April 27, 2011
New developments in technology mean that we are now able to “print” our own bike; creating a new lightweight way to travel.
The Airbike is the first bike in the world to be created by printing it out on a computer. Scientists of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space group, based in the UK, have created a cutting edge technology that works from a computer-aided design (CAD) to create a fully-functioning bike. It is designed on a computer and sent to a printer, which then composes the form of the bike by fusing melted nylon powder layer upon layer by a laser beam. The result is a lightweight bike that is 65% lighter than a conventional bike, but as sturdy as one made of steel or aluminium.
The components to the bike, like gears, pedals and wheels, are pre-made but the internal parts like the wheels are integrated into the bike, using a process called Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM). This method builds a solid object from a series of layers – each one printed directly on top of each other. The chosen material starts off in powder form and is heated to create a solid shape. The ALM machine cuts a work surface using the CAD model, and a blade mounted onto a moving arm then sweeps layers of the powder on top of the work piece. A laser scans back and forth – much like a printer, and melts the powder to shape the first layer. This is then repeated until the desired thickness is created.
According to the bike’s designers, this method of production uses one tenth of the material required to make a conventional bike, and it is also predicted to be used in more advanced designs such as aeroplanes and vehicles. This innovative method, that combines design and production, is expected to change the course of future bike production techniques as it is both more efficient and cost-effective.