How to ‘print’ a nylon bike

March 9, 2011

Airbike is "grown" from nylon power (photo: EADS)

EADS, the European aerospace and defense group, has unveiled the world’s first bike “grown” from powder, allowing complete sections to be built as one piece.

Known as the “Airbike,” it is made of nylon but strong enough to replace steel and requires no conventional maintenance or assembly. It can be built to rider specification and requires no adjustment.

The “revolutionary” manufacturing process is known as Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM). It allows single products to be grown from a fine powder of metal (such as titanium, stainless steel or aluminum), 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 that adds successive, thin layers of the chosen structural material until a solid, fully-formed bike emerges.

The technology is likely to be employed in industrial applications such as aerospace, the motor industry and engineering. Studies show that for every 1kg reduction in weight, airlines can save around $3500 worth of fuel over the lifespan of the aircraft, with corresponding reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions.

The company claims the process itself uses about one-tenth of the material required in traditional manufacturing and reduces waste, and allows products to be produced quickly and cheaply on “printers” located in offices, shops and houses. It would allow replacement components to be produced in remote regions, improving logistics on humanitarian relief and military operations.

Adapted from materials provided by EADS