Airbus unit unveils 3D-printed electric motorcycle

Airbus unit unveils 3D-printed electric motorcycle
The CEO of Airbus, Tom Enders, left, and the head of APWorks, Joachim Zettler, present the first 3D printed electric motorcycle in Ottobrunn, Germany, Friday May 20, 2016. The motorcycle was made of metal powder by using lasermelting technology. The bike only weighs 35 kilos. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP)

What weighs 77 pounds, goes 50 mph (80 kph) and looks like a Swiss cheese on wheels?

An made from tiny aluminum alloy particles using a 3D printer.

European aeronautics giant Airbus unveiled the 'Light Rider ' in Germany on Friday. Manufactured by its subsidiary APWorks, a specialist in additive layer manufacturing, the motorcycle uses hollow frame parts that contain the cables and pipes.

The frame weighs just 13 pounds, about 30 percent less than conventional e-motorbikes.

APWorks chief executive Joachim Zettler said the complex, branched hollow structure wouldn't have been possible with conventional production technologies such as milling or welding.

The company is taking orders for a limited run of 50 motorbikes, costing 50,000 euros ($56,095), plus tax, each.

They'll have a range of 37 miles (60 kilometers).

  • Airbus unit unveils 3D-printed electric motorcycle
    The CEO of Airbus, Tom Enders, presents the first 3D printed electric motorcycle in Ottobrunn, Germany, Friday May 20,2016. The motorcycle was made of metal powder by using lasermelting technology. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP)
  • Airbus unit unveils 3D-printed electric motorcycle
    The CEO of Airbus, Tom Enders, presents the first 3D printed electric motorcycle in Ottobrunn, Germany, Friday May 20, 2016. The motorcycle was made of metal powder by using lasermelting technology. The bike only weighs 35 kilos. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP)

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May 20, 2016
I'm sorry but I can build a better electric city bike for less than 1/10 of that cost. That is extremely overpriced even for the way it was made and it's not even an attractive bike.

May 20, 2016
A bit of a deceptive headline if just the motor and frame are made from 3D printing.

May 20, 2016
As a demo for this kind of 3-D printing it's OK, but as a commercial offering it's just silly- for the reasons 24volts stated.

May 21, 2016
I'm sorry but I can build a better electric city bike for less than 1/10 of that cost

Better? You mean more lightweight and more stable frame (which are the thing in the article).

I mmean, yeah..one can always go to an article that says "we built a new, lightweight rocket which has also a red light" by commenting "but I can build a red light that's a lot cheaper"...but what's the point?

The thing about 3D printing is that you can take evolving finite element analysis (which basically mimics the growth processes of plants/bone/etc.) by adding material where stresses are great and reducing/removing it where stresses are low - and then actually manufacture that. Which is a really great idea if you think about the aeoronautics industry. Weight is fuel cost.

Why do you think Airbus, of all companies, is presenting this?

May 21, 2016
The point of this exercise is obvious when you look at the frame of the motorcycle. There is no way that anyone could have built something like that with conventional welding and casting technologies.

This will make entirely new designs that were too expensive or impractical to fabricate feasible. It also reduces the number of parts required to build something --and thus it reduces assembly costs.

The demonstration is about those features, not the motorcycle itself.

May 21, 2016
What everyone above said.

May 21, 2016
My point AP is if your going to build something like that then make it useful and not so overpriced no-one but some rich person with more money than sense is the only person that can buy it. As far as what they are trying to show - so what. People are making all kinds of stuff from 3d printers and that includes metal objects. I've seen a lot of stuff that was much more impressive.

That frame is uglier than crap - do they have no artistic people on payroll? It looks like it was designed by an engineer on bad acid. Nor did they need to try and make it look like a particular type of motorcycle. The fake gas tank framing? Give me a break. Also how long is that lightweight 13 lb frame is going to last in the real world? I wouldn't give it 5 years in the real world before it breaks somewhere due to metal fatigue. It's pretty as an example of 3d metal printing but that is as far as it goes.

May 21, 2016
Yes, I do mean better range and a more reliable frame. It would also look better than that and I wouldn't even had to try very hard in that area. It doesn't have to be super lightweight. It has to be safe and reliable. Your average bicycle weighs more than that and I'm not running down the road on a bike frame at 50 mph either and especially an aluminum one! The frame isn't designed to take the stresses which is why a real motorcycle tube frame has fairly heavy wall tubing and will weigh at least twice that.

May 23, 2016
That frame is uglier than crap - do they have no artistic people on payroll?

The frame is not designed by an artist. the frame is designed by an algorithm that does a stress analysis. It's supposed to be optimally efficient (i.e. provide full functionality at minimum weight). We'll be seeing a lot of this sort of design in the future. From airplane struts to skyscraper supports.

Also how long is that lightweight 13 lb frame is going to last in the real world?

Longer than any other type. That's the point. It's no less stable (or prone to metal fatigue) than any other type of frame

es, I do mean better range and a more reliable frame.

Well then put up or shut up. I'd like to see that 13 pound frame of yours that can be (demonstrably!) better than this.

May 23, 2016
Can I faint now? A bit on the steep side.

May 23, 2016
The point of this exercise is obvious when you look at the frame of the motorcycle. There is no way that anyone could have built something like that with conventional welding and casting technologies.


