May.9, 2013

After the shocking announcement from the Texas-based "Defense Distributed" that they have successfully fired the world's first gun made by a 3D printer, the 3D-printed gun's blueprints was downloaded 100,000 times in just two days. According to Defense Distributed, most downloads come from the U.S., then Spain, ahead of Brazil, Germany, and the U.K..

However experts warn that firing a gun in which any part has been created in a 3D printer could pose a potential threat to their users. The plastics would not stand the pressures and stresses and would fall apart or explode.

Jonathan Rowley, design director of London-based 3D printing specialist Digits2Widgets, warned on the company blog that despite the successful test-firing of a 3D printed gun, a weapon made on a home 3D printer could be of poor engineering quality and would potentially kill the user:

"Unlike potential homemade printed guns, Cody Wilson's gun parts were built on an industrial grade 3D printer (Dimension SST 1200es bought on Ebay), running a specific material. "There is currently a proliferation of 'home 3D Printers' coming on to the market. The level of precision detail that they can achieve and the poor engineering quality of their own plastic materials would make it suicidal to attempt to print and fire the gun made from any of these machines," Rowley said.

Stratasys' Dimension SST 1200es 3D printer

Since the release of the gun files, Digits2Widgets has been approached by two UK national newspapers, The Daily Telegraph and the Mail, to 3D print a gun for them, but Digits2Widgets had declined.

"None of our industrial 3D printers are the same make and model as the one used by Cody Wilson. None of our industrial 3D printers run the same type of plastic as used by Cody Wilson. Therefore gun parts that we might print for journalists or any other misguided individuals, might look similar to Wilson's finished gun, however the way that they would perform under firing would be totally unknown and without doubt would be extremely dangerous."

Rowley fears that the nylon used to create the designs would be unable to withstand the explosive force of the bullet ejection. As the bullet is fired, the pressure inside a gun barrel typically reaches more than 1,000 atmospheres, and the temperature exceeds 200C. In addition the fine nylon powder which could be left in the barrel by lack of cleaning, or by friction from previous bullet passage, would also be dangerous. "That's an explosive by itself." said Rowley.

Another expert confirmed what Rowley said. Philip Boyce, an independent firearms expert at Forensic Scientific in Thetford, said to Charles Arthur of the guardian: "It all depends on how hard the plastic is. You might get one of these to fire 10 to 20 shots before it gives up the ghost. It would just disrupt - the barrel would fall apart, the chamber would fall apart."

Rowley says "we fear that the next story will be about a child blowing their hand off while experimenting with a 3D printed gun …. or even worse. This type of accident is the immediate danger of this project and will happen long before anyone is deliberately killed by one of these tools."

He calls Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, "irresponsible" to share files for a printable gun online: "If you look at these files, there are all sorts of attached text documents about how to put them together, but nothing about the materials you must use for it to work or the printer you need to employ. It's highly irresponsible, but there are plenty of fools who will jump at the chance to have a go."

"We don't believe that he's especially interested in the potential proliferation of 3D printed guns, this project is just a demonstration of his theory. He may not be interested, but he also doesn't appear to care." says Rowley.

Rowley and his company are in the process of establishing a code of practice that they hope that other bureaus will also sign up to the same statement that they will not print gun files. "It's not just a question of the morality of unfettered gun ownership; with the current state of the technology it's also about public safety."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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