3D printing has been heading into uncharted territory of late, what with a recent recent, as-yet-unresolved IP debate. Yet while the DIY/consumer-oriented 3D printers are typically designed to extrude thermoplastics such as ABS, I (for one) didn’t realize that 3D printing can also be used to make metal parts in a similar fashion. When it comes to digitally fabricating metal, steel or titanium objects are ‘forged’ from an ultrafine powder in a process called electron beam melting (EBM to those in the know). The technique has been around for upwards of a decade and its major applications include medical implants and aerospace engineering.
European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS), which specializes in the latter, recently collaborated with Charge Bikes (no acronym necessary) of Bristol, UK, on fabricating titanium dropouts for some of their cyclocross frames.
Andy Hawkins of EADS Innovation Works notes that “the key benefit of this technology [is that] we’re able to manufacture components with a much higher degree of complexity. Features that were totally impossible with conventional machining, for instance, are now possible.”
Additionally (or is that additively?), 3D-printing is substantially less wasteful than traditional subtractive methods, in which a block of material is milled or machined down to the final product: the excess powder (at 2:09 in the video below) can be reused.
Watch and learn: