Austin company unveils first metal gun from 3D printer

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by JESSICA VESS / KVUE News & Photojournalist KENNETH NULL

khou.com

Posted on November 18, 2013 at 7:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 19 at 1:31 PM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Groundbreaking technology is unfolding in Austin. Production company Solid Concepts developed the first metal handgun using a 3D printer.

“My heart of hearts told me it would do good,” said Project Coordinator at Solid Concepts Eric Mutchler. “I'm not a gun smith by any means. I'm not a full blown mechanical engineer by any means. But I knew if we could get the parts built in this process, we could make it run.”

Mutchler wanted to prove the vast capabilities of 3D printing.

“It was side work. It was kind of under the radar and off everybody's plate,” explained Mutchler.

After getting a firearms manufacturing license, Mutchler spent months sneaking back into the company’s printing rooms, working with engineers, to bring a 100-year-old gun design into the modern world.

The lasers inside the metal 3D printers created each piece of the gun through a process of stacking one layer of metal powder over another. It can take between four to six hours to print smaller pieces. Most are done in 20 hours.

The pieces come out on a solid slab of metal. They’re then shaved away and the parts, 36 in all, are assembled. When it came together Mutchler presented the product to his managers.

“I wanted to shoot it. I was like the third person, so it was great,” said VP of Additive Manufacturing at Solid Concepts Kent Firestone.

Firestone was excited to see the new products come off the machines. Solid Concepts typically manufactures products for medical, aerospace and automotive industries.

“I think the sky is the limit. Every day we try to develop new applications for these technologies,” said Firestone.

When Firestone and Mutchler took the gun for a test run at a local shooting range, others in nearby bays wanted to try it out.

The company released a video on YouTube showing the gun in operation. In a matter of days it had more than one million views and a never-ending stream of comments.

“It's run the gamut. From overwhelming positive to negative, to 'Why did they choose to build a gun?'” said Firestone.

The Austin Police Association says any gun poses a threat. President Wayne Vincent worries that the 3D printing technology could eventually make guns more readily available. Firestone assures their gun is just a prototype to show the capabilities of 3D printing. He says it’s costly and will not go into full production.

However there are some who are requesting one of their own.

“We've had some serious inquiries as to 'Can I buy one?' 'Can I have that one?' The first one we will never sell,” said Firestone.

Firestone says there are plans to build several more prototypes.

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