Earlier this year, France-based custom motorbike manufacturer VIBA unveiled a contemporary reimagining of the classic 1970s Honda Monkey motorcycle. The bike, called “Jane,” draws inspiration from the original vehicle’s retro aesthetic but adds more modern touches, including a series of aluminum 3D printed parts.
The 3D printed components of the motorcycle, manufactured in partnership with SLM Solutions and Rolf Lenk, include a 3D printed fuel tank, gauge bracket, hollow wiring levers, a front luggage rack, mudguard and headlight support. As one can imagine, the process of designing and 3D printing the aluminum components for the functioning motorcycle was a complex and challenging journey—but one which paid off.
The 3D printed fuel tank is an especially innovative component, as it was 3D printed in a single piece and demonstrates the advantages of working with additive manufacturing instead of more traditional processes. The part, which weighs only 3.3 kg, was 3D printed using the SLM 800 3D printer and integrates an internal honeycomb structure that stops fuel from sloshing while the motorbike is in motion.
Equipped with a 125cc engine and named after Jane Fonda (not Jane Goodall as I had guessed!), VIBA’s Jane motorbike was released in early 2019 as a limited series—only 23 models were sent to production.
VIBA in the fast lane
Before Jane was a rideable motorcycle, it was simply an idea in the brain of VIBA’s founder Yann Bakonyi, who wanted to showcase 21st century craftsmanship and design while throwing back to a popular era of motorcycles.
“Additive manufacturing simplified our design work for the prototyping phase by saving time and by giving us the possibility to test several full-scale iterations of the same parts,” he tells us. “But it also made it more complex, in a more interesting sense. Additive manufacturing brings a new formal language as well as an opportunity to integrate multiple elements into one. Therefore, as a designer, we need to review our way of thinking about the design of a part by incorporating this new technology and working even more closely with the engineers.”
VIBA first started to integrate additive manufacturing in a concrete way in 2014. First by using an Ultimaker 3D printer to produce prototypes very quickly and at low cost in order to validate shapes and volumes. In 2015, VIBA began to work with CETIM (Technical Center for Mechanical Industries) using a SLM 280.
They first tested several parts to understand its operation and the possibilities and then, in 2016, they produced their first functional parts with this technology. “We do not limit ourselves to these two technologies and also use MJF technology quite frequently,” says Bakonyi, adding that “the use of additive manufacturing is growing in the custom motorcycle sector, as it is among small manufacturers. It enables the construction of individual complex pieces or very small series. This technology has added value with a wahoo effect.”
For the Jane project, VIBA worked closely with SLM Solutions, which helped to develop the motorbike’s printed components. VIBA explained that they wanted to create a structure which was already used in motorcycle races by adding foam into the tank to reduce the movement of fuel. SLM Solutions’ and Rolf Lenk’s experience in lattice generation was key to achieve the desired result.
Racing into production
Moving from the design stage to the production, SLM Solutions and Rolf Lenk were up to the task of producing the various aluminum parts for the Jane motorcycle. Still, the project was not without its challenges in a motorcycle market where design and individual, customer-oriented production play a major role.
“One of the biggest challenges is the combination of technology and design, especially when working with size limitations for parts,” explains Ralf Frohwerk, Global Head of Business Development at SLM Solutions. “The Honda Monkey impressively shows how these components work together. The freedom of design offered by SLM technology is therefore one of the great advantages for a designer’s work. You don’t have this freedom with conventional methods.”
In order to demonstrate design, part reduction and functional integration, the team selected six different functional parts of the Jane. On the mudguard and the luggage rack, AM design enables reduction of parts in combination with an extended function. On the brake and clutch levers, AM was used to integrate cable channels. AlSi10Mg aluminum provided an ideal material as it is lighter than steel and still has good functional material properties, meeting all the mechanical requirements for the project.
“The 3D printing process offers a wide range of possibilities in the additive manufacturing of metal-based parts,” Frohwerk adds. “Additive manufacturing allows metal parts to be created with internal structures allowing the part to be stronger and lighter than if it were produced through traditional manufacturing methods.
“One of the main components is the 3D printed fuel tank. The part strongly influences the external appearance of the entire bike with a high request of excellent exterior surface quality. Customizing the tank is an easy job with AM technology. A lattice-type structure/baffle is printed into the interior of the structure to help prevent fuel from sloshing in the tank, which could lead to instability while driving in curves, which is important in motor bike racing. It is not possible to produce these internal structures with conventional methods.
He continues: “The Jane engine tank has a weight of just 3.3 kg and was printed on the SLM 800 selective laser melting machine. With an extended z-axis build envelope measuring 500 x 280 x 850 mm, the SLM 800 can efficiently build large components at up to 171cm3/h in 27h.”
“We love SLM Solution’s technology,” adds Bakonyi. “Not just because we did a project together, we have used it before. The quality of the parts is excellent and the speed and size of printing is perfect for the parts necessary for our projects. As I said before, additive manufacturing allows us to produce complex parts, both in terms of design and engineering, individually. This is an important step forward for the quality of our motorcycles. Moreover, if one of our motorcycle owners ever damages a bike, we can very quickly reproduce this piece without needing to store it.
“Currently we are working on a new bike, which will have a handlebar made with SLM technology. This project will be presented at Formnext this year.” One more great reason to make the trip to Frankfurt.
This article was published in collaboration with SLM Solutions.