This is an interesting development. I am not suprised that this worked, since in the AR-15 design most of the stress is contained in the upper receiver. What is interesting is that the lower receiver is what is licensed.
I can speak to the implications in Illinois. We do not register particular guns. Yes, you go through a process when you buy a gun in the state from a retailer. On the other hand, buying a gun from an individual does not require a check with the authorities. Generally, you should keep a record of the sale for ten years (this is a federal requirement). What we do have here is a Firearms Owners ID (FOID). This is what allows an individual to possess a firearm. You are not allowed to own a full auto gun without a Class 3 license (again, a federal regulation). I have known people to make their own hunting guns, for long range hunting. They did not have to register them. They, as a registered gun owner, are permitted, not the gun. As with most laws, the enforcement is after the fact. If you drive a car and you kill someone (a much more likely event than ine using a gun) then you are prosecuted after the fact. Little is done to stop people, although there is technology coming that might help.
Enough of the legal rap. What is interesting is that, through computer technology, we are freeing ourselves from the dependence on large organization for many of the things we consume. Think of the production and distribution of music, and now video. With 3D printing, this is extending to many physical products. Change it is a coming!
Naperlou: I like your synopsis of where 3D printing is going in terms of freeing us up from a dependance on companies for consumables. As much as I found this example pretty compelling from the standpoint of what the technology is capable of, I definitely am not on board with giving people the tools to produce their own firearms or other weapons. Laws or no laws, it just opens the door to bad behavior.
All technological improvements come with a downside. Automobiles, for example have pretty consistently cost about 40,000 lives a year in the US for the last couple of generations. If that "cost" was known at the outset, how anxious would people have been to embrace the technology? That being said, I'm not an advocate of making it easier for the average Joe or Jane to get their hands on potentially lethal products, so this advent certainly opens up a can of worms for law enforcement. Where and how you draw the line gets more complicated as technology advances. This manufacturing technique could potentially be used to build grenades, land mines, maybe even small missiles. No doubt about it, this article just highlights the Pandora's box that comes with new technologies.
I guess this was inevitable, but I have a hard time thinking it's an example of either consumer or creative freedom. Bad behavior is already out there and this will help make it harder to control: if criminals can make their own entirely unregulated automatic weapons, bloodshed is likely to increase. Let alone land mines, and missiles, as Scott points out.
This is a scary development. Sounds like it also could be dangerous for users. But this has to be measured against the ease of obtaining firearms. That ease may make this technology unnecessary for those who want guns. Who is really getting turned down when buying guns at shows or from private owners?
As with all innovative products, individuals who exploit them present the Dark Side of the technology. Being able to make a gun with a 3D printer is very scary. Having gun CAD data online for people to "print" functional weapons is truly scary. I am an advocate for open source software and hardware but printing guns and other weapons and sharing them freely online I'm totally against it.
Good points, Mrdon. But I don't this genie will go back into its bottle. Yet really, guns are so easy to come by, I don't believe 3D guns will amount to much when it comes to criminals or the deranged.
I think you all are raising great points. I certainly agree that this technology opens up a Pandora's Box, but I suppose the box was already open and a criminal with a plan is going to find some way to pull it off, whether he opts for this kind of DIY method or finds some avenue to purchase weaponry. And as many of you point out, technology always comes with a dark side. It's just that this dark side is pretty dark.
I know guns are fascinating, but I do wish design magazines (and Pop Mech and Pop Sci) would lean in the direction of fewer killing machines. We are a very violent people, and I fear we will reap the whirlwind.
OTOH, Making your own machine gun has got to be a legal issue...regardless of how much fun it is. Making your own brass knuckles will get you into legal trouble.
If your contribution to humanity is 3D home-made weapons. Try to balance your karma by contributing to some good cause.
EricMJones ps: See: Lord of War (Nicholas Cage, 2005)
better yet. look to history and realize that there has never been an american arms dealer like that, and the man your actually telling us to see is Viktor Anatolyevich Bout a soviet arms dealer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Bout
but since the left loves communism and hates the west, they switched the sides and such so that americans would hate themselves, and not the real people, like viktor. and the various states that make weapons for sale on the black market.
in fact, the real danger is not in a reciever you can print, its in things like chavez builing the first dragunov sniper rifle factories, ak, and grenade launchers he licenses from russia. when those start heading out and over an open border, your going to wish citizens could print recievers.
even funnier... which is more dangerous? printing a reciever, then having to go all over to get parts to make it, then having to find ammunition, and then wondering, when you fire it, will it blow up...
or, a CD rom with various military manuals on unconventional warfare, incindieries, and all that kind of stuff?
the latter you can look up and read and buy openly, and learn how to put together things that green berets and others do when they dont have supplies. ranging from ignigthers, delay fuses, explosives, gelled gasoline and on and on.
now... were were all the totalitarians afraid of their fellow men when things like that were printed and traded since the 40s? oh. they didnt know about it, so they couldnt be paranoid about it.
by the way... perhaps going to the hardware store, and modifying a nail gun using a 22 cartridge would be easier? or a zip gun?
go to wiki, you can learn now to make a zip gun there and you dont need a computer, you dont need a special machine, you dont need any of that.
