Tour of 3D-Gun Printing Facility

November 12th, 2013

On Monday I had the treat of visiting the Solid Concepts facility in Austin. Solid Concepts made news recently by creating the first 3D Printed Metal Gun (previous efforts by Cody Wilson were made out of plastics). This 1911 semiautomatic pistol was made entirely out of metal parts, created through 3D Printing.

I held the pistol, but did not have the chance to fire it. It was remarkable. The gun had good weight, balanced well, and had all of the grooves and rifling you would expect from a store-bought pistol. And it was built almost-entirely by a 3D-Printer.

I spoke with Eric Mutchler, the Project Coordinator at Solid Concept. He told me that almost every single part of the gun was manufactured from the 3D printer. It took somewhere on the order of magnitude of 100 hours to print all of the parts. He estimated the cost was roughly $10,000 for the single gun. He relied on an open-source CAD blueprint of the 1911, a very common firearm. This seems to be an exception to ITAR, which prohibits transferring the designs of firearms outside the United States.

At present, and for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t make much sense to manufacture a firearm with a 3D Printer. In short, you can do it much faster and cheaper using stuff you could buy at a hardware store. Mass-producing these is simply not an option given current technology. Plus, to make the gun work, you still have to have a lot of knowledge about assembling a gun, and putting the parts together. If you have that knowledge, you are probably better of making a gun with conventional parts. And to dispel common concerns, you can’t simply print out a finished firearm. You print out dozens of pieces which need to be finished, polished, and assembled. This is a labor intensive project.

Eric also showed me the  3D metal and plastic printers. I was not permitted to take pictures of these pieces of equipment. But they are super cool. It’s remarkable how micron-thin lawyers of powder are stacked, one on top of the other, to create actual objects. Eric said the firm has no plans to create more 3D-printed guns. This was a way to demonstrate the capability of 3D Metal Printing.

I will be contributing a piece to a symposium at the Tennessee Law Review on the Second Amendment and 3D Printing in February. Stay tuned.