Friday, August 17, 2012

Sometimes Engineers Just Ain't That Smart

I ran across something interesting the other day, on industry engineering magazine Design News' blogs.  Author Beth Stackpole, who ordinarily seems to be a pretty cogent writer, did a piece that attracted my attention.  Design News, like all of them, will send you a daily newsletter with links to some of the news stories going on around us.  This one was featured with lead-in:
"Inspired by the growing 3D printer-driven maker revolution, an engineer has created a working 3D printed AR-15 automatic rifle".
The lead was terribly misleading, and while the article eventually got in all the words that described it properly, you had to tease out the facts that:
  1. It wasn't an automatic, it was a conventional semiautomatic
  2. It wasn't a rifle
  3. It wasn't even an AR-15, but a .22LR pistol built on an AR-15 lower receiver.  
Now we know that anyone handy with tools can build an AR lower.  That's not news.  In addition to the 80% lower route I went, guys have made functioning AR lowers out of pieces of 1/8"thick  aluminum plate, drilled, tapped and screwed together (with some milling involved), and we've seen one AR made from a plastic kitchen cutting board.  I understand soft pine hasn't worked out very well, but walnut has.  The novelty was that the lower was printed on a 3D printer.  Not a $500 home printer, but an old Stratasys commercial printer that sold for tens of thousands when new. This story has been around for a while now.
(test receivers, both 3D printed from
But what got me about this article was not the errors in terminology, but the comments.  I understand that people who aren't really firearms literate would not be aware of many things, but the view of firearms as inherently evil rather than amoral mechanical things was plainly evident.   
  • However, the idea of deploying highly accessible technology to output firearms cheaply -- and without legal sanction -- is pretty frightening, given recent events and all the loopholes that can impede effective gun control. (this by the author in the article) 
  • If your contribution to humanity is 3D home-made weapons. Try to balance your karma by contributing to some good cause.
  • Guns are already too easy to make.  What we need is a weapon that is truly defensive and doesn't act as judge jury and executioner.
  • Americans waste far too much time and money on this non-productive and destructive activity.  Please can we move forward to a more peaceful country. 
So much for engineers always being logical and thinking critically.  Sigh...



  1. Well I guess the 'engineer' who wrote this piece ought to get off his duff and invent the Star Trek Phaser. Oh wait, even that had varying power settings up to and including 'kill'.
    The problem is that they (hoplophobes) STILL haven't gotten it thru their heads that any 'weapon' is only 'deadly' when the person wielding it engages in 'deadly' conduct. As most gun folks know, it's the person that uses a tool for good or evil that is responsible - not the tool.

  2. Engineers that want to un-invent something?
    I get pretty depressed looking around at some of the young engineering graduates today who have no working knowledge of....well, anything.
    It doesn't take critical thinking to be an engineer, but boy, would it sure help if more of them had it nowadays.

    As far as getting upset about being able to produce an AR lower on a machine, have these guys never heard of CNC machines? Bored rednecks with power tools? I guess it's better to view the world through rose colored lenses rather than deal with reality and address the real problems at hand.