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EADS Airbike made of steel-strength nylon


March 9, 2011

Engineers from the Bristol wing of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) have announced the development of the first bicycle using Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) technology

Engineers from the Bristol wing of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) have announced the development of the first bicycle using Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) technology

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Engineers from the Bristol wing of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) have announced the development of the first bicycle using Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) technology. 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.

Complete sections are "grown" from the chosen structural material, with the wheels, bearings and axle incorporated within the process and built at the same time. EADS says that the nylon components produced by the ALM process are strong enough to replace steel or aluminum. Unsurprisingly perhaps for the company, the eight-bladed wheels are based on the scimitar propeller design of the Airbus A400M, and the bike's name follows a similar line to that of Airbus, the first EADS company to use the technology.

EADS sees the technology potentially allowing components to be quickly and cheaply manufactured precisely where they are needed – such as in offices, shops, houses or even remote military or humanitarian aid locations – instead of in factories half a world away. The company believes it has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing.

"The possibilities with ALM are huge – it's a game-changing technology," said Andy Hawkins, the lead engineer for ALM at EADS. "The beauty is that complex designs do not cost any extra to produce. The laser can draw any shape you like and many unique design features have been incorporated into the Airbike such as the auxetic structure to provide saddle cushioning or the integrated bearings encased within the hubs."

Auxetic shapes appear to go against the grain of physics – contracting and compressing when squeezed instead of getting thicker, or becoming thicker instead of thinning out when stretched.

The Airbike requires no conventional maintenance or assembly, and also benefits from a Kevlar belt drive system, integrated bearings encased in hubs and crank, and embossed text in various locations, all of which were produced as the bike was formed.

The ALM technology used in the development of the Airbike is at the proof-of-concept stage at the moment, but EADS says that it has reached a level of development where it can be used in high-stress, safety-critical aviation.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

If it uses a tenth of the material, how is it only 65% lighter?


DemonDuck You do have a valid point,, ya think you will every hear a reply about it? yeah, I agree

Bill Bennett

The front wheel is on backwards.....


very observant DemonDuck... I had to go back to see what you meant...


It looks wonderful and love the white color....


Thing is, how do you get your hands on one ? And where\'s the brakes ? Surely brakes are a must ? Or do you brake by spinning the pedals backwards ?


It\'s great that these kind of innovations are happening, but why must they always be presented in such ugly, and unappealing ways?


Its very cool to \"print\" a bicycle, but why is the EADS doing this? I suppose it would be parallel to NASA doing it, but it certainly has nothing to do with defense. I\'m sorry, there is nothing scary about a platoon of soldiers coming at you on their plastic bicycles. :-)

That said, this is a great achievement. I\'ve been a fan of 3d printing for some years now and am thrilled at watching it develop. Makerbot units can be had for ~$1K. Its lots of fun and is becoming increasingly relevant. I imagine that some day we will have systems at home that print almost all of our stuff and we will have to pay to get the exceptional stuff only like microchips or other things that are difficult to manufacture. We would do the easy stuff at home. Modern 3d printers use ABS and PLA plastic mainly. Incidentally PLA is an agricultural product, so when you make stuff with that, you are going green too.

Very cool...Gizmag should keep watching this kind of technology. :-)

Rustin Haase

Local manufacture sure would take the air out of the Chinese econonmy.

The bike must be a fixie.

I bet that saddle\'s hard on the butt.

Lawrence Lagarde

Lawrence, I could only dream that you are correct, but I feel the reality will be that it will be the Chineese that manufacture it for the masses.


Hi to you all, Wanted to point out that at EADS Innovation Works, the point of the spokes was to mimic the contrarotating propellors on the A400M (bit of cross promotion of another of the EADS Group products). The bike itself is purely a technology demonstrator to show what complexity can be achieved with 3D printing which we call Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM). Furthemore, the engineers who designed this are not bicycle experts (apart from the riding a bike part), they drew something they thought was cool and hit print... It went from a scribble on a piece of paper, to a fully fledged bike in 6 weeks mainly working out of hours. It is 100% nylon plastic. The weight savings have been generated in other parts they have manufactured, specifically for aerospace (which is why we made a bike: something anyone can understand, rather than a wing bracket or an engine cowling hinge)... hope this helps clarify, but if not, The Economist and The Engineer have written extensively on ALM and have great articles on their websites... Al

Al B. Meredith

Well, if it isn\'t made to really sort of... work, then perhaps it\'s OK. It looks rather softer than steel to my eyes, after watching the BBC clip.

Mats Leidö

This is cool. I too wonder about the front wheel, and the braking. Also what about gears and what kind of wear do you get when you use the same material for the bearings and the housing? I wonder if you could print a gun using this stuff and sneak it on an airplane? Not that I want to do that but someone may.

Paul Anthony

Has it been tested by The Bike Stig?

Ramon Herrera

lots of aerospace and other military contractors spin out certain tech so that it can hit a \'critical mass\' in terms of production so that the cost of \'inventing a new industry\' is largely absorbed by the consumer driven products or tech used to make consumer driven products being pushed into the mainstream(i.e. the tech that prints the bikes gets cheaper because it is being used and expanded by product X and Y and Z hence the production tech (that can be used for other things)moves into a more cost effect , possibly more innovative) area). All in all it\'s kind of a black projects \"open sourcing\".

Whomever is running the show at EADS is really very clever by using the bike demo...

That seat isn\'t nearly as hard as you think: from the look of it it flexes just like the Festo robo/tentacle hands: grip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rlR_opLVxM&feature=related speed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQf2vwH3tks&feature=related , tentacles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKJybDb1dz0

nice engineering guys, now hire an artist ;-)


re: \"the front wheel is on backwards\"

no..... The rear wheel is on frontwards



With the shape of the fan type spokes it should exert sideways force on the wheels at high speed.


The reduction in waste is in comparison to traditional methods of manufacture. Milling steel, aluminum, etc. creates a lot of waste as you are starting from a block of material.


I\'m amazed at the number of people critiquing the bike. It\'s a demonstration of the manufacturing process - which is the actual topic of the article. It\'s like judging a printer based on the picture they choose for demo/test print out.

Thanks Luddite for pointing out that the there\'s no contradiction in a 65% weight reduction versus a 10% material consumption.

Because it\'s not milled there\'s no swarf waste - hence the reduction in material consumed in manufacture.

Because the product is \"built up\", internal structures that include holes can be included, invisibly, inside the product - hence providing a reduction in weight. Not something that can be done with traditional \"outside in\" milling.

Mats L - there\'s a difference between strength and hardness.


re: \"the front wheel is on backwards\"

Looks to me like they have the handle bars turned 180 degrees. This would explain the \"backwards\" front wheel and the fact that they look to be too far from the seat.


martin: right you are, hard and strong aren\'t the same. A bicycle frame needs to be both, so is there a way to make it flex less? And still use the same manufacturing method, I mean. I am sure there are many applications (not only bicycles) where this would be desirable.

Mats Leidö

So all of you that have critiqued the wheels have not heard about the fact that the A400M has counter rotating engines then.....


Al B. Meredith, the bike has the same problem every other fancy high tech bike on Gizmag has.

It's designed for Lance Armstrong wannabes. Make a bike with the handlebars UP and BACK so it is COMFORTABLE TO RIDE.

Make bikes that can be ridden without the feeling of being constantly kicked in the crotch.

Gregg Eshelman
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