Austria-based Plastic Innovation won a European sustainability start-up prize this past week for their work developing a new method to quickly and affordably produce high-performance bicycle frames in Europe using injection molded composites. While mass-produced, injection molded bike frames have been tried before, the plastics performance & durability had always left cyclists wanting. But Plastic Innovation has some new ideas, and lessons learned from other industries…

Plastic Innovation composite injection molded bike frames

images courtesy of Plastic Innovation

We first heard about Plastic Innovation’s new project and their GreenStart award from industry trade sites CyclingIndstry.news & BikeBiz.com. But both of them seemed lacking real detail, and even seemed to incorrectly link the project to previous concept bikes. So we got in touch with the company to get the real details. And now take a closer look at the bike concept.

The young company based near Linz brings together a team with industry and academic experience in polymer engineering research and application. Bicycles are just a part of Plastic Innovation’s work, but a project they are passionate about. This bike project has been named Fahrrad der Zukunft or Bicycle of the Future, and is an attempt to bring economically & environmentally sustainable bike mass production back to Europe. The concept adapts an injection molding process currently utilized in the automobile industry to quickly & cheaply produce structural plastic parts using a thermoplastic resin with fiber reinforcement. It also isn’t a huge stretch from small reinforce polymer elements already quite common in bike components & cycling shoes.

Plastic Innovation says with carefully optimized frame & mold designs and their process, it is possible to create a single bike frame in under one minute. Using advanced tooling & automation, it will be cost-effective to bring production back closer to the bicycles primary sales markets. So for example producing the bikes in Germany, lead times from production to retail sale can also be dramatically reduced, with fewer resources consumed (wasted?) on shipping & logistics. Combine that with advanced composite injection molding’s 50% reduction in CO2 emissions vs. metal bike manufacture. And the resulting bikes will have much improved environmental footprint, before even considering that the frames will be easily recyclable.

Bicycle of the Future concept

renderings by lets do it design

The bikes that Plastic Innovation has shown to the public so far have been conceptual studies. But there certainly are some interesting characteristics already incorporated. The flexibility of injection molding will allow for plenty of functional integration of features like front & rear lighting, fenders & racks, and even smooth e-bike drive system & battery integration. Plus, unlike plastic bikes of the past, these new advanced, reinforced polyamide frames are able to use industry standard components. That makes them more cost-effective and easier to service, while also keeping weight down.

Beyond those concepts, Plastic Innovation is already working with some bicycle OEMs. And they are searching for more cycling industry partners to further develop the concept into real mass-produced composite bike frames. Again their reinforced polyamide construction offers plenty of design freedom to produce all manner of bikes. And their German auto industry production partners, mean the performance injection molded bike could be closer than we think.

PlasticInnovation.at

12 COMMENTS

  1. So I am going to wade in here and say this is absolute nonsense, a plastic frame will never be as environmentally friendly as a steel frame. Plastic frames will photo degrade and not be usable after say ten years and good chromo frame will last 60+ years unless it crashed or abused. Even if the plastic is recyclable you can not guarantee that the frames will be used within a country that has the complex infrastructure to recycle them, metal frames naturally recycle through the process of rusting. If the frames are made from recycled drinks bottles that would be something.

    • if you core sample a landfill you will find newspapers from 50 years ago so I wouldn’t consider rusting “naturally recyclable” especially considering every frame has paint on it, including the plastic ones so even the plastic ones wouldn’t photodegrade.

  2. Sounds promising to me. Fiber re-enforced plastic is massively strong when designed properly and the integration that will be possible sounds really good too. The amount of post-mold work should be quite low. I suspect the tooling costs are going to be ASTRONOMICAL though, so I bet they only offer two sizes or some rubbish like that. They should do FRP injection molded lugs at each joint and then connect them with tubes bonded into each joint; smaller molds, more sizes, and the same possibilities for integration at each lug. We’ll see what they come up with…

  3. Legitimately curious about this, but there are a few elephants about this. How does price, weight, and stiffness compare to alloy or carbon products? If it’s, say, 1/2 the price as the comparably stiff and light carbon bike, then you have a great business model. But if the main selling point is that it’s ‘more environmentally friendly’ (arguable, at best) and that it’s just different, I’ve lost interest.

  4. Is any bike really environmentally unsustainable? Seems kinda ludicrous to me but I guess you got sell any point you can.

    As for bringing production “back to Europe”…only if its advantageous. This tech can easily be replicated where taxes, overhead and personnel costs are lower so not sure how it will accomplish that. Someone will inevitably cut them out by manufacturing in some Vietnam, Cambodia…maybe impoverished Africa will finally gets its due.

    • Yeah, buying a used bike from Craigslist is probably the most “sustainable” option, especially for utility oriented bikes. There will be a ton of 20+ year old Trek and Specialized hybrids with full rack and fender mounts on sale there for the foreseeable future.

      Even the bamboo and flax bikes have a lot of nasty resin involved in production (and I say that as the owner and appreciator of many CFRP bike products), so there is a false sustainability associated with their production.

      • Again, I fail to see how the energy used to produce bikes for the world is “unsustainable”. Its a tiny fraction of our impact on the world, and the product itself allows us very sustainable locomotion.

        “Unsustainable” doesn’t mean its produced with “nasty” things. It means that the use (quantity and/or toxicity) of those things outstrips your or the ecosystems ability to deal with them and the benefit that results in the use of the product doesn’t offset those negatives. Ex: fish. Its a clean, natural product. But we fish certain species too much so it is unsustainable. Contrast to satellite rockets. Horrible, polluting process…but we do it so infrequently and the satellite product allows us to make a net positive impact that it becomes, by and large, a sustainable process.

  5. My opinion is that when talking about sustainability in bikes frame production, they refer to energy involve in the whole process, from material sources extraction, transport, modification…. till having an final frame, and also its reciclability. So it all counts. When comparing different bike materials and manufacturing processes associated (welding, hidroforming, autoclave curin….) Its not obvious to establish the most sustainable one. Some sort of criteria wouls have to be set. Would be interesting to know thou…

  6. “Sustainable”… meh, who cares? The real reason that bike companies want to use plastics is so that they can build the things much less expensively, while guaranteeing more frequent sales when the thing breaks or fickle consumer want a pretty new one.

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