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.