Scientists have unveiled the world’s first bike grown from nylon powder using a revolutionary new process they say could transform manufacturing around the globe.
The European Aerospace and Defence group (EADS) has created the “Airbike” with Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) technology, which allows single products to be grown from a fine powder of nylon, carbon-reinforced plastics or metal such as titanium, stainless steel or aluminium.
A powerful laser-sintering process adds thin layers of material until the fully-formed bicycle emerges. This allows complete sections including the wheels, bearings and axle to be incorporated within the “growing” process and built at the same time.
Robin Southwell, chief executive of EADS UK, said: “The Airbike is a fantastic example of British innovation at its very best. The team at EADS in Bristol includes world-class engineers who continue to push boundaries by working at the forefront of technology. I believe that ALM technology represents a paradigm shift.”
The company has developed the technology to the extent that it can manipulate metals, nylon, and carbon-reinforced plastics at a molecular level so it can be applied to high-stress, safety critical aviation uses. It can be used in industrial applications such as aerospace, the motor industry and engineering.
Compared to traditional machine-made parts, products made by ALM technology are up to 65 per cent lighter but still as strong.
Lighter aircraft would mean less fuel used by airlines and therefore lower carbon-dioxide emissions. Other benefits would include quicker and cheaper production, as well as less waste than that produced by traditional manufacturing.
Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said: “It is hugely exciting to see examples of British engineers showcasing their work so effectively.
“The Airbike is an example of technology innovation which stands a real chance of providing UK businesses with a manufacturing edge for the future while delivering economic growth both here and around the globe.”