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March 01, 2011

Print Me A Gun

By Phil Bourjaily

The most recent issue of The Economist has a cover story — “Print me a Stradivarius” — about 3-D printing, a manufacturing method I was totally unaware of up until now. You draw a part on your computer and click “print.” The printer’s jets work in three dimensions, building up parts line by line out of all kinds of materials, including titanium.

3-D printing allows parts to be made lighter and with less waste of raw material than do traditional manufacturing methods. And, it’s much cheaper to make one of a kind items: after you draw something up, it doesn’t matter if you make a thousand of something or just one. 3-D printing has already been used to make custom-fitted athletic shoes as well as titanium airplane parts.

After googling “3-D printing guns” I found that someone has already used the process to make AK-47 grips. It should be possible to print any part of a gun with the exception of the barrel and the bolt, and maybe those can be printed, too. It’s possible that someday you tell a gumaker what you want, give him your stock dimensions and any other options you desire, and your gun will drawn up on a screen and printed out for you.

And if you can afford the $15,000 price tag, you can do 3-D printing at home with machines like the one here. As the technology improves, you can bet that price will go down.

For now, you can order a custom printing of your own face...even in action figure size...at ThatsMyFace.com. Check out their video below.

Comments (31)

Top Rated
All Comments
from Brian Jackson wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

We have used a similar technology at NASA in Huntsville in a department we call rapid prototyping. I don't really think it would be suitable for making high strength parts like a barrel, bolt, or receiver. There are a few different methods; one welds together stacks of thin metal sheets and cuts pulls off the metal that you don't need (this looks the most like the "printing" method), another method is taking metallic "powder" and using lasers to fuse it together into three dimensional shapes, a final one makes parts out of plastic by shining lasers on a liquid that solidifies when it comes into contact with certain wavelengths of light. All work in conjunction with computer drafting tools.

I'm not sure if it has been implemented, but there was discussion at NASA about sending up the powder type of machine to the space station to allow the astronauts there to make small replacement parts so they would not have to wait for the next shuttle delivery.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from anderskeith@gma... wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

$15,000 is cheap compared to the late 80's when they went for closer to $250,000. With the drop in price has cone a major increase in accuracy as well. Most machines can hold tolerances of a couple of thousandths of an inch.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 1uglymutha wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

this technology is still in it's infancy,obviously. if the geeks fully grasp this science and run with it there's no telling how far it will go. bottom line drives new stuff. if there's a market, look out. no telling what's coming in the future.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Diehl wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I'll take my firearms made the old fashioned way. Forged, machined, proofed and hand finished.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from PbHead wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I'm all for it. Phil, I might help pay if you would get some of the mini faces that fit over the fingers if they were in the image of Dave. If they were not a great success as puppets at the F&S Christmas party, they would make great BB gun targets. How much?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from sgaredneck wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I have a friend who works for a firearms manufacturer. They have one of the 3D printers that they use for prototyping parts. By doing some of their R&D in that form they save weeks, or maybe months in the process of an idea becoming a market ready product.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

i'm with mike diehl on this one.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Converting the Euro to dolls on the first video, if your in a hurry, it's $178.193 and if not $20.9964 a real bargain for parts no longer made by a Manufacturer who went out of business or stop making the part centuries years ago!

As for 3D printing, had a flash how scary this can become. Take F&S "The Terminator of Gun Dogs"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNZPRsrwumQ&feature=player_embedded

and think of this

Boston Dynamics PETMAN Prototype

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67CUudkjEG4

Now combine the technology down the road and we will have Star Trek "Data" doing our work and a virtual whatever you can think of. There will be a day you cannot tell the difference between a human and a robot.

Gives the movie The Terminator a new twist!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

It seems that you would still need someone to program the machine to the specifications of the final product. That could take considerable time, unless you had a prototype for input, and even then, critical measurements would have to be taken and incorporated into the program.
It might be quicker and easier to make a mold from the prototype, and cast the part.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Jackson wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

If you wanted to make guns on the cheap and fast, stamping sheet steel or aluminum would still be the way to go for things like receivers (a-la the AK47 or Uzi). Barrels and bolts would need to be of higher strength than you can get by the "printing" process, plus they would be pretty rough and would need a final machining. I would still go with a forging or billet machining.

The only parts I could think of that you would want to manufacture in this way would be side grips and backstraps on pistols or forearms on rifles and shotguns out of plastic. Then it would probably still be better to stick with injection molding or RTM fiberglass.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Hoski wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

jacksjb_44 and a couple others posted some familiarity with this. They are correct in that this process has been around for some years now. Used mainly for fast prototyping, it saves material costs and machining time.
I have witnessed one such machine set up to deposit blobs of cement,... a house was erected in hours.
As for firearms, I'll stick with the skilled craftsmen approach.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

This technology is fascinating but when it comes to my hunting guns I suppose I am glad that I am an old guy. However I do allow myself to utilize a few "modern high tech items" in the field. Perhaps we all would be better off to return to only shooting M-94s in .30-30 or something similiar. This idea worked boutifully well when I was a kid but apparently is no longer universally acceptable. I must go now as I am setting up another printer to build a new coyote rifle before tomorrow.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I prefer to have the older method myself. But hey I am an ol'Faht not living in the 21st Century according to a couple of young studs whom I will not name.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Ox wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

No way. As cool as this may seem, I'm old school when it comes to my guns, & I want it done right the first time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

What better way for someone to reverse engineer a product? China comes to mind, LOOK OUT!

