3D printing isn't one of those technologies that we might see, some indeterminate time in the future. It's one of those technologies that we can already see, and inspect, and touch. 3D printing, also known as Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) isn't the technology of the future - it's a technology of today.

Undoubtably though it's also one that will continually grow as we find the best ways to use it, but things are picking up speed - literally - with a bicycle made entirely from nylon powder.

The Airbike has been 'grown' from nylon powder using the familiar ALM process. Successive layers of powder are then fused together until objects are formed. The process is controlled using computer aided design, allowing incredibly intricate structures to be formed.

Not just intricate, either - very strong, too. The ALM nylon Airbike is apparently as strong as steel or aluminum yet as much as 65 percent lighter than either. Thanks to the incredibly complicated structures that can be made using ALM, whole moving pieces can be formed too. The wheels, bearings and axle are all built as one unit, rather than requiring construction at a later point. Linked pieces such as chains can be created as one piece too.

The Airbike has been developed by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space group (EADS), based in Bristol in the U.K. It's being used as an example of what's possible with ALM, with a view to varied future uses in the automotive, aerospace, industrial and military applications.

According to Andy Hawkins, lead engineer for ALM at EADS, the benefits are clear: "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." The airbike is unique in not requiring any adjustment features as each bike can be tailor-fit to customers at the design stage.

Because such complexity can be so easily produced, the technology removes the need for production lines and even factories, as contained units can produce complex components in relatively small spaces.

We looked at ALM with EADS back in January, but it's exciting to see developments such as the Airbike as proof that the technology can create more than just small trinkets and components.

As ever, AllCarTech will continue to bring you the latest developments in ALM technology in the future - it's certainly one to keep an eye on.

[Eureka Magazine]