back to article Cheap 3D printer works with steel

The one thing that made 3D printed guns tolerable to the non-gun-owning community was that they were made of plastic, because metal 3D printers were costly. Now, a bunch of scientists from Michigan Tech are showing off a cheap 3D printer that fabricates in metal. Metal 3D printing isn't new, but it's been expensive until now. …


This topic is closed for new posts.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The scarecest resource of all

        "Killer app", why am I concerned that this "gun printing" thing might resurface in a different market? :O

  1. dbayly

    .. and who makes the iron ?

    I guess this is an opportunity for the Feds to control iron distribution too.

  2. Stooriefit
    Thumb Down

    Settle down

    Nothing to see here.

    If you have ever seen the parts these things produce you wouldn't imagine making a gun from one. They have a finish quality similar to a constipated dragon's stool. You would have to post machine it to get any kind of fit or function' in which case why not start with stock bar? You could use your FOS lathe.

    This work is positively last century - at team at Cranfield did this years ago, and have been doing much more impressive stuff of late, welding steel to aluminium and seven other impossible things before breakfast etc.

    Only the mention of open source firearms (which is patently bobbins) has garnered any press for this at all.

    1. <shakes head>

      Re: Settle down

      do you have any more details as this seems interesting?

      1. Stooriefit

        Re: Settle down

        Sorry can't find a magic link - check out Prof Stewart Williams' publications at Cranfield. There is stuff on welding dissimilar metals and doing additive manufacturing using arcs in fancy alloys.

        You could also check out AILU's list of active research groups

        It is a bit out of date and the field is moving fast - there is more activity at Liverpool and Heriot Watt as well as Cambridge than that disclosed here.

        There is also a NSF report on Additive Manufacturing in Europe but I can't paste it because of a little IT difficulty I'm encountering...

    2. DrXym

      Re: Settle down

      Most of these "Gun printed with 3D printer" stories usually neglect to mention that the only thing the printer printed was a plastic widget that modifies the receiver or something like that, e.g. permitting the rifle to fire in automatic mode. The rest of the gun being a bog standard gun. Not surprising when most consumer grade printers are basically extruding plastic like some glorified coil pot.

      I think even if metal sintering printer devices became affordable that it wouldn't do much for the viability of printing guns. Even if the device were capable of printing parts, they would still have to be finished in a workshop and if someone has a workshop, then they probably could make a gun anyway.

    3. jubtastic1

      Re: Settle down

      Agreed, as far as I can tell this is just a computer controlled mig welder, so it's going to average at 5mm resolution with a fairly wide variance and is going to need a milling stage to get any sort of usable parts out of it.

      If you wanted a gun this would be a really poor way of making one, interesting though.

  3. Khaptain Silver badge

    Synthetic Polymers

    Let's see what happens when someone brings out a Synthetic Polymer printer. A la Glock.... Now that will be interesting.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: Synthetic Polymers

      Why synthetic? Just stick a spider on the print head and see what you can achieve.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Khaptain Re: Synthetic Polymers

      "Let's see what happens when someone brings out a Synthetic Polymer printer. A la Glock.... Now that will be interesting." We'll, yes and no. If you mean for designing a "scanner-proof" gun it makes no difference in the West, airports and the like have switched to non-magnetic scanners to look for explosives hidden on the body, and those scanners will pick up a plastic gun just as quickly as a metal one. If you mean from the viewpoint of making guns easier to build, then you still need to fabricate a barrel and chamber out of a very strong material (usually steel) - the rest of the weapon can be made out of plastic mouldings or sheet tin folded into shape (receivers for AR-15s are commonly made from aluminium or plastic). I suppose you could make a low-pressure gun using plastic and black powder, but that's an expensive option in many countries when you can just go buy a commercial gun for a fraction of the price.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Print a gun, the right way.

    1. Search for a gunsmith

    2. Print out the address and map

    3. Go there

    4. Purchase said gun (assuming you live in a redneck community)

    5. Use it without it 'asploding' your own head!

  5. DrXym

    I look forward to the headlines

    "Man loses hand / eye / part of face / dies when printed gun explodes"

    1. Tom 7

      Re: I look forward to the headlines

      The only ones who will make them are 'mad scientists' who will only test them reasonably safely - the rest of us will just buy proper guns off the street - or in 'shops' for less than the price of the aforementioned argon bottles.

  6. Tom_

    Not even close to useful yet.

    I don't need to print a washer, shower curtain ring, action figure , circuit board or anything else so trivial.

    I'll buy my first 3D printer when I can print Kelly LeBrock.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not even close to useful yet.

      Actually, the circuit board printing has been and is in use long before these stories started to happen. They actually "print" some CPUs (well, they use a photography and etching technique) and Unis can buy "part pickers/placers".

      They can print add on boards for the Raspberry Pi with solder then use the part picker to place, then they bake it in an oven.

      With conductive ink, and sticker like chips, you could theoretically print out simple board. Thing is, most of use need reliability and cheap cost, not quick delivery/expensive one off use. However prototyping and Uni projects do. :)

    2. The Stolly

      Re: Not even close to useful yet.

      Try ASDA

  7. stu 4

    3d printers are the mutts

    Got one at the weekend there - it really is quite special seeing a part sort of appear in front of your face:

    I'd been in the 'meh' camp with 3d printers till now, but once you get one, you find there are so many projects you can use it for.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: 3d printers are the mutts

      For that kind of use it's much cheaper to go down to your local makerspace and hire a printer to do it.

      It'll stay that way for a decade too.

      Coming up with a multitude of things to do with your printer != it's more economic to do so than simply buying the part you need.

      1. stu 4

        Re: 3d printers are the mutts

        jeez, thats jsut an example. I didn't buy it to print out things that exist...

