3D printing usually evokes images of plastic materials, but the truth is that any number of materials can be used in the rapid prototyping process. SLM, or selective laser melting, is one such method used to essentially 3D print items with metal. Now one bike company is embracing a similar, yet more sophisticated, technology.
UK-based Charge Bikes recently shared via Vimeo that it’s now using 3D printers to make bikes. The company is printing bikes in titanium using an experimental process that’s currently being used by the aerospace industry. If widely deployed, it could help cut down on the time required to make bikes as it would allow manufacturers to create multiple parts at once.
In the comments, Charge Bikes addressed the cost of the process as well as the weight of 3D printed bikes:
Yes, it is a more expensive process, as it is in its relative infancy, but it will become more commonplace, we believe.
How do you figure it will be heavier? Unlike a drawn tube, we haven’t had to weld the disc-brake mount on afterwards (saving weight there), nor have we had to cast a solid shape (the dropout is entirely hollow apart from the disc-brake mount itself). This process lends itself entirely to weight-saving as you precisely control the amount of material used.
SLM machines and the like are still incredibly expensive so don’t expect hobbyists to be creating metal objects in 3D printers just yet. For now, check out the progress being made in printing bikes in plastic:[h/t: 3ders]