Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Stunt, But Still: A 3D-Printed, All Metal Gun

A contract manufacturing company from Austin, Texas, Solid Concepts, has 3D printed the first real metal 1911.  An almost completely stainless steel printed gun.
Before we go any further, they don't say how much this cost, but this is not a low cost home printer.  The technology they used is called "Direct Metal Laser Sintering", and, yes, a laser is used in the machine.  A video on that web page shows how the technology works, but in overview, the machine contains a tub of a specially formulated powdered metal, and the laser heat is used to fuse particles of the powder into solid metal. The tub is lowered a small increment (.001"?) and the powder re-leveled, allowing the laser to sinter the next layer.  Layer by layer the part is built up until the final shape is there.  Post-processing - clean up, heat treating, and finishing - is required.

Again, don't think of this as a home printer technique, think of it more as an alternative manufacturing technology.  Sintered metal parts aren't a new thing, but printing them as DMLS is.  I know sintered metal has a bad reputation among many in the firearms communities, undoubtedly due to premature introductions of the parts in many companies.  The tech gets continually better, though. 
Solid Concepts is a world leader of 3D Printing services, and our ability to 3D Print the world’s first metal gun solidifies our standing. The gun is a classic 1911, a model that is at once timeless and public domain. It functions beautifully: Our resident gun expert has fired 50 successful rounds and hit a few bull’s eyes at over 30 yards. The gun is composed of 30+ 3D Printed components with 17-4 Stainless Steel and Inconel 625 materials. We completed it with a Selective Laser Sintered (SLS) 3D Printed hand grip, because we’re kind of crazy about 3D Printing.
The gun doesn't come off the machine ready to use (neither did the Liberator), but the parts are made and then assembled.  The barrel was rifled but the rifling was grown into the barrel as it was made, layer by layer, in the machine.  As they say,
This gun has NOT BEEN MACHINED. We used hand tools for some post processing (our finishers are wonderful), but we did not machine this gun. It’s born this way.
H/T to commenter bogbeagle at WRSA.


  1. Well, now we're getting somewhere.

    I realize the 1911 was selected because it's public domain, but there is also the advantages of 45 ACP being a low pressure cartridge, with most loadings in the 20K psi range, and John M. Browning having done a superb job engineering the gun in the first place (as example, a 1911 can be completely disassembled, and reassembled using only a fired cartridge case and an empty 1911 magazine.). 9MM is about 35K, and the 10MM and 41 Magnum cross 40K (Colt makes the Delta Elite, a 1911 pattern pistol, in 10MM, and it's available in stainless. I'd really like to see one of those next, followed by a couple revolvers. Then on to the really complex stuff like heart valves and bone implants).

    I'd like to know what it cost Solid Concepts to make this gun, and how many manufacturing hours it took. That will tell us how quickly the cost/benefit curve can be climbed for this process.

    Interestingly, this is a production pistol; the prototype was all zeroes and ones in the computer. That is significant. DARPA, some 25 years ago, floated a proposal about shipping bits to remote locations to manufacture parts for military hardware rather than maintaining a supply pipeline full of metal and plastic replacement parts. While they were thinking of CNC machining back then, this is the logical continuation of that process. Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT media Lab climbed on that bandwagon with his book Being Digital in 1996.

    I think we're almost there. Or, at least close enough to see it from here. The next couple of years are going to be pretty exciting, assuming Obama leaves us enough of an economy to do it with.

    1. I agree. I proposed the next plastic 3D gun be a .45 because of the low chamber pressures, right after the plastic .380. Not owning any 1911s, I didn't know that they can be disassembled and reassembled with just an empty brass and magazine. (I love the look of 1911s, but for some reason they don't just feel right in my hand).

      I'm still a believer in shipping bits to small CNC machine shops, since I have one myself. The revolution in cottage sized manufacturing is coming.

  2. Sintered powder metal parts are used for such things and these are very reliable and durable.