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World's first 3D printed metal gun blows through 50 rounds

Lucas Mearian | Nov. 11, 2013
The 45 caliber, semi-automatic pistol was fired at a target more than 30 yards away; several rounds hit the bull

A 3D printing services company has built a fully functioning, semi-automatic pistol and shown 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 U.S. 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.

Solid Concepts
Solid Concepts' 3D printed .45 caliber M1911 pistol (Image: Solid Concepts).

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 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.

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.

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

"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."


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