The cost for molds and setup is very expensive especially if your only making one or a dozen!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from FirstBubba wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Heck! I'm doing good to "print" my name!!! LOL!!!

Bubba

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jeff270 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Looks like a modified SLA (Stereo lithography) process. Been used for quite awhile to prototype mechanical assemblies. Also used in the medical world.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Drew McClure wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Print me a better job

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from db270 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I think it's great! I'll print myself a gun, print some bullets, then print a deer mount for my fireplace!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from focusfront wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I don't know, dudes. When I think of some of the great old guns that are no longer made (Winchester Model 12 and Savage 99 come to mind) not because nobody wanted them, but because their machining and assembly required too much hand labor to market them competitively, I'm willing to give this new tech a try. Look at some of the great old guns that CNC machining has given back to us.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

If this new technology can provide a better firearm: accuracy, cost, reliability, maintainability,etc) I'm all for the new technology. Heck, if the manufacturing of guns had not evolved over the past 100 years we'd probably be paying 10x the price we are currently paying.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

This device would have come in handy for John Browning. He designed his guns in metal rather than on paper.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The_UTP wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Wired had a cool article about the coming revolution in garage manufacturing a while back:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/

I think it'll be a while before we can crank out a gun in the garage the way that you can a CNC-carved wood project today, but it's coming. Here's an interesting question: What will the government response be if people can make guns in their homes?

I am not a machinist, but I imagine at least a few readers here are. Can you already build a gun at home if you have a reasonably tooled shop? Sees like a decent lathe and a modest mill-drill would be all you need to make a simple revolver at home -- probably can be had for less than $10K, right?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The_UTP wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Wired had a cool article about the coming revolution in garage manufacturing a while back:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/

I think it'll be a while before we can crank out a gun in the garage the way that you can a CNC-carved wood project today, but it's coming. Here's an interesting question: What will the government response be if people can make guns in their homes?

I am not a machinist, but I imagine at least a few readers here are. Can you already build a gun at home if you have a reasonably tooled shop? Sees like a decent lathe and a modest mill-drill would be all you need to make a simple revolver at home -- probably can be had for less than $10K, right?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Zermoid wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I've heard of the Plastic goop and laser prototyping before, never knew it could be done with metal as well.

Used to need a garage full of tools to make a gun, pretty soon it will be a computer and a 'printer' and you are set for production. Amazing........

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Coming next, full size images of family members!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from JustTakeMeHunting14 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Thats awesome.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from AJN wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I don't understand how it works. Does it cut it or bend it?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ingebrigtsen wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I see a future where most manufacturing is done at home or the commune and where gunmanufacture is restricted to the programming of the 3d printers so that noone prints out an usi and goes berserk :P

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tim Platt wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Will they 3D print Elisha for me?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Zacpro wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Ive heard of this before, I didn't know that they had already done it!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Mike Diehl wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I'll take my firearms made the old fashioned way. Forged, machined, proofed and hand finished.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

i'm with mike diehl on this one.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Jackson wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

We have used a similar technology at NASA in Huntsville in a department we call rapid prototyping. I don't really think it would be suitable for making high strength parts like a barrel, bolt, or receiver. There are a few different methods; one welds together stacks of thin metal sheets and cuts pulls off the metal that you don't need (this looks the most like the "printing" method), another method is taking metallic "powder" and using lasers to fuse it together into three dimensional shapes, a final one makes parts out of plastic by shining lasers on a liquid that solidifies when it comes into contact with certain wavelengths of light. All work in conjunction with computer drafting tools.

I'm not sure if it has been implemented, but there was discussion at NASA about sending up the powder type of machine to the space station to allow the astronauts there to make small replacement parts so they would not have to wait for the next shuttle delivery.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

This technology is fascinating but when it comes to my hunting guns I suppose I am glad that I am an old guy. However I do allow myself to utilize a few "modern high tech items" in the field. Perhaps we all would be better off to return to only shooting M-94s in .30-30 or something similiar. This idea worked boutifully well when I was a kid but apparently is no longer universally acceptable. I must go now as I am setting up another printer to build a new coyote rifle before tomorrow.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Jackson wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

If you wanted to make guns on the cheap and fast, stamping sheet steel or aluminum would still be the way to go for things like receivers (a-la the AK47 or Uzi). Barrels and bolts would need to be of higher strength than you can get by the "printing" process, plus they would be pretty rough and would need a final machining. I would still go with a forging or billet machining.

