3D Printing is a manufacturing process taking some precedence in the news, both in hype and circumstance. Giant has utilized the technology in the latest iteration of their saddles

If you don’t live in a parallel universe, then you’ve probably heard about 3D Printing. Lately, the technology has filled the news with toys, trinkets, and failures. But the technology does a lot more than print Yoda’s sexy giant ears.

Giant has been using 3D printing technologies to prototype, but also to mold functioning saddles, and what they’re doing has implications for all venues of manufacturing, whether you’re a hobbyist or a huge company. For its latest iteration of seats, Giant used Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Stereolithography (SLA) from online 3D Printing service provider during early design iterations and actual functioning prototypes.

Prototyping began with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) utilizing ZoomRP’s SLS White material. SLS creates parts in a deep bed of powdered Nylon. A CO2 laser sinters (or melts) the design and the powder bed drops down in minute increments until, layer by layer, the design manifests itself in the powder. The part is then removed from the powder in much the same way archeologists brush away dirt from a hidden fossil. “We’ve found that the Nylon powder used with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) mimics the base of the bike saddle,” explained Daniel Lentz Lead Industrial Designer: Components at Giant. “That’s the beauty of ordering SLS parts; they simulate the final product. We modify the model, print, and take the SLS prototypes out for a ride, allowiing us to feel and test the final product before actually having the final product.”

Lentz and his team take the 3D Printed SLS bases out for a ride to test the positioning of their latest models. Knowing SLS will feel like the final production saddle base gives them confidence in making final descisions before moving into production. And let’s face it, the saddle is one of the most personalized parts of your bike; it’s got to be just right, or, as my cycling friends like to say, it can feel like you’re wearing the wrong size of pants (a rather apt description).

The technology available to Lentz’s team continues to push the manufacturing and even designing of saddles, and the way it feels to ride.“With every new iteration of saddle prototype that we create, we include shape adjustments to both the base and foam that we test extensively.  These adjustments can be as subtle as intricate form adjustments and slight foam thickness variations and we may go through a number of different prototypes with any new design,” explained Lentz. “3D Printing allows us to hone in the precise shape and performance in the final product that will offer our customers a more comfortable and confident ride.”

The saddle is narrow enough so chaffing is less of an issue for the off road cyclist, but also incorporates slight curvature with enough padding to make it fairly comfortable for the road biker as well. After finalizing the design in SLS, Lentz’s team moved to another 3D printing process—the oldest one in the books—Stereolithography (SLA).

SLA works with a huge vat of liquid resin and a UV laser. The laser maps out the shape of the product upon the liquid, curing the resin layer by layer. “SLA is used to print the mold for the seat. Within the SLA mold, we pour polyurethane and actually mold the board here in our office,” explained Lentz. “Form and comfort for new saddles is important. We see real benefits in the precise and custom forms achievable through 3D Printing processes, and in future possible shapes.”

Using a 3D Printed part for a mold is both cost and time effective; traditional methods of tooling and machining are time consuming and often far more costly. These processes allowed Lentz’s team to ride, test, and manufacture functioning prototypes with exact design features manifested in just days. Lentz’s team was able to personalize the saddles with the design throughout the prototyping process. That personalization informed them of the comfort and fit of the saddle on a level that directly translates to what you might be taking out for your next ride.