How to grow your own bike from nylon powder

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A British company has created a bike that, it says, could be grown at home by consumers too lazy to go to the store.

The Airbike is built using Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), a type of 3D printing, and is made entirely of nylon. Nevertheless, it has comparable strength to steel or aluminium, says EADS.

It's 'grown' from powder, allowing complete sections to be built as one piece, with the wheels, bearings and axle being built at the same time. A laser-sintering process adds successive, thin layers of the nylon until the bike is completed.

It can be tailored to the rider's specification, so that no adjustment is needed, and requires no conventional maintenance or assembly.

"The possibilities with ALM are huge – it’s a game-changing technology. The beauty is that complex designs do not cost any extra to produce," says
Andy Hawkins, lead engineer for ALM at EADS.

"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."

While the Airbike is only a prototype right now, EADS says it's developed the technology to manipulate metals, nylon, and carbon-reinforced plastics at a molecular level.

This, it says, allows it to be applied to high-stress, safety critical aviation uses. Parts are up to 65 percent lighter, but just as strong as conventional ones.

And, says EADS, the process uses only a tenth of the material required in traditional manufacturing. There's potential for products to be produced quickly and cheaply in offices, shops and houses. Components could be also produced in remote regions, aiding humanitarian relief and military operations.

"Additive Layer Manufacturing, or 3-D printing, is a truly exciting, green, new technology, which not only enables the creation of products beyond the capability of traditional manufacturing processes, but also offers the potential to help the manufacturing sector slash its waste and carbon emissions," comments UK minister for business and enterprise, Mark Prisk.