“As far as we know, we’re definitely the first,” Scott McGowan, the company’s vice president of marketing, told CNSNews.com. “This gun is a very well-known model, iconic in the gun world. Any engineer would recognize how complex it is.”
“We’re proving this is possible, the technology is at a place now where we can manufacture a gun with 3D metal printing,” Kent Firestone, vice president of additive manufacturing, said in a press release. “And we’re doing this legally. In fact, as far as we know, we’re the only 3D printing service provider with a federal firearms license (FFL). Now, if a qualifying customer needs a unique gun part in five days, we can deliver.”
The company used a laser sintering process, which it says is “one of the most accurate additive manufacturing processes available,” to create the firearm out of 40 microns of stainless steel added layer by layer, high-temperature alloy Inconel 625, and carbon-fiber nylon for the grip. Every component of the weapon except the springs was made on a 3D printer at the company’s facility in Austin, Texas. The chamber can handle the pressure of more than 20,000 pounds per square inch generated when the gun is fired.
Performance of the “Liberator,” the world’s first known 3D printed plastic gun made by a Texas firm, Defense Distributed, was less successful. The plastic .380 caliber firearm worked, but misfired during its initial field testing in May, and exploded when a higher-charge rifle cartridge was substituted.
Police in New South Wales, Australia also issued a warning saying that while the plastic Liberator they printed on a desktop 3D printer for $35 using the company’s blueprints “propelled a bullet with sufficient force to kill a target,” it also experienced “a catastrophic misfire during testing…capable of seriously injuring the person using the firearm.”
3D printing, which has been available for more than two decades, became more well-known when a key patent expired and what McGowan calls “hobbyist machines” became widely available.
But he says there are significant barriers that would make it difficult for criminals to print their own arsenals, including the high cost of the 3D metal printers themselves, which run between $500,000 and $1 million, and the fact that they require a commercial-grade power source and inert gases not available in residential areas.
“This wasn’t about making guns faster or less expensively,” McGowan told CNSNews.com. “This is not a gun story, it’s an innovation in manufacturing story,” he said, pointing out that the 3D printed gun would “cost in the five figures if we were to sell it.”
He added that the 3D technology can be used to manufacture intricate parts with complex geometries that cannot be made any other way, as well as strong, but lightweight parts for the aerospace industry or customized surgical instruments and implantable medical devices.