ESPECIALLY take a look at this picture from Delhi india
Beth, I agree this dark side is pretty dark. It will probably take a while before the danger manifests itself. This technology will probably stay in its tech corner for some time. Eventually, however, it will likely spill into the mainstream.
The number of individual parts needed to make a handgun would preclude all but the most dedicated CAD/3D printing enthusiast/home machinist from even contemplating this endeavor. I'm really not concerned that this might become a technology to be feared. The potential for 3D printing as a development tool, for research, prototyping, and analysis is amazing and look forward to future enhancements.
Beth - I believe your alarm, while understandable, is probably unwarranted. First of all, people have been making their own weapons for millenia. Anything in your house can be a weapon. Prisoners make deadly weapons out of toothbrushes. So this is not some technological door that has been broken down, just a tiny bit of evolution. Secondly, this is not, as you assert "highly accessible technology". Anyone who can afford a 3D printer could also afford a mill and lathe, which are much more effective for making weapons. Lastly, for you and Mr. Jones, this type of access to weapons does not necessarily open the door to bad behavior or "bad karma". I live in West Virginia, one of the most heavily armed states in the US. If someone wants a firearm to engage in "bad behavior", it would be stupid to 3D print one when you can just buy one for a couple hundred dollars. So by the logic that easy access to weapons leads to trouble, this should be the most violent place in America. But it's not. To summarize my point, touching a gun will not turn an honor student into a violent criminal, and taking guns from violent criminals will not turn them into model citizens, therefore we can conclude that the gun itself is not responsible for "bad behavior".
Beth: You said "As much as I found this example pretty compelling from the standpoint of what the technology is capable of, I definitely am not on board with giving people the tools to produce their own firearms or other weapons. Laws or no laws, it just opens the door to bad behavior."
Why do you want to take away 3D printers from people? People with access to solid modeling CAD programs and 3D printers are only limited by their imaginations as to what they can create. If you were granted access to a 3D printer, are you willing to say no, because you know you might make a weapon with it and try to kill someone? Are Legos the only project material you would propose people have available? The ability to make a weapon, or an engine for a car that can exceed the speed limit doesn't mean that the person owning a weapon or a fast car will chose to hurt another person or break the traffic laws. Knowledge, experience, and understanding of weapons and fast cars will do more for respect vs. fear for those items and foster are better educated and knowledgeable society.
This makes it possible to print the lower receiver of a AR-15 automatic, but are we getting closer to having an entire gun that can be made from plastic (whether from a 3D printer or not)? For more than a decade, spy movies and novels have depicted the use of plastic and ceramic guns as a means of beating metal detectors at airports, but the NRA has said that such guns are fiction. So now, are we looking at the possibility of plastic guns, as well as plastic guns made by 3D printers? Would this mean anything for airport security? Or do full-body scanners eliminate those issues?
Charles, Please don't forget the next wave of additive manufacturing...metallic media. Examples of a functional rpg launcher have been made using the Direct Metal Laser Sintering process. None of the parts on the launcher (empty tube and ignition mechanism) are highly stressed during use. It's merely a function of time before highly stressed parts (rifled barrels, receivers, bolts, rocket cases for the rpg, etc) can be made using DMLS materials.
It's still very costly...but remember where sterolith was 20 years ago costwise.
The main item of interest isn't the ability to make the parts from plastic [which aren't actually functional], but the ability to take the 3-D printed plastic part made from the correct polymer & use it as the "form" in a lost foam casting process to make untraceable high resolution metal parts very inexpensively.
One of our resposibilities is to be truthful in our works. So an to clarify an AR-15 is a semi-automatic version of the M-16. If any of you has had any of the rapid prototype parts created you know that they polymers used in most of the commecially availible 3-D printers is not very structurely sound. One of the comments states you could use a printed part for a lost foam or lost wax process... How many people really have the ability to do that?
Gun laws and over controlling them are only as effective as the true deterents to committing crimes using guns. If criminals know that the repercussions of their crimes are going to be the possibility of facing a law abiding citizen who may be armed as well, their resposonse as criminals will be to go and find a victum in a state or city that does not allow law abiding citizens to protect themselves or their families. The police cannot be everywhere and if you believe that outlawing all guns will make you safer, I am sorry to tell you not only will you expose yourself to criminals but also to an over repressive government. Look back to the 1930's first thing Hitler did was disarm the public. We all know the horrific result of that.
