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Direct metal laser sintering used to 3D-print working metal pistol

by Mark Tyson on 11 November 2013, 11:00

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qab4zv

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A Texas firm called Solid Concepts has announced it has successfully 3D-printed a gun in metal. The firm chose to print a working replica of a classic Browning 1911 pistol in order to prove how refined its process is for making durable, functional parts and prototypes in metal.

The 3D printer used to make the gun is far removed from any molten plastic 3D printer we have seen in the news in recent months. The direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) printer fuses metal powder into solid shapes using a laser using an additive process. Alyssa Parkinson of Solid Concepts said the printer “costs more than my college tuition (and I went to a private university)”. Also several engineers work with the printer to get the best out of it.

The 3D printed Browning 1911 pistol was made of more than 30 parts produced by the DMLS printer using stainless steel and Inconel metal powders. The engineers also 3D printed the grip using a Selective Laser Sintered (SLS) process, just for fun. The gun was 100 per cent 3D printed though some hand finishing of the parts was done and some common-or-garden springs used in the mechanism, the firm stresses no machining was done to manufacture this firearm.

“The whole concept of using a laser sintering process to 3D Print a metal gun revolves around proving the reliability, accuracy and usability of 3D Metal Printing as functional prototypes and end use products,” said Solid Concepts’ Vice President of Additive Manufacturing Kent Firestone. “It’s a common misconception that laser sintering isn’t accurate or strong enough, and we’re working to change people’s perspective.”

Solid Concept’s gun has proved to be reliable and accurate. One of the engineers has fired 50 rounds from the gun so far and “hit a few bull’s eyes at over 30 yards”. This accuracy was undoubtedly helped by the fact that Solid Concept’s DMLS process is capable of printing rifling grooves into the inner walls of the barrel.

The printing of the pistol has definitely raised Solid Concept’s company profile. There must be many companies wishing to prototype or make a short-run of 3D printed components where plastic isn’t up to the job. In terms of making more guns Solid Concepts says that it is the only commercial 3D printer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL) so can put together things like this Browning 1911 clone.



HEXUS Forums :: 19 Comments

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I expect to see this story on the Daily Mail website in a few days.
fatguy666
I expect to see this story on the Daily Mail website in a few days.

No doubt with an editorial claiming that DMLS machines will shortly be available to all benefit claimants, or some other ridiculous nonsense...
The 3D printed Browning 1911 pistol was made of more than 30 parts produced by the DMLS printer using stainless steel and Inconel metal powders.

Cue the reclassification of these powders as "weapons materials" and corresponding sale/export controls*.

(* unless you live in Texas of course, where you'll be able to pick 'em up from your local Walmart along with your Fruit Loops, Smuckers, etc)

Hopefully there's going to be some access controls on these machines as I'm thinking that an easy source of untraceable firearms is going to be very welcome in some circles. Apologies if this is all Daily Mail of me.

Shame they couldn't have used it for something a bit more useful than a handgun - e.g. coffee machine, etc.
With the cost of the equipment to do this it would be far easier and cheaper to buy the gun in the first place. As an exercise to show 'printing' of a complex object in metal and prove it's durability I have to say I am impressed.
crossy
Hopefully there's going to be some access controls on these machines as I'm thinking that an easy source of untraceable firearms is going to be very welcome in some circles. Apologies if this is all Daily Mail of me.

Well, the huge cost and the technical expertise to operate one are going to be significant stumbling blocks without any formal control. I suspect, given they're industrial scale machines, that the company that builds them will keep extensive records of who owns them. The metal powders required to feed them are almost certainly controlled, as pretty much all powdered materials are exposive, and powdered metals are almost certainly highly toxic. And I wouldn't call painstakingly fabricating more than 30 separate components then hand-finishing and hand-assembling them easy. Plus I suspect that printed devices like this have more significant minor variation than factory-built weapons would, so they'd have a much more individual forensic "fingerprint". We're not quite at the perfect/cheap replication stage yet (and read John Scalzi's "The Android's Dream" for a very interesting insight into just how untraceable that would be even if we did get there).

I'm pretty sure it's currently far easier to source firearms then using state of the art technological methods: a couple of well placed bribes or a small scale casting plant would be just as hard to trace and effective.

crossy
Shame they couldn't have used it for something a bit more useful than a handgun - e.g. coffee machine, etc.

That would hardly be a test of the materials and process though, would it? For demonstrating strength and consistency in manufacturing, firearms are actually a perfect choice. Any weak sections or deviations from design and the gun either blows up or shoots crooked.