World's first 3D-printed metal gun fired 50 times

Computerworld US | 11 November 13

A US-based 3D printing services company has built a fully functioning, semi-automatic pistol and shown (in the video above) that it works just as a traditionally manufactured gun.

Built by Solid Concepts, the pistol is a replica of the storied .45-caliber, M1911 semi-automatic that served as the US military's standard-issue sidearm for more than 70 years. Solid Concept demonstrated the gun by firing 50 rounds with it.

The accuracy? At more than 30 yards, the gun was able to strike a target bull's-eye several times, Solid Concepts said.

Previously, the only 3D printed gun was The Liberator, a single-shot plastic weapon made by Defense Distributed. That weapon didn't prove to be reliable after multiple rounds were fired through it.

Solid Concepts' pistol is composed of more than 30 3D printed parts (Image: Solid Concepts)

Solid Concept's pistol was made with industrial-grade 3D printers using the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering techniques (DMLS). Both DMLS and SLS use lasers to melt metals, even titanium, at temperatures exceeding 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The 3D printers work by laying down a fine layer of powder and then using a laser to fuse granules together, building an object layer by layer from the ground up.

The difference between the two techniques is that DMLS tends to be used with alloys.

"The industrial printer we used costs more than my college tuition (and I went to a private university)," Kent Firestone, Solid Concepts' Vice President of additive manufacturing, said in a statement. "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. Thanks to them, Solid Concepts is debunking the idea that 3D Printing isn't a viable solution or isn't ready for mainstream manufacturing."

3D printers that use metal sintering techniques function differently from desktop 3D printers that use stereolithography, which melts plastic filaments and pushes them through a small extruder to build objects layer by layer.

The 3D printed gun in pieces

Solid Concept's gun is composed of more than 30 3D-printed components. The slide, frame and many of the internal components are made of stainless Steel. The main spring, the hammer and part of the upper grip's handle was made with nickel-chromium-based alloy called Inconel 625.

"Laser sintering is one of the most accurate manufacturing processes available, and more than accurate enough to build the 3D Metal Printed interchangeable and interfacing parts within our 1911 series gun," Solid Concepts said. "The gun proves laser sintering can meet tight tolerances."

According to the company, 3D metal printing means fewer porosity issues than are seen with the traditional method of casting metal parts.

Solid Concept said its gun's barrel experiences chamber pressure above 20,000 psi every time the gun is fired. By comparison, a factory-made M1911 pistol is rated for 17,000 psi chamber pressure.

"We're proving this is possible, the technology is at a place now where we can manufacture a gun with 3D Printing," Firestone said. "As far as we know, we're the only 3D printing service provider with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Now, if a qualifying customer needs a unique gun part in five days, we can deliver."

A 3D-printed Colt M1911

As its name suggests, the Colt M1911 pistol became the military's sidearm in 1911, after legendary gun designer John Browning developed it more than a decade earlier. Since that time, many manufacturers have copied the design.

Solid Concepts demonstrates its ability to 3D print an M1911 .45 caliber pistol.

The barrel of any modern gun contains rifling -- helical grooves that put a spin on a bullet as it is fired. The cork-screw movement of a bullet increases its accuracy.

Solid Concept's pistol's rifling was built directly into the barrel using 3D printing. The gun was in no way machined, as guns are traditionally made.

"We did not machine this gun," the company stated. "It's born this way."


Jason repenter said: because printing food does not produce more food. you need the material which is 1:1 the same weight as the output. you could just give the starving the food printing catridges.

Stuart said: What is it with Americans and guns, we just don't get it elsewhere in the civilized world? Printing a useful object for the poor like a cheap, but effective water filter/pump, or a solar stove, now that's useful knowledge!

Not Important said: Great demo of a relatively new (and still costly) technology. As for the vapid comments by those who didn't understand the reason behind this demo... STFU. There are excellent opportunities for those folks to find a group of like minded kumbaya fans to hang out with. Frankly, their opinion does not matter - they don't 'get it' because they won't.

James said: The choice of a gun is a challenge for 3-d printing is an excellent one for a variety of simple reasons: First of all, guns were the first tools mass-produced with interchangeable parts, and thus at the root of modern industrial production. Guns need to be relatively high in precision and able to withstand tremendous peak forces and temperature extremes. It's also very easy to ascertain the function of a gun, both in terms of reliability and accuracy. More importantly, since this company chose to use a gun that has been extremely popular and made by many manufacturers for more than a century, their experiment can be tested/compared to extensive data that already exists. Thus, this whole thing becomes a good engineering challenge and I'm sure that the results will have numerous spinoffs even if 3D printed guns never go into production.

justanotherpropeaceperson said: Id be interested to know what the other choices were when it was decision time to market considering the need to prove its strength and real life application as said in the video.... Surley there was an alternative option to a Gun...

Carlos Fernandes said: The world already has enough guns. That's surely a sad way to use this promising technology. You could have made your point in any other way. All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Jason said: Why cant you 3d print food for the staving......war monger