Engineers at the European Aerospace and Defence Group [EADS] have developed the world’s first bike using additive layer manufacturing [ALM]. Made entirely from high-strength nylon powder, the ‘Airbike’ was designed to showcase the possibilities of the technology.
ALM is the process of building objects by joining materials, layer by layer, from a 3D computer model – in contrast to traditional subtractive manufacturing. It uses computer-based design tools, which means that highly complicated designs can become a reality, says Supriyo Ganguly, a lecturer in welding science at Cranfield University.
The process “will increase mass efficiency, reduce material wastage and simplify logistics. However, challenges related to manufacturing need to be overcome in order to realise such advanced design in practice”, he added.
Jonathan Meyer, ALM research team leader at EADS, admits they built the bike “not necessarily because it’s the best way to build a bicycle, but because it was an engineering challenge.”
However, Meyer is optimistic about the potential of the technology for aircraft design. Currently EADS wastes 90% of the titanium used to produce aircraft parts, so the incentive to save money as well as material is high.
“Once you transition to an additive approach, it takes you less time to make a lighter part. It uses less material, so it costs you less. It’s a win-win”, explains Meyer. Producing light-weight parts can also help reduce the amount of fuel used during flight: “If we could save 5% of the weight of a component, then we’d save more [in fuel] than what we’ve saved in material”, predicts Meyer.
The future of this technology varies from niche markets in customised jewellery and shoes to medical implants such as hip implants, which can be designed with the utmost precision. As for the growing number of cycling enthusiasts out there, Charge Bikes will be releasing titanium bikes with parts made using ALM in 2014, inspired by the Airbike. – Kyla Mandel