3D (three dimensional) printing has been around since the early 1980s when boffins figured out how to do it. It became known as additive manufacturing as the process to make a product meant layering the materials to form the final unit. It didn’t really take off for about 20 years as the technology and materials evolved to make the process easier and cheaper to use. Last year I wrote two articles about the use of 3D printing, one about Amazon using 3D printers in trucks to manufacture parts on the fly, and the other was about Local Motors, who created the first fully 3D printed car.
Before Local Motors was the Urbee which was designed in the late 1990s and is still in prototype status – now as the Urbee 2. Manufactured by KorEcologic, the concept is to produce the most advanced and ecologically sound car on the planet.
Recently another, more advanced vehicle was announced. This is the Light Rider, from APWorks in Germany, a 3D printed motorcycle! What makes this different is that the cars from KorEcologic and Local Motors are made using plastics, the Light Rider is 3D printed from an aluminium, magnesium and scandium mixed alloy called Scalmalloy®!
Airbus, the aircraft manufacturer (and investor in Local Motors) developed this alloy for high strength and light weight. APWorks is a subsidiary of Airbus and therefore used this material to produce a super lightweight motorcycle frame using the alloy in a powdered form and a laser “printer” to form the frame. Attached to that is a small 6Kw battery powered electric motor good for 80 km/h – perfect for urban and intercity freeway riding. They will produce 50 only at €50,000 each, however this could be the start of something big.
3D printing gives the world an easy way to design, develop and manufacture products in distant countries. No longer would a manufacturer ship containers full of Complete Knock-down Kits (CKDs) to remote factories for assembly, rather it sends print units and bags of materials instead. Using cloud servers, it could deliver the electronic design files and the factory starts printing, sending the parts to the assembly line.
Cheap cars and motorcycles that are more efficient and safer for the planet can be made and used where the consumers are. Some components like tyres and specialised electronic equipment would still need to be shipped the old fashioned way, however this would still reduce the ecological footprint of the logistics.