As we predicted, last time we looked at this, 3D printing is evolving to better adapt the available materials in consumer printers to the requirements of firearms applications. No more is it true that a printed receiver, even printed of low-end materials like PLA on a low-end consumer printer, is destined for a short and unreliable life. And people are taking printing in new directions.
The Continued Evolution of the Printed AR Receiver
The first printed AR receivers were clones of their aluminum forebears. And they broke. Boy howdy, they broke. You may recall that between the M16A1 and M16A2, even the forged 7075-T6 aluminum receiver was redesigned for greater strength. Material, and strength, was added to the pivot pin supports into the buffer tower area, which are the most vulnerable areas of any A. receiver
Let’s start here:
That looks like what 3-D printer enthusiasts call a “rage print.” Printer rage occurs when something goes wrong in the 3D programming, and instead of making a nice, neat, three-dimensional part, your printer prints a bunch of gooey plastic strings going in random directions. That’s exactly what this looks like. But that’s not what this is. It’s actually a new support-layout software that allows saving filament (even though the most common filament, PLA, is a 100% recyclable thermoplastic). We think it’s Autodesk MeshMixer. The supports look like a thready mesh, but there’s an AR lower under there.
If you look at the lower closely, you’ll see that it differs in detail from a metallic lower, whether it’s the stock 7075 forging or the too-cool case-hardened billet that Trumbull uses for its work-of-art ARs. It’s much thicker in places, which helps to make up for the lower strength of the soft plastic. We mentioned earlier that this was inevitable; just as designs and evolved to take advantage of new materials before, we have to expect designs to evolve to take advantage of these new materials, and new ways of manufacturing parts with them. This model, the Hermes, includes an integral buffer tube and stock, making the weakest part of the AR lower (the buffer tower-buffer tube interface) a single part:
Here’s a couple more-evolved minimalist AR lowers, the Phobos (yellow) and Vanguard (red):
Simplifying the lower reduces its print time and its likelihood of print errors. Thickening its parts reinforces weak areas and eliminates stress risers. Note that these are “as printed” without extensive acetone smoothing.
Here’s the Phobos, with its minimal magazine tower, built into a firearm.
It is optimized for the C-Products Beta magazine.
Here is a close-up. The increased thickness, for strength and durability, is clear. So is the rough surface finish. This example was printed on a DaVinci printer, an inexpensive printer ($500) from XYZPrinting.com.
Here is the Phobos on range test. 100 rounds so far, successfully, as of 10 October 14.
Are they militarily useful yet? Not really. Only as a prototyping technology, but it’s already been used that way. For instance, when Taiwan developed a new buttstock for its service rifle, they used 3D printing to produce ergonomic test samples.
But one can’t help but be reminded of Franklin’s retort to a woman who questioned his interest in the Montgolfiers’ pioneering balloon ascents: “What use is it? Madam, what use is a newborn baby?”
It’s not our cup of tea, really, but there’s quite a few people working on mechanically operated revolvers. Some of these look like the ancient Mauser zigzag revolver; others look more like something that would come with a Nerf trademark on it. Some seem to resemble both:
That’s the Imura revolver, named for Japanese 3D firearm experimenter (and criminal suspect, thanks to that) Yoshitomo Imura.
The Regulatory Angle
Of course not everybody thinks additive Manufacturing applied to firearms is a good idea. Indeed number everyone thinks that manufacturing firearms is a good idea most of your familiar with California Democrat Mike Honda’s bill to criminalize all home gunsmithing. The bill is certainly DOA in Congress in an Election Year, when even liberal pols are willing to denying Mike Bloomberg three times, like Peter.
Meanwhile, police and regulatory agencies in the US, Britain and Australia have been willing to lie about the technology to spread FUD. Here’s a line from an article at 3Ders.org:
Although police forces from around the world are warning technology enthusiasts not to attempt to use 3D printers to make plastic guns, because each time they have been tested the weapons have exploded.
Of course they have, because the cops/authorities have lightened the infill to make grenades, not pistols. If you hollow out a 1911 barrel, it’ll blow up, too. That’s far from the only mistake in the article, which claims to be an overview and timeline of 3DP weapons. For example, there’s this pseudo-engineering mumbo-jumbo:
Two factors in engineering still need to be overcome, these are; high stress resistance materials that resist knife edge loads and high temperature flashes.
Huh? “Knife-edge loads?” Somebody’s having hot flashes, and it’s not the guns. If you look back up at the start of this post, you’ll see how the AR receiver has evolved to be something effective that can be made of low-tensile-strength polymers. And then there’s this howler:
Solid Concepts… [used] a direct metal laser sintering printer to create a replica of a 1911 Browning .45 pistol. To date this weapon has fired over 600 shots successfully. … printing such a gun to resell is not currently economically feasible.
Except, of course, that Solid Concepts is already printing, and selling, them. Which they do sort-of note in the article, in the bit in the ellipses.
Not everything in the article appears to be nonsense, but in particular, the idea that printed guns are proven to explode needs to be stepped on. Hard. Sabotaged guns are proven to explode: not the same thing.
And to Make Regulators’ Heads Go High-Order Again…
It’s bad enough, from the standpoint of a domineering regulator, that people are using technology to make firearms without a “Mother, may I?” from On High. But it’s gone beyond that. Japanese technologist Yoshitomo Imura has taken the whole thing in a meta direction by designing printable technology for making guns. His current designs include a 3D printer (not that that’s anything new; many printers are capable of printing their own parts) and, more remarkably, a 3D printed micro milling machine.
Certainly there are valid objections: the technology is not there to print a sufficiently rigid mill, the unit can’t match the rigidity of even a low-budget Chinese unit, etc., etc.
To which we say, “What use is a newborn baby?”
In a world where the products, the tools, and even the tools that make the tools are all fundamentally digital, banning guns isn’t just difficult. It’s impossible. Any attempt at “control” will be reminiscent of the manner in which the USSR and its slave satellites struggled, never succeeding, in mighty efforts to ban information – until they ultimately collapsed. When banning books didn’t work for them, they tried banning typewriters. Certainly the Mike Hondas of the world will go after the digital information needed to print gun parts, but information continues its trendline towards greater freedom and independence.