Airbus prints motorbike from dust

The Light Rider, the 'world's first 3D printed motorcycle' Image: © 2016 by Airbus APWorks.

You would normally associate Airbus with A380s and other large passenger carrying jetliners.

But in a sign of where advancing 3D printing technology could take aviation in the future, Airbus, through its German subsidiary APWorks, has produced an electric motorbike from aluminium powder.

Marketed as ‘the world’s first 3D printed motorbike’, the Light Rider weighs just 35 kg with its electric drive motor and interchangeable battery delivering up to 130 newton metres of torque and speeds of 80 km/h with a 60 km range.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the bike is the high-performance aluminium powder used in the additive manufacturing of the hollow frame, which weighs just six kilos, or just over 17 per cent of the bike’s total weight.

‘The motorcycle frame has been created out of thousands of 30 micrometre thin layers in a metallic powder bed,’ says the APWorks website, with ‘bionic algorithms defining the organic frame structure using nature’s design principles.’

Airbus, together with APWorks developed the powder, coined ‘Scalmalloy’, claiming it to be as ‘ductile as titanium, as light as aluminium’ as well as being resistant to corrosion.

‘The complex and branched hollow structure couldn’t have been produced using conventional production technologies such as milling or welding,’ said Joachim Zettler, CEO of Airbus APWorks GmbH. ‘Advances in additive layer manufacturing have allowed us to realize the bionic design we envisioned for the motorcycle without having to make any major changes. With these technologies, the limitations facing conventional manufacturing disappear,’ he added.

This is not the first time Airbus has made headlines in the world of 3D printing, with the company already using additive manufacturing for over 1000 non-structural parts in its A350 XWB. Rolls Royce has also used several 3D printed parts in the Trent XWB97 turbofan engine, which powers Airbus’s flagship aircraft, the A380.

Flight Safety Australia has previously reported on 3D printing and what promises and threats the revolutionary technology holds for aviation; particularly in maintaining technical standards and distinguishing counterfeit parts from genuine ones.

Only 50 Light Rider motorcycles will be made, with units available for purchase with a €2000 reserve and a total price tag of €50,000 or just under A$78,000 dollars.

More information on the Light Rider can be found on APWorks website.