of crystal ball gazing at the time and I thought the future of engineering was carbon fiber, so I decided to study composite engineering at Plymouth University in the UK,” he explained.
In 1992, Katsanis worked on bikes used by the Greek National Team in the Barcelona Olympics, integrating parts made from hybrid steel tubes and carbon fiber. Within a few years, he was also providing services to a handful of other Olympic teams, and became an expert in the rapid prototyping of plastic bike parts for wind tunnel testing. As one can imagine, 3D printing figured into his work from early on.
While utilizing polymer-based 3D printing for prototyping, Katsanis said he couldn’t help but wonder why metal 3D printing wasn’t being used in a similar way. Fast forward to today, and metal additive manufacturing is an integral part of not only Katsanis’ engineering firm Metron Additive Engineering, but of many state-of-the-art cycling companies.
To date, Metron Additive Engineering has manufactured over 100 handlebars for top-of-the-line bicycles using additive manufacturing. Katsanis is also proud to report that his handlebars have ridden to gold 87 times, at world championships and the Olympics. Each set of handlebars—including the very first ones made for Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2015—were produced using an EBM system from GE Additive.
“In 2015 Sir Bradley Wiggins wanted to do the Hour Record, for the longest distanced cycled in one hour from a stationary start,” Katsanis said. “The bike was made from carbon fiber, but the handlebars were titanium, created using a GE Additive Arcam EBM machine. This meant that we could intricately modify them multiple times leading up to the record attempt.”
Today, a replica of the iconic handlebars is displayed at the V&A Museum in London.
The future is titanium
Though Katsanis initially put his eggs in the carbon fiber basket for cycling—because of the material’s strength-to-weight ratio, he realized after working with AM and titanium that the metal—though heavier than carbon fiber—could actually result in more lightweight components by leveraging additive design.
“The first few [titanium parts] that we made were very integrated designs and we were getting rid of a lot of nuts and bolts,” he explained. “I realized that with 3D printing in titanium, it’s possible to put the material where you need it and remove it from the areas you don’t. Additive technology allows you to do things that you otherwise couldn’t. It’s partly design and partly engineering. Additive has allowed me to take 25 years of composite engineering experience and make more dynamic, organic shapes with more complex designs.”
Obviously, titanium parts made using AM are not cheap, so they have mostly been employed for professional cycling applications. However, Katsanis and his company are hoping to usher in a new era in which custom titanium parts can be produced for the consumer market. GE Additive’s EBM technology will play a critical role in this journey.
“The EBM process allows us to stack components one on top of the other with the ability to make a lot of components in one build,” he said. “So, in general, we can make components lighter, but the specific benefit of EBM is its efficiency, meaning our products are more price competitive.”
Metron Additive Engineering’s forecast
While cycling is Katsanis’ main passion, his company Metron Additive Engineering also provides services to other sectors, like the medical and aerospace industries, leveraging its expertise in AM processes. On the horizon, the company sees the huge potential for titanium AM in mass customization.
“I think mass customization of additive titanium parts will be the next big step,” Katsanis added. “I think in the next two to three years, 3D printing will grow in the high-end and specialized product market but within a decade we’ll see additive manufacturing start to filter down to more medium range and, possibly, everyday products.
“I would really like to see additive technologies evolve and trickle down to everyday products. By showing that we can mass customize tens of thousands of bike parts annually, we are demonstrating that it is possible to produce components in large quantities with additive technology. We are determined to be a pioneer in showing that additive manufacturing can be brought to scale.”