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3D-printed metal guns are nothing to worry about

Mon, 11/11/2013 - 4:24pm
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Well, it was bound to happen. A company has finally succeeded in fabricating a wholesale 3D-printed metal gun. But this should cause considerably less hand-wringing than the “Liberator” and its follow-up, the “Grizzly”. To quote the Hitchhiker’s Guide, don’t panic.

Solid Concepts — a custom manufacturing company based in Valencia, CA — is a big proponent of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), and their 3D-printed gun is made entirely of metal. The slide, frame, and internal components contain stainless steel 17-4 DMLS product. No one will sneak this weapon past security, and it couldn’t possibly violate the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which makes it illegal to “manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm which is not detectable by walk-through metal detectors.”

The folks at Solid Concepts aren’t out to rattle any cages, and they’re not making a 2nd Amendment Statement. They certainly aren’t trying to prove the fallacy of gun control. And unlike Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed, their language shares nothing in common with crypto-libertarian philosophy.

While Wilson — and his contemporaries — utilize ABS+ Plastic in an effort to skirt gun control (and beat metal detectors), and the Defense Distributed founder believes that “You should have access to this” (echoing the “information deserves to be free” movement), Solid Concepts isn’t trying to arm the citizenry or make weapons easier to acquire.

"When we decided to go ahead and make this gun, we weren't trying to figure out a cheaper, easier, better way to make a gun,” said Phillip Connor, DMLS Manager. “We were trying to dispel the commonly held notion that DMLS parts aren't strong enough or accurate enough for real-world applications."

Moreover, this isn’t some rinky-dink homebrewed creation that fires one shot and falls apart; the good folks at Solid Concepts created a very close facsimile of a 1911 pistol – and it fires without breaking. And the public won’t be printing their own version anytime soon. As Scott McGowan, Solid Concepts' VP of marketing told The Verge, "There are barriers to entry that will keep the public away from this technology for years."

Namely, price. Printing 3D metal parts is a lot more expensive than any ABS+ Plastic creation — and a Stratasys Dimension 1200es 3D printer (used to create the plastic guns) already runs a cool $30K.

But this is a very cool development. Solid Concepts’ 3D-printed metal guns won’t start a revolution, but they do demonstrate the utility of DMLS technology.

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