We are taught as engineers to think critically and emotion plays no part in critical thinking. So critically thinking about guns, gun laws etc... We all know beyond reason that anybody who choses to do no good will do no good without regard to laws that only law abiding citizens chose to obey.
"Plastics have been used in firearms for producing things like grips, but they haven't much been tapped for more structural components because of durability and integrity concerns and because, well, there are some pretty serious safety implications if the manufacturing process backfires."
Actually, plastics have been used in firearm structures for 30 years. Glock produced the first polymer framed pistols back in 1982. Many companies have incorprated plastics into the frames of their pistols. While many parts still need to be made of steel, plastics are more than strong enough to be used in a pistol frame.
I new this would get the anti's worked up. Yes the lower reciever is the "liscened" part, you can buy all other components but need a FFL to buy the lower. But in reality you can buy 80% finished lowers without a FFL and finish machining the lower with a dremel tool. Oh No pretty scary hey Anti's. The question is when is the "lower" a Lower, a hunk of aluminum the same size is not.
You can't make an "Automatic" Lower like previous comment, you would need an M16 bolt and trigger mechanism ... But did you know if i take a semi-auto lower and drill one hole in it in a certain spot it is "ILLEGAL" which seems to defy logic, but the ATF could arrest you.
And the plastic gun thing cracks me up .. are they going to make plastic bullets and fake gunpowder as well so they can't be detected .. gimme a break
Actually, they do have PLASTIC bullets. We used to shoot them in our 50cal machine guns for training people on how to operate the machine gun. They always caught the firing range on fire and the fire department would have to come shut the range down!LOL!
Police use rubber bullets for riot control. We actuallt shot each other with these as an INITIATION!!
99% of the population are unable to create anything in engineering-level CAD (such as Solidworks) and/or have the engineering knowledge and experience to download part files, modify parts and print them via a 3D printer which very few people personally own. I'm not concerned that thousands of people will now be able to make their own guns. Besides, guns are readily available to criminals and non criminals, such as at your local sporting goods store and gun shows.
Having 3D printer which we use daily, and with experience around M-16/AR-15 since 1972 and owning several current model AR-15s, I am very familar with the desing an limitations of both. A lower receiver never comes into contact with the round, so the stress on a lower receiver is minimal. Sure, the lower receive holds the magazine, trigger housing and assembly, and buffer & spring assembly, but none of these surfaces ever contact the round, aka, bullet.
The upper receiver (barrel, chanmber, bolt & bolt carrier) are the parts which must be made of metal becuase they are they are the components which contact the round and must take the stress, heat, and pressure of the round when it is fired. If one looks into the history of the design of the AR-15, that was one of the objectives for the combination of the upper receiver and lower receiver.
I could fire a round with a plastic lower receiver, but there is no way I would try to fire a round with a plastic upper receiver.
Instead of wringing your hands about the making of guns, why aren't you more upset at a culture that has endevoured to eliminate the discussion of right and wrong. Our schools are not allowed to make "value judgements" and thus teach our kids that there is really no such thing as right and wrong. When we don't have any idea of right and wrong then I can do anything I want to do without consequence. And we are seeing the consequence of anarchistic practices.
In the US, the law is that an individual can produce a firearm for their own use without any permits as long as it is not a full-auto firearm. It does not preclude that individual from later selling that weapon, but if sold it must have the makers name and a serial number. An individual also cannot make a firearm for another person, only for personal use.
With the advent of small, affordable CNC machines the capability of making a veriety of productsm including firearms has been in the hands of hobbiests for a number of years. One could develop a rather capable CNC machine shop for less than $10,000 US, 3D printing is just catching up.
And as was statred previously, 40,000 die every year in car realted deaths and we take no notice, a few die in a aircraft accident and we all respond in horror, and some are killed with firearms and we want them banned. Maybe we would be better off if we spent some time evaluating why all these events happen and fixing the problems rather than the symptoms. Do we eliminate cars because people are killed by cars? Do we eliminate pillows because some are smothered by pillows? Do we collect all the knives because someone is stabbed?
We would probably be safer if we eliminated cell phones...
I think you make some excellent points, kf2qd. We need a cultural shift back to absolute truth, where right and wrong are clearly defined and real consequences occur. Establishing this type of world view will roll over to every aspect of life including gun use. Criminals are not going to turn in their guns (which are readily available without this technology) and the average criminal is not going to expend the time, money and energy to fashion an AR-15 when he can easily buy one at a much cheaper cost. I am excited about the possiblities offered by 3D printing but I think a lot of what is being developed will stay in the hobbyist realm for a long