Austin company makes first 3D printed gun

Gun made with powdered metal fused together with laser printer

An Austin company is claiming it has produced the world's first fully functioning firearm using a 3D printer.

Solid Concepts, a 3D printing company in Austin, used a computer design program and a $600,000 3-dimensional printer to give a 100-year-old gun new life.

Using open source files from the internet, the company recreated a M-1911 pistol, the same gun used by the U.S. Military for 70 years.

Kent Firestone, VP of Additive Manufacturing, said the prototype looks just like a real gun and has no problem firing real bullets.

The weapon was recently put through a 500 round torture test at a firing range without failing.

"We had a few extraction issues but we were able to fix that at the range so it worked fine," Firestone said. "We ran a bore scope down the barrel today just to look to see how the rifling is holding up and the grooves and everything looked great."

Believe it or not the metal gun was created from a powdered metal material. Inside the printer high powered lasers fuse the powdery material to form thin metal layers that eventually become the finished piece.

"We took all these files off the internet and we made some modifications," Firestone said. "We checked clearances, things like that, and then you feed that into a system that slices it into very thin layers on the order of 40 microns or about one-and-a-half thousandths of an inch and we build those layers one on top of the other."

Except for a few screws in the handle and some springs, the gun was entirely grown in the printer which can be a time consuming process.

"If we were to put all the separate components on a build plate and build them as one, just to build them is 30-40 hours," said project coordinator Eric Mutchler. "The fact that we were able to grow this in this process for a 100-year-old design is pretty awesome."

Other than removing the pieces from the build plate and doing some cleanup work, the parts don't require any machining. The printer even creates the rifling in the barrel.

"It will actually grow all these little features into the part itself," Mutchler said.

Firestone said the company initially obtained a federal firearms license to make gun parts for gun manufacturers but decided to see if they could print an entire gun. While the experiment was a success, he said they aren't interested in mass producing an arsenal of 3D printed weapons.

"If we did have interest in mass producing an arsenal of guns this would not be the right way to do it," Firestone said. "It's just not a cost effective method for high production but it's a very cost effective method for a one off prototype testing for the gun manufactures and that's what they're using it for today."

Firestone said they made the gun simply to prove a point about the technology.

"It's not really our intention to prove that this is the equivalent of what you may buy in the store. We want to show that it is a viable process," Firestone said. "One of the things we wanted to do with this is to get it out there and really elevate the conversation where people were really considering this a true valid manufacturing process."

The company believes if 3D printed metal can withstand the abuse and stress under firing conditions it proves there's few limitations to what can be made using the technology.

"There will be metal lasered centered parts on jet engines within the next two years," Firestone predicted. "You have the ability to do more complex designs this way, things that can't be machined in a traditional manor, many times we can do in metal laser centering."

Firestone said they've had offers to put the gun in a museum next to some of the first guns ever produced but they've declined those offers.  The company may make a few more guns in the future which they would sell, but you'll need deep pockets, the estimated cost for one of the guns is upwards of $20,000.

If you think this is opening the flood gates to allow people to build their own guns at home using printers, Firestone said that's not feasible.

"This is kind of the industrial version of 3D printing. The machines we have here you can't afford to buy and put them in your garage," Firestone said. "They're $600,000  and you need a special facility with gas and things like that."

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