Don't knock it before you try it. Casting hollow structures over a lost-core mold is perfectly possible. You take the hollow part and make it out of a dissolvable material and cast the part around, then dissolve the material.

Another possibility is to make a plastic mold of the hollow core, cover it in graphite and then electroplate the metal structure on top of it. Then you heat it up and vaporize the plastic core.

Of course you couldn't make the whole frame in one go due to geometric limitations, but you can make it in large enough sections that you only need to weld them together at a handful of places.

May 23, 2016
Harummph!!!! Imagine the cost if it was actually hand-built (yeah, totally do-able with conventional manufacturing tech). Admittedly, it has the benefit of more strapping anchor points than I've ever seen on any single motorcycle and it's very light...but jeez it's ugly. Although, if the entire unit was printed instead of just some of the parts, that would be huge. Eh...I'm waiting for the Moegi; sure it's heavier and runs on gas but there are just some things that should stay in their analog state.

May 23, 2016
Aside from the new direction, the price and the range prevents this from being a commercially viable product. Perhaps a commercially viable product can emerge from this effort? Maybe - but the price would need to be reduced by at least 80% to be competitive. Might be able to sell the 50, but not a lot more......

May 23, 2016
That frame is uglier than crap - do they have no artistic people on payroll?

The frame is not designed by an artist. the frame is designed by an algorithm that does a stress analysis. It's supposed to be optimally efficient (i.e. provide full functionality at minimum weight). We'll be seeing a lot of this sort of design in the future. From airplane struts to skyscraper supports.

Also how long is that lightweight 13 lb frame is going to last in the real world?

Longer than any other type. That's the point. It's no less stable (or prone to metal fatigue) than any other type of frame

es, I do mean better range and a more reliable frame.

Well then put up or shut up. I'd like to see that 13 pound frame of yours that can be (demonstrably!) better than this.


I wouldn't build a 13 lb frame bike for going 50 mph. The ones I've already built were better so I have already 'put up' so you can already shut up.

May 24, 2016
The fundamental problem of highly optimized structures is in their behaviour when something does go wrong. They don't have any extra material that would undergo plastic deformation to catch the excess stress, so they fail rather dramatically. Once the structure is outside of the optimal parameters, it becomes highly unoptimal.

That's a problem if you e.g. take a fall on the bike and get a ding or a fracture on some of the structural members, which loses its rigidity and then the bike starts to rattle itself apart because every other member is also relying on that member to stay rigid.

Such optimized structures work for biological stuff because there's a continuous repair mechanism going on. Bones develop fractures all the time - every time you step on your foot there's some damage done - and they heal all the time.

May 24, 2016
Harummph!!!! Imagine the cost if it was actually hand-built


That wouldn't really be a fair comparison, because if you were to start making these in traditional ways, you would make a thousand copies instead of one.

For example, you could take the bike, split it sections, and form the sections from sheet metal by pressing in a mold. You need two molds for each section to make two halves of the hollow structure - then you laser or ultrasound weld the halves together like gluing airfix models, and then weld the sections together to make the bike frame.

It would be more expensive and slower for a single bike, because you have to tool a whole factory for it, but it would be much less expensive and way faster if you were going to make a hundred thousand of them.

May 24, 2016
The problem for 3D printing is that it doesn't scale down in cost with a scale up in volume. If you want to make a single printer print two objects instead of one, it will take twice the time to melt twice the metal. So you install another laser and a bigger print bed - essentially making twice the machine for twice the cost, using twice the energy and materials - and you're still where you started.

For traditional methods, it's costly to set up a method to produce a specific structure, but once you have the means it's cheap and fast to just make a pile of them. A multi-ton metal press can stamp out a hundred pieces a minute and you spend way less time under the laser to just melt the edges together.

May 24, 2016
24volts 1 /5 (1) 15 hours ago

The ones I've already built were better so I have already 'put up' so you can already shut up.


Could you fuck off while you're at it?

Aside, has anyone got the functionality to use your real name and not screen name working in the account settings? It always resets to "nickname".

May 24, 2016
Could you fuck off while you're at it?


He's got a point though: "I wouldn't build a 13 lb frame bike for going 50 mph."

That's because the bike is a spring-mass damper system against vibrations from the road. If the frame is too light, the driver is going to get the beating and it's going to get a bit harrowing to ride at 50 mph on all but nice smooth roads.

In other words, the suspension and shocks don't work right if there's no mass for them to work against. The lighter the body, the softer the suspension has to be to keep the rider comfortable, and the worse the ride quality and handling becomes.

May 26, 2016
The fundamental problem of highly optimized structures is in their behaviour when something does go wrong. They don't have any extra material that would undergo plastic deformation to catch the excess stress, so they fail rather dramatically. Once the structure is outside of the optimal parameters, it becomes highly unoptimal.


If something does go wrong with a highly optimized structure, it really doesn't matter what fabrication methods were used. Furthermore, with printed fabrication, one can add additional metal in to key stress points to improve upon the design quite easily. It is not so easily done when you're casting with lost wax (or plastic) molds.

In fact, with any combined fabrication methods, welds are usually a potentially weaker failure point. In this case, everything is printed with the same method. The only potential problem is if the bias of the printing itself because a failure mode. That's a know-able design parameter.

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