Much has been reported over the last year about using 3-D printers to turn plastic into parts for a working pistol. While law enforcement and governments worry about what it means when a printer makes anyone a gunsmith, the prototypes shown off by a few companies generally failed to perform well or last.
But a California company now says it has produced the first ever metal gun using a 3-D printer at its Texas facility – debunking the idea that the technology isn’t ready for mainstream manufacturing, according to Kent Firestone, vice president of additive manufacturing for Solid Concepts.
“It’s a common misconception that 3D Printing isn’t accurate or strong enough, and we’re working to change people’s perspective,” Firestone said in a statement released Nov. 7.
The idea of using a laser sintering process – turning metallic powder into the solid components of the gun via 3-D printing – to manufacture the weapon “revolves around proving the reliability, accuracy and usability of metal 3-D printing as functional prototypes and end use products,” he said.
It’s not hard to imagine the Army’s interest in the Solid Concepts’ breakthrough. The Army is already a believer in 3-D printing to solve real-world Army needs. Through its Rapid Equipping Force program it has pushed mobile labs into the combat theater, where technicians can work with troops to come up with solutions to problems.
Last November an REF lab at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, used its 3-D printer to help manufacture a part designed by an Army sergeant to improve the strength and maneuverability of the bi-pod beneath the barrel of the M249 squad automatic weapon, or SAW.
Based on the NCO’s sketch the lab designed and then produced a model using a 3D printer. But the model was plastic, and the first prototype used was then made of aluminum using a computerized machine tool mill.
The Solid Concept 3-D printed metal gun appears to effectively eliminate the machine tooling.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, during a Nov. 1 visit to Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va., offered his own endorsement of 3-D printing in the field after being briefed on the mobile expeditionary labs.
“Three-dimensional printing has incredible potential,” Odierno said.