3D printing is changing the way people think about manufacturing, and the knife world is no exception. LionSteel, the Italian cutlery company known for their ambitious and innovative manufacturing, is the maker of the TiDust, an early attempt at utilizing the technology with an impressive outcome. With a retail price of nearly $1,700, it’s certainly not accessible to everyone, but is it a sign of what’s to come?
Typically, 3D printing can only produce parts made out of softer, easily-melted material like plastic or resin – neither of which are ideal for making a solid knife handle. But with the advent of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and other technologies like it, manufacturers are now starting to 3D print with metal. By focusing powerful lasers at powdered metal to heat & melt them together, the DMLS process slowly builds solid metal parts layer by layer. “It’s definitely 3D printing technology,” says John Pendleton at GPI Prototyping & Manufacturing Services, a company specializing in additive manufacturing based in Illinois. “We’re locally melting metal powder, letting it cool, and then starting the next layer.”
Despite the design freedom that it allows, there are significant challenges to using 3D printing to make knives. “Titanium has a lot of residual stresses that build up during the manufacturing processes; the rapid heating and cooling makes it want to warp and twist on itself. Any part built via DMLS needs to be supported and stabilized as it gets made, so the structure doesn’t topple over before it’s finished,” says Pendleton.
Because of limitations in the technology, LionSteel’s TiDust still required traditional milling to skeletonize the handle, according to LionSteel CEO Gianni Pauletta: “All the handles were [printed] without the holes; the .. technology does not have enough precision.” But despite the challenge and the cost, LionSteel hasn’t given up on pushing this new technology as far as it can go. “We are working on one other design, maybe it will be in the market next year,” says Pauletta.