The only parts I could think of that you would want to manufacture in this way would be side grips and backstraps on pistols or forearms on rifles and shotguns out of plastic. Then it would probably still be better to stick with injection molding or RTM fiberglass.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from sgaredneck wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I have a friend who works for a firearms manufacturer. They have one of the 3D printers that they use for prototyping parts. By doing some of their R&D in that form they save weeks, or maybe months in the process of an idea becoming a market ready product.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from anderskeith@gma... wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

$15,000 is cheap compared to the late 80's when they went for closer to $250,000. With the drop in price has cone a major increase in accuracy as well. Most machines can hold tolerances of a couple of thousandths of an inch.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Hoski wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

jacksjb_44 and a couple others posted some familiarity with this. They are correct in that this process has been around for some years now. Used mainly for fast prototyping, it saves material costs and machining time.
I have witnessed one such machine set up to deposit blobs of cement,... a house was erected in hours.
As for firearms, I'll stick with the skilled craftsmen approach.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Converting the Euro to dolls on the first video, if your in a hurry, it's $178.193 and if not $20.9964 a real bargain for parts no longer made by a Manufacturer who went out of business or stop making the part centuries years ago!

As for 3D printing, had a flash how scary this can become. Take F&S "The Terminator of Gun Dogs"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNZPRsrwumQ&feature=player_embedded

and think of this

Boston Dynamics PETMAN Prototype

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67CUudkjEG4

Now combine the technology down the road and we will have Star Trek "Data" doing our work and a virtual whatever you can think of. There will be a day you cannot tell the difference between a human and a robot.

Gives the movie The Terminator a new twist!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from focusfront wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I don't know, dudes. When I think of some of the great old guns that are no longer made (Winchester Model 12 and Savage 99 come to mind) not because nobody wanted them, but because their machining and assembly required too much hand labor to market them competitively, I'm willing to give this new tech a try. Look at some of the great old guns that CNC machining has given back to us.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

It seems that you would still need someone to program the machine to the specifications of the final product. That could take considerable time, unless you had a prototype for input, and even then, critical measurements would have to be taken and incorporated into the program.
It might be quicker and easier to make a mold from the prototype, and cast the part.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from db270 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I think it's great! I'll print myself a gun, print some bullets, then print a deer mount for my fireplace!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 1uglymutha wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

this technology is still in it's infancy,obviously. if the geeks fully grasp this science and run with it there's no telling how far it will go. bottom line drives new stuff. if there's a market, look out. no telling what's coming in the future.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

What better way for someone to reverse engineer a product? China comes to mind, LOOK OUT!

The cost for molds and setup is very expensive especially if your only making one or a dozen!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

If this new technology can provide a better firearm: accuracy, cost, reliability, maintainability,etc) I'm all for the new technology. Heck, if the manufacturing of guns had not evolved over the past 100 years we'd probably be paying 10x the price we are currently paying.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tim Platt wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Will they 3D print Elisha for me?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from PbHead wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I'm all for it. Phil, I might help pay if you would get some of the mini faces that fit over the fingers if they were in the image of Dave. If they were not a great success as puppets at the F&S Christmas party, they would make great BB gun targets. How much?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The_UTP wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Wired had a cool article about the coming revolution in garage manufacturing a while back:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/

I think it'll be a while before we can crank out a gun in the garage the way that you can a CNC-carved wood project today, but it's coming. Here's an interesting question: What will the government response be if people can make guns in their homes?

I am not a machinist, but I imagine at least a few readers here are. Can you already build a gun at home if you have a reasonably tooled shop? Sees like a decent lathe and a modest mill-drill would be all you need to make a simple revolver at home -- probably can be had for less than $10K, right?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The_UTP wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Wired had a cool article about the coming revolution in garage manufacturing a while back:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/

I think it'll be a while before we can crank out a gun in the garage the way that you can a CNC-carved wood project today, but it's coming. Here's an interesting question: What will the government response be if people can make guns in their homes?

I am not a machinist, but I imagine at least a few readers here are. Can you already build a gun at home if you have a reasonably tooled shop? Sees like a decent lathe and a modest mill-drill would be all you need to make a simple revolver at home -- probably can be had for less than $10K, right?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Ox wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

No way. As cool as this may seem, I'm old school when it comes to my guns, & I want it done right the first time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Zermoid wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I've heard of the Plastic goop and laser prototyping before, never knew it could be done with metal as well.

Used to need a garage full of tools to make a gun, pretty soon it will be a computer and a 'printer' and you are set for production. Amazing........

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I prefer to have the older method myself. But hey I am an ol'Faht not living in the 21st Century according to a couple of young studs whom I will not name.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ingebrigtsen wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I see a future where most manufacturing is done at home or the commune and where gunmanufacture is restricted to the programming of the 3d printers so that noone prints out an usi and goes berserk :P

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from FirstBubba wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Heck! I'm doing good to "print" my name!!! LOL!!!

Bubba

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Drew McClure wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Print me a better job

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

This device would have come in handy for John Browning. He designed his guns in metal rather than on paper.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jeff270 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Looks like a modified SLA (Stereo lithography) process. Been used for quite awhile to prototype mechanical assemblies. Also used in the medical world.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Coming next, full size images of family members!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from JustTakeMeHunting14 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Thats awesome.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from AJN wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I don't understand how it works. Does it cut it or bend it?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Zacpro wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Ive heard of this before, I didn't know that they had already done it!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment