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EADS unveils bicycle that is 'grown' from fine powder

EADS has unveiled the Airbike, a bicycle made using a manufacturing process that literally grows a product from a fine powder of metal, nylon or carbon-reinforced plastics.

Made from nylon, the Airbike technology demonstrator was assembled using Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) at a centre located next to Airbus’s site at Filton.

The process allows 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.

Similar in concept to 3D printing, the bike design is perfected using computer-aided design and then constructed using a laser-sintering process that adds successive, thin layers of the chosen structural material until a solid, fully formed bike emerges.

EADS said that it has developed the technology to the extent that it can manipulate metals, nylon and carbon-reinforced plastics at a molecular level, which allows it to be applied to high-stress, safety-critical aviation uses.

Compared with a traditional, machined part, those produced by ALM are said to be up to 65 per cent lighter but still as strong. The technology is likely to be employed eventually in industrial applications such as aerospace, the motor industry and engineering.

Studies show that for every 1kg reduction in weight, airlines can save around $3,500 (£2,200) worth of fuel over the lifespan of the aircraft, with corresponding reductions in CO2 emissions.

According to EADS, the ALM 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 non-manufacturing settings.

Airbike’s design features include:

Frame: integrated truss structure to reduce weight but maintain stiffness

Saddle: auxetic structure to provide cushioning

Wheels: spoke design mimics A400M eight-bladed scimitar propeller design

Drivetrain: Kevlar belt creates clean drive system

Crank/hubs: integrated bearings encased in hubs and crank, and manufactured in situ

Personalisation: embossed text in various positions.

Source: EADS

Readers' comments (8)

  • Often creating the indiviudal components is the easy part. The difficult task is the 'glueing' of these sections together.
    This makes it a fine art that only develops with experience.

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  • Saw EADS demonstrating the bike on breakfast television. They side-stepped questions about having multi-billion pound profits yet still asking for government subsidies. Basically, they're saying pay-up or we'll take jobs elsewhere. Thanks EADS glad we've been of help to you.

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  • A finely focused application of material additive manufacturing that has garnered publicity outside of engineering but surely this is common knowledge to most of the readers of The Engineer? Notable but I'm not entirely sure what warrents the "look - gosh!" tone of this piece. Also, I believe the components are produced seperately (as one would expect) rather than a "fully formed bike emerges."

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  • So, if this is so strong and light, why isn't there a discussion of those properties on this prototype? How much stronger and lighter is this bike than your average single speed cruiser, or even an high end single speed cruiser?

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  • Another hi tech process looking for an application with a look what we can do mentality.
    It’s not very practical, durable, serviceable or recyclable.
    Perhaps aircraft designs can benefit from this process but not this.
    Why not go for bespoke Prosthetic limbs tailor made better fit stronger and lighter.

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  • As previously reported in The Engineer, bespoke medical devices are indeed the biggest area of application for additive manufacturing techniques

  • Looks great but how do you stop it?

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  • What a cynical bunch of comments. Rome wasn't built in a day guys.There is huge potential here. No wonder they are thinking of taking this technology out of the UK!

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  • My company have been making parts and tooling for the aeropsace industry for a while now, these have replaced typical Aluminum items, they work, are cheaper and very fast to supply, lets be proactive for a UK capability, we have to move on!

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