3D printing took a huge step forward in late 2013 when the world’s first 3D printed metal gun successfully fired 50 rounds of ammunition.
What terrifies gun control advocates and government agencies alike is also a huge milestone for the 3D printing industry. A 3D printed metal version of the world’s most popular pistol design – the Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol – has arrived.
The 3D printed metal gun, produced by Texas-based Solid Concepts, isn’t the first 3D printed gun, but it is the first one made out of metal components.
“Solid Concepts is debunking the idea that 3D printing isn’t a viable solution or isn’t ready for mainstream manufacturing,” said a company spokesperson.
The previous 3D gun, made by Texas-based Defense Distributed, was made almost entirely of plastic and was a single-shot pistol. While an impressive demonstration of how 3D printing technology can be applied, it was hardly practical.
15 of the gun’s 16 pieces were produced with 3D printing in plastic using a second-hand Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) Dimension SST 3D printer. The final piece, the firing pin and only metal component besides ammunition, was a simple nail available at a hardware store.
The successful test firing from the first 3D gun was a major event. But successful testing of the first 3D printed metal gun is much more significant.
The production of the metal 3D gun was considerably different than that of its plastic predecessor.
Solid Concepts used a kind of 3D printing technology called “laser sintering” rather than stereolithography, the common 3D printing technique which arranges melted plastic layer by layer to produce an object from the bottom up.
Solid Concepts called its method of laser sintering “the most accurate manufacturing process available.” The company even claims that this method solves certain porosity issues associated with the traditional method of casting metal parts.
The laser sintering method even eliminates a step in the manufacturing process, one in which the metal parts are machined by hand after casting in order to fit exact specifications.
With Solid Concepts’ laser sintering production, the 30+ pieces required to build the gun were produced to exact specifications with no further machining necessary.
A gun that can be printed at home using plans obtained for free on the internet is a terrifying prospect for many. Regardless of your feeling on this issue, one cannot simply deny the brave new world of 3D printed items that is quickly approaching.
That brave new world is a lot closer now after this 3D printed metal gun. Its significance isn’t that a home-produced firearm is now available.
The significance is that the 3D printer is no longer a tool for printing plastic trinkets, the kind pictured below.
3D printing is now capable of producing precisely measured components to very complicated machinery. Companies like 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) and Stratasys are among the leaders in an industry that is poised to rapidly change the way our goods are manufactured.
On demand auto parts, construction materials, electrical components, the possibilities are endless.
The precise and interchangeable components of the world’s first 3D printed metal gun are just an example of what 3D printing can do.
With base materials of both metals and plastics along with precision manufacturing techniques, 3D printing has arrived. And it is a big deal.