        I bought it to print out a whole load of prototypes for other designs I'm working on.

        At around £30 for a part to be printed by a 3rd party, vs 3p to do it myself, I only need to print about 20 prototypes to have reached my ROI.

        And no decade wait required.

  8. MrXavia

    Why bring up guns?

    That is a very unlikely usage of this, it is much easier to obtain a hand gun through criminal channels than it is to print one...

    1. Steven Jones

      Re: Why bring up guns?

      Indeed. It's hardly as if improvising a working gun using fairly basic workshop machine tools is difficult. There are plenty of plans around for those.

      Indeed, there are some parts of the world where "cottage" gunsmiths make a living out of producing AK-47 clones using relatively simple workshop tools. I'm not sure that the introduction of 3D steel printing will make much difference to that market.

    2. Mark #255

      Re: Why bring up guns?

      Also, I thought the whole hoo-haa about 3D-printed plastic guns was the fact that they were made of plastic, and so weren't detected by metal detectors which protected "secure" areas...

  9. Sir Sham Cad

    Trust issues

    After every article I've read and TV spot I've seen about consumer/home 3d printing I've been left wondering about the quality of the part that has been made. From a replacement plastic bit for a fridge to nuts and bolts of steel I've been left thnking that I wouldn't use any of those parts in any device or machine that underwent any kind of physical stress. I wouldn't put a 3d printed washer in my washing machine in case it failed under duress in the spin cycle and trashed my appliance never mind trust one in a vehicle or the extremes of temperature and pressure in the business bits of a firearm.

    I know that this tech is exciting and we're all keen to see what it can do but this hysteria in (mostly) the media by notable quotables with an obvious self interest about post-scarcity, imagination is the limit, next industrial revolution bollocks is driving me up the wall! Schtop! This revolution is not ready yet!

    1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: Trust issues

      ...This revolution is not ready yet!...

      Hmmm... according to your definition, the revolution will only be ready when it is no longer a revolution...

  10. Drae

    Blatant attention-grabbing articles by irresponsible tech writers

    Would all you so called journalist and tech writers -please- stop rattling on about 3d printers and guns with EVERY new advance in 3d printing technology that comes around?

    People like you creating irresponsibly attention-grabbing headlines and sub-headlines are responsible for giving widespread attention to people who get a kick out of publicising "Look what dangerous thing we can make with 3d printers!"

    Those people will be all that's needed to remove easy access to affordable home printing-and-design of cheap prototype (or better) items, through regulation and other things.

    And journalists/tech writers like you will be the ones who reliably churn out the pageviewcount-grabby "3d printers - omg guns!" line to the masses.

  11. willi0000000

    i like it. the general idea anyway. it's cheap and the bulk of the cost is buying the welder and that can be dismounted when you're done and put to use around the shop (sticking two bits of metal together is a talent worth having for a serious DIYer). other than that, what it produces is a crap-shoot effort to get the temperature curves and alloys right just to produce an unfinished part.

    years of development might get you a totally new welding head (useless for welding anything but foreskins back onto circumcised mosquitoes) that can lay down sufficiently fine lines to make a spare part if you're desperate. this still needs some serious attention to sensors and software to get the temperature curves right.

    something like this is a wonderful thesis project for the students but past that ... meh. NASA will probably send a 3D printer that can do plastics and even laser metal sintering in one box to the ISS someday because it makes sense there given the long and difficult supply lines.

  12. envmod


    "knives, and stabbing weapons"

    fuck worrying about guns, they're too complicated. bladed objects on the other hand...

  13. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Economics 101

    ...resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost”...

    Wealth doesn't work like that.

    If objects become readily available from a printer, the rich will simple be the people who can pay for personal service, or land ownership, or something else which can't be printed...

  14. earl grey

    i want the 1000 washers

    What hardware store actually stocks those kind of numbers in different sizes?

  15. Jim 59

    Light engineering contractors make bespoke stuff out of metal all the time, did I miss something ?

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. iranu

    Old Technology ;)

    This is called Shaped Metal Deposition or Near Net Metal Deposition and isn't 3D printing in the usual sense. I was evaluating this technology 10 years ago for Rolls Royce because they were looking to produce aircraft engine components, mainly casings, from Ti 6/4 alloy using this method.

    Casings are usually cast and therefore suffer from all of the usual reduced material properties. By using this method of building up weld metal you produce a casing that has improved mechanical properties, akin to traditional manufacturing methods, but with much less (expensive) machining and waste to produce the finished component.

    This method also reduces lead times and designs can be changed without much increased cost.

    The surface produced is quite pretty and unique in Ti 6/4 - it's a kind of golden colour with lots of hues of purple and blue throughout with a large grain pattern amongst the lines of build up. I had some cuff-links made from some of the left over material!

    Pics of test boxes using this method and close-up of surface.

    And a paper on the subject.

  18. Jim99

    Post scarcity

    Much of the scarcity we face is artificial, created by government to meet wider social goals.

    Housing expensive? It's cos we don't let people build on fields so as to preserve the countryside.

    Power bills high? That's because people are scared of radioactive accidents at nuke stations, and cheap coal power creates CO2.

    Food expensive? It would be much less so if we let third world farmers export their goods to us, but we protect the incomes of domestic agriculture instead.

    I am not saying all of these wider goals are wrong (although I think two of them are), but I think it is important to be aware of the costs we pay to achieve them, particularly when those costs fall heaviest on they poorest.

  19. 2cent

    Newsline: Autobody shop stops order parts..

    If you have enough print heads and control, your autobody shop might not order anything but raw plastic, steel and nut and bolts.


This topic is closed for new posts.