Known as the Airbike, it is a bike with a difference. Made of nylon but strong enough to replace steel or aluminium, it requires no conventional maintenance or assembly.
It is ‘grown’ from powder, allowing complete sections to be built as one piece; the wheels, bearings and axle being incorporated within the ‘growing’ process and built at the same time. The Airbike can be built to rider specification so requires no adjustment.
3D printing revolution
The manufacturing process known as Additive Layer Manufacturing (or ALM) allows single products to be grown from a fine powder of metal (such as titanium, steel or aluminium), nylon or carbon-reinforced plastics.
Similar in concept to 3D printing, the bike design is perfected using computer-aided design and then constructed by using a powerful laser-sintering process which adds successive, thin layers of the chosen structural material until a solid, fully-formed bike emerges.
While the Airbike is only a technology demonstrator at this stage, the tech developed by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space group could be used to manipulate metals, nylon, and carbon-reinforced plastics at a molecular level which allows it to be applied to high-stress, safety critical aviation uses.
Lighter, greener and cheaper
Compared to a traditional, machined part, those produced by ALM are up to 65 per cent lighter but still as strong. ALM also offers a glimpse of wider potential benefits.
The AirBike is the world’s first bike to be grown using a new type of 3D printing technology
The process itself uses about one-tenth of the material required in traditional manufacturing and reduces waste. On a global scale, ALM offers potential for products to be produced quickly and cheaply on ‘printers’ located in offices, shops and houses. It could also allow replacement components to be produced in remote regions.
“The possibilities with ALM are huge it’s a game-changing technology. The beauty is that complex designs do not cost any extra to produce.
The laser can draw any shape you like and many unique design features have been incorporated into the Airbike such as a structure to provide saddle cushioning or the integrated bearings encased within the hubs,” said Andy Hawkins the lead engineer for the ALM project.
Whilst there are currently limitations in terms of the maximum component size achievable and the costs involved, the technology is developing fast.
There is growing recognition of the potential ramifications of ALM and the barriers to delivering this tech on a global scale are falling rapidly.