This weekend, Texas-based 3D printing company Solid Concepts announced that it had successfully fired 600 shots over two tests from its all-metal 3D-printed handgun, the first known prototype of its kind.
Solid Concepts' design is a significant advancement in the world of 3D-printed weapons, which first emerged when Defense Distributed fired three shots from The Liberator, the world's first 3D-printed gun, in May. After firing its first shot, the almost entirely plastic Liberator malfunctioned.
As shown in the video below, the all-metal prototype from Solid Concepts is much more durable than The Liberator, and fires with impressive accuracy.
Of the gun's 42 total components, 36 were 3D printed, either through metal sintering or laser sintering of carbon-filled Nylon, according to a post on the Solid Concepts blog. Only six parts, all of them springs, were purchased.
Although the result is an impressive mock-up of the classic 1911 handgun design, Solid Concepts insists that the focus of the project was to draw attention to the capabilities of 3D printing with metals.
"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. That wasn't the point at all," DMLS Manager Phillip Conner says in the video. "What we were trying to do was dispel the commonly held notion that the [Metal Laser Sintering] parts are not strong enough or accurate enough for real-world applications."
The company says it does not currently plan to sell the 3D-printed gun, but claims it is currently working with firearms manufacturers and are still weighing their options to sell the gun later on.
"Should we decide to sell the gun, the cost of the 1911 would be in the five-figures," a company blog post reads. "The whole concept of the metal sintered gun was not to produce a cheap gun, our intent revolved around proving the reliability, usability, durability and accuracy of metal 3D Printing."
Solid Concepts currently has a Type 7 Firearms License, permitting the company to manufacture firearms legally.
The impact of an all-metal 3D-printed gun on the legal world remains to be seen. Just days after Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson fired The Liberator's first shots, the U.S. state department seized the design files pending a review for violations of international weapons regulations. However, by the time the design files were taken offline, they had been downloaded more than 100,000 times, Forbes reported.
In response, lawmakers have pushed for a renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which prohibits the production, sale or possession of guns that cannot be detected by metal detectors and is set to expire next month. That would at least make it illegal to print copies of The Liberator at home.
The difference, however, is that Solid Concepts has 3D printing capabilities that few could afford to establish at home.
"I mentioned earlier this isn't about desktop printers, and it's not," Solid Concepts marketing communications specialist Alyssa Parkinson wrote in a company blog post. "The industrial printer we used costs more than my college tuition (and I went to a private university) and the engineers who run our machines are top of the line; they are experts who know what they're doing and understand 3D Printing better than anyone in this business."
In August, the company released a video explaining the complex process of Direct Metal Laser Sintering used to create the gun.
Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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