Solid Concepts, a 3D Printing services company, has announced that it has successfully manufactured a functioning 3D printed metal gun. To produce the more than 30 parts needed to assemble a classic 1911 design, Solid Concepts used a 3D printing process that deposits powdered metals that are then sintered with a laser. The result is metal parts that are hard enough to withstand the stresses and high pressures found in a firearm. The gun is made from 33 17-4 stainless steel and Inconel 625 and has successfully fired 50 rounds. Even the carbon-fiber filled nylon hand grip was 3D printed, using “selective laser sintering”. Solid Concepts says that the project proves the viability of 3D printing of metal parts for commercial applications.
Civil libertarians and Second Amendment activists have debated the use of 3D printing to challenge gun control laws, but until now, nobody’s 3D printed a fully functioning gun that’s been able to withstand repeated firings. So what’s this post doing here at TTAC and not at the site founder’s site devoted to firearms? Besides the legal implications for gun control, the process could be a boon to automotive engineers trying out prototype parts as well as to restorers trying to reproduce hard-to-find parts and to customizers trying to make parts that have never before been made. Because it can “print” voids within solid objects, and build up components from the inside out, so to speak, 3D printing can make parts that can not be made by conventional machining or casting.
“We’re proving this is possible, the technology is at a place now where we can manufacture a gun with 3D Metal Printing,” says Kent Firestone, Vice President of Additive Manufacturing at Solid Concepts. “And we’re doing this legally. In fact, as far as we know, we’re the only 3D Printing Service Provider with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Now, if a qualifying customer needs a unique gun part in five days, we can deliver.”
Solid Concept says that the metal laser sintering process is more than accurate enough to build the interchangeable and small tolerance parts needed to assemble a functioning 1911 series gun. That design was chosen because it is in the public domain. They say that 3D printed metal parts have less porosity than investment cast parts and better “complexities” than components machined from billet. The barrel ably withstands 20,000 psi of pressure when the gun is fired.
The company chose to make a gun, no doubt because it will generate considerable interest outside the 3D printing community, but also because the engineering needs of firearms manufacture are a rigorous demonstration of 3D metal printing capabilities.
“The whole concept of using a laser sintering process to 3D Print a metal gun revolves around proving the reliability, accuracy and usability of metal 3D Printing as functional prototypes and end use products,” says Firestone. “It’s a common misconception that 3D Printing isn’t accurate or strong enough, and we’re working to change people’s perspective.”
We ran a post not long ago about a process that Ford developed that allows them to make complex sheet metal parts directly from CAD drawings. At the time I said that opens a world of possibilities for car fabricators, restorers and customizers. Now that Solid Concepts has apparently proven that you can 3D print metal hard parts, as long as you have a part’s dimensions, you can reproduce it. It no longer maters if the part is in production or not. Even if you don’t have the original blueprints or a CAD drawing, as long as you have a sample part (and the video below with Jay Leno shows that you can even used cobbled together broken parts) you can use something like NextEngine’s 3D scanner to create a digital model of the part.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS