American manufacturing firm Solid Concepts announced today that it has created the world’s first ever metal 3D printed firearm. Based on the classic, public domain 1911 design, the pistol shot 50 successful rounds in testing.
The news may well attract howls of outrage and fear for public safety from some corners of the web. What’s truly interesting about the 1911, however, is how far it shows 3D printing has come.
While Cody Wilson’s Liberator 3D gun caused plenty of controversy when the blueprints went online last May, it was also very easy to dismiss. An inaccurate, potentially backfiring plastic pistol, it didn’t have any practical use as an assault weapon.
Solid Concepts’ model, however, is a different beast.
Printed using laser sintering and powdered metal, the gun is composed of 33 parts of 17-4 stainless steel and inconel 625. The finished handle is decked with a selective Laser Sintered carbon fibre-filled nylon hand grip to complete the classic look.
As you can see in the video, the 1911 appears to have no issues with accuracy. From a 30 yard range, the Solid Concepts’ gun expert nails bull’s eyes with admirable consistency and there are no traces of the potential safety-risks posed by the Liberator.
So, should we all run to the hills before the country’s madmen start printing off this lethal file and causing chaos? Afraid not, hysteria fans.
While the 1911 might be more accurate, powerful and reliable than the Liberator, it is also infinitely harder to create. While the components of the Liberator could be printed off on a Makerbot, this model requires a large scale, industrial 3D device capable of supporting the ultra-accurate Laser Sintering process. The chances of the common criminal having the budget, experience, skill, knowledge and time to mass-print their own versions of the 1911 are inestimably small.
What’s more, unlike Wilson and his Defense Distributed pals, Solid Concepts has no ambition to share the blueprints online or make a political point about gun control.
Its goal is to prove that additive manufacturing is not just hobbyists firing off plastic figurines on desktop devices but, rather, a viable, commercial alternative to subtractive manufacturing methods. Showing that 3D printing is capable of accurately and reliably creating a product that requires the precision and complexity of a handgun goes a long way to proving the point.
Kent Firestone, Vice President of Additive Manufacturing at Solid Concepts, puts it this way:
“It’s a common misconception that 3D printing isn’t accurate or strong enough, and we’re working to change people’s perspective. With the right materials and a company that knows how to best program and maintain their machines, 3D printing is accurate, powerful and here to stay.”
Of course, Solid Concepts also has an eye on profit. As Firestone proudly points out, it is the only 3D company in the United States with a Federal Firearms License and can produce and ship a customised handgun, to order, in five days.