The All Steel 3D Printed 1911
A few months ago, the collective gun community fell off its rocking chair when Cody Wilson created from a jug of plastic media a disposable single-shot pistol. This was done through the magic of 3D printing. However, a totally different company has trumped Wilson's "Liberator" by making the much more interesting clone of the famous Colt 1911 .45ACP pistol-- out of steel.
The Solid Concepts .45
From their press release, "Solid Concepts, one of the world leaders in 3D Printing services, has manufactured the world's first 3D Printed Metal Gun using a laser sintering process and powdered metals. The gun, a 1911 classic design, functions beautifully and has already handled 50 rounds of successful firing. It is composed of 33 17-4 Stainless Steel and Inconel 625 components, and decked with a Selective Laser Sintered (SLS) carbon-fiber filled nylon hand grip. The successful production and functionality of the 1911 3D Printed metal gun proves the viability of 3D Printing for commercial applications."
Truth be told, Solid Concepts doesn't really plan to produce these guns. After all, it's unlikely they could be competitive when facing the boatloads of Philippine-made CNC produced 1911s coming in every month for under $500 per unit. Instead, the company did their 3D 1911 as a proof of concept (choosing the 1911 as it was in the public domain), just to show that it could be done.
How was this pulled off?
This is done through a process called Selective laser sintering (SLS). This expensive sounding innovative term is for a type of additive manufacturing. SLS came about in the 1980s after a grant from DARPA paid off nicely. In it a laser fuses powdered material, be it metal, plastic, ceramic, unobtanium, you get it, into any desired 3D shape that they have a scan of.
This type of manufacturing is great for making one-off parts, like say you have a broken transfer lever for a 1908 Burroughs Adding Machine and can't find one anywhere. As long as you have a scan of a good one, you can make a brand new one through SLS. While this sounds really specialized, imagine further that you are on a three-year flight to Jupiter and some important part of your ship breaks. Well, you can fire up the SLS printer and make a new one instead of scrapping the mission.
Where does this lead?
With the rarity of this technology, it is expensive. The machines to produce a gun such as the one Solid Concepts came up with run about $800K installed. This makes it unlikely that SLS-made metal framed firearms will be churned out anytime soon by home workshop gunsmiths. Of course, this hasn't stopped knee-jerk reactions from politicians to ban this type of tech as it just scares the bejesus out of them.
However, we suggest to Solid Concepts they make a few limited runs of super rare guns for niche collectors. For instance, we would like to see them clone a nice Mars Syndicate pistol; followed by a batch of Colt Walkers, then some .45ACP long-barreled Luger carbines, then, well...you get the point.