Laser sin­ter­ing process used to make a work­ing hand­gun

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - 3D TECHNOLOGY - By Steve Hart

Solid Con­cepts has man­u­fac­tured the world’s first 3D printed metal gun us­ing a laser sin­ter­ing process and pow­dered metals.

The gun, a 1911 clas­sic de­sign, is fully func­tional and has al­ready han­dled 50 rounds of suc­cess­ful fir­ing.

It is com­posed of 33 17-4 stain­less steel and In­conel 625 com­po­nents, and is decked with a Se­lec­tive Laser Sin­tered (SLS) car­bon-fi­bre filled ny­lon hand grip. The suc­cess­ful pro­duc­tion proves the vi­a­bil­ity of 3D print­ing for commercial ap­pli­ca­tions.

“We’re prov­ing this is pos­si­ble, the tech­nol­ogy is at a place now where we can man­u­fac­ture a gun with 3D metal print­ing,” says Kent Fire­stone, vice pres­i­dent of ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing at Solid Con­cepts in Texas, USA.

The laser sin­ter­ing process used to man­u­fac­ture the 30-plus gun com­po­nents is one of the most ac­cu­rate ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses avail­able, and more than ac­cu­rate enough to build the in­ter­change­able and in­ter­fac­ing parts within the gun.

Sin­ter­ing is a method for cre­at­ing ob­jects from pow­ders, in­clud­ing metal and ce­ramic pow­ders, and is based on atomic dif­fu­sion. Dif­fu­sion oc­curs in any ma­te­rial above ab­so­lute zero, but oc­curs much faster at higher tem­per­a­tures.

In most sin­ter­ing pro­cesses, the pow­dered ma­te­rial is held in a mould and then heated to a tem­per­a­ture be­low the melt­ing point. The atoms in the pow­der par­ti­cles dif­fuse across the bound­aries of the par­ti­cles, fus­ing the par­ti­cles to­gether and cre­at­ing one solid piece.

The process is of­ten cho­sen as the shap­ing process for ma­te­ri­als with ex­tremely high melt­ing points such as tung­sten and molyb­de­num.

Sin­ter­ing is tra­di­tion­ally used for man­u­fac­tur­ing ce­ramic ob­jects. A sim­ple, in­tu­itive ex­am­ple of sin­ter­ing can be seen when ice cubes in a glass of wa­ter stick to each other.

The pro­duc­tion of Solid Con­cept’s gun proves the tight tol­er­ances laser sin­ter­ing can meet. The gun bar­rel sees cham­ber pres­sures above 20,000 psi when it is fired.

“Three-D printed metal has less poros­ity is­sues than an in­vest­ment cast part and bet­ter com­plex­i­ties than a ma­chined part,” says Fire­stone.

“It’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that 3D print­ing isn’t ac­cu­rate or strong enough, and we’re work­ing to change people’s per­spec­tive.”

Photo / sup­plied

The parts of a gun, all made us­ing a 3D print­ing process by Solid Con­cepts.

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