Engineers from the Bristol wing of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) have developed their Airbike to demonstrate what Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) can do:
The manufacturing process involves “growing” the components from a fine nylon powder, similar in concept to 3D printing. Said to be as strong as steel, the end product is claimed to contain only a fraction of the source material used by traditional machining, and the process results in much less waste. It also has the potential to take manufacture to precisely where the component or product is needed, instead of being confined to factories often located a great distance away.
The Airbike has an integrated truss structure to keep weight down while maintaining strength and rigidity, although the ALM process is said to result in components that are 65 percent lighter than those produced by traditional machining anyway, and it uses about one tenth the material. The structure of the two-wheeler was perfected using computer design software and then constructed using a powerful laser-sintering process which builds up thin layers of a fine powder of metal (such as titanium, stainless steel or aluminum), carbon-reinforced plastics or — in this case — nylon, until the solid form is created.