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.