The world’s first 3D printed gun has come and gone. It fired a shot, but was made of plastic and broke down very quickly. Further revisions of the gun had it last a little longer but the weapons weren’t permanent, and thus unreliable. Now, 3D printing and rapid prototyping company Solid Concepts has improved upon the plastic gun, and 3D printed the world’s first metal gun.
The first open source 3D printed gun, the Liberator made by Defense Distributed, was made of plastic, but did actually work – albeit very briefly. Eventually, Defense Distributed managed to get a gun made of 3D printed parts to survive through multiple rounds of fire until it became structurally unsound. Solid Concepts’ 3D printed gun is a step forward in the realm of sturdy, 3D printed guns. The gun printed is an M1911, a single-action semi-automatic pistol, and was made with a selective laser sintering (SLS) process using powdered metals. SLS is the process by which a high-powered laser is used to fuse small particles of powder into the desired shape.
The 1911 has successfully fired over 50 rounds, and the shooter managed to hit a few bullseyes located over 30 yards away. The gun is made of over 30 separate 3D printed parts, composed of 17-4 stainless steel and Inconel 625, a nickel-chromium superalloy. Solid Concepts didn’t just print the gun in order to prove a working, metal gun can be 3D printed, but to prove that laser sintering is a viable method for 3D printing working, complex objects. (Read: 3D printing with metal: The final frontier of additive manufacturing.)
Now, if — like the Liberator — you’re worried about dangerous people being able to procure the plans off the internet and print a gun with their at-home printer, never fear. Solid Concepts states that the gun was printed with an industrial printer, the price of which is out of the range of your standard crazy person that would print a gun to mug you or rob a convenience store.
Solid Concepts’ hope is that the gun is proof that 3D printing isn’t just for hobbyists making — as the blog post says — “disfigured Yoda heads” anymore, but can be a viable way to produce delicate, precise, specific consumer and professional grade products. Solid Concepts also notes that since it’s the only 3D printing service provider with a federal firearms license, it can build and deliver a unique gun part within five days, should a (legal!) customer require one built. (Read: What is 3D printing?)
As we’ve known for a while, 3D printing is a viable manufacturing process, but is still in its nascent stage. The process is, admittedly, largely used to make little trinkets. The 3D printer we have here at ExtremeTech HQ made some nice chess pieces, but also a teacup that leaked — not exactly a viable product — and it certainly couldn’t make a functioning item with moving parts. Solid Concepts, however, proves that 3D printers can create some very complex, functioning products.