Airbus demonstrates bionic 3D printing advances

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APWorks, a subsidiary of Airbus Group, has created an electric motorycle that could be a milestone project in the quest for lighter, more efficient automotive structures. APWorks has specialized in additive layer manufacturing (ALM) and advanced materials development since its launch in 2013, producing bionically optimized metal parts for a wide range of industries, from aerospace to automotive and robotics.

The company’s newest creation – named the Light Rider – is claimed to be the world’s first 3D-printed motorcycle, created using APWorks’ Scalmalloy ALM material. The frame weighs a mere 6kg, with the entire machine weighing in at 35kg – a claimed 30% lighter than conventionally manufactured e-motorcycles.

Each 3D-printed part of the Light Rider’s frame is produced using a selective 3D laser printing system that melts millions of aluminum alloy particles together in thousands of thin layers just 60 microns thick. APWorks designed frame parts that are hollow instead of solid, which has allowed for integrated cables, pipes and screw-on points in the motorcycle structure.

APWorks used an algorithm to develop the Light Rider’s optimized structure to keep weight at a minimum while ensuring the motorcycle’s frame was strong enough to handle the weight loads and stresses of everyday driving scenarios. The result: a motorcycle that looks more like an organic exoskeleton than a machine. That was a very deliberate design goal for APWorks, which programmed the algorithm to use bionic structures and natural growth processes and patterns as the basis for developing a strong but lightweight structure.

“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.”

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Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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