For the first time, 3D printing technology has been used to make a metal working copy of the 1911 Browning automatic pistol, the legendary Colt 45.
The 45 caliber pistol was made from parts replicated with a 3D printing process called direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) by an Austin, Texas, company, Solid Concepts. Solid Concepts, though, is not selling a machine that can churn out guns the way a Xerox churns out copies.
The machine Solid Concepts owns has lasers to duplicate the individual parts. The parts then have to be assembled the old-fashioned way.
“Let me start out by saying one, very important thing: This not about desktop 3D printers,” Solid Concepts employee Alyssa Parkinson wrote on the company’s blog. Parkinson told The Guardian that the DMLS machine used to create the pistol components cost more than her college tuition.
It’s a Real Gun
The details provided on Solid Concepts’ website and in news articles prove that this is a real gun. There even is a video. Some of the weapons’ specifications include:
- The pistol is made from more than 30 3D printed components that are made of stainless steel and a material called Inconel 625. Inconel 625 is a special nickel chromium alloy used in many manufacturing processes.
- The weapon has a carbon-filled fiber nylon hand grip also made with 3D printing.
- Solid Concepts employees test fired the pistol 50 times and some of them scored bulls-eyes with it on the target range.
- The gun is rugged enough to survive pressures of up to 20,000 PSI (pounds per square inch) every time it is fired. “The rifling was built directly into the part” with 3D printing, Parkinson wrote. “… It’s born this way.”
- The components were assembled by hand and finished after they were printed.
- Solid Concepts is so confident in its technology that it is shipping them to customers where it is legal, The Guardian reported.
- Solid Concepts used the 1911 Browning design because it is in the public domain and is readily available. The 1911 Browning or Colt 45 is named for the legendary gun designer John Moses Browning, who created it. It was the standard handgun for the United States military from 1911 to 1985 and saw service in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
The Reason It Was Made
“The whole concept of using a laser sintering process to 3D print a metal gun revolves around proving the reliability, accuracy and usability of 3D Metal Printing as functional prototypes and end use products,” Solid Concepts Vice President Kent Firestone said.
The idea is to show that 3D printing can be made to make more than just “plastic Yoda heads,” Parkinson wrote. The company wants to get around the misconception that 3D printing can only be used to create things from plastic.
The idea of using a gun is to show that 3D metal printing can create items that can stand up to a lot of stress and wear and tear.
The last 3D printed gun created by a man named Cody Wilson was made from plastic. The gun reportedly fell apart after firing a few shots. Wilson’s plans for Wiki Weapons ended when the U.S. State Department took his gun plans off the internet. Also, last month police in Manchester, England, confiscated a 3D printer and 3D gun components from alleged gang members.
What is 3D Metal Printing?
3D Printing or additive manufacturing is a catchall phrase that describes a variety of technologies. Each of these technologies uses a different process to create a solid or three dimensional (3D) object directly from a digital plan or design.
Most 3D printers work by spraying layers of plastic or a similar material together to create an object. Solid Concepts’ DMLS uses lasers to melt metal powder and create specific shapes.
Currently this is an industrial process but in the future the machines used could get cheap and small enough for small business or home house. A good way to think of the DMLS is as a machine shop in a box.
It’s going to be difficult for the government to control guns or anything else when this technology becomes widespread. Right now only millionaires would be able to afford the 3D metal printers that can create guns but such devices could be in your neighborhood or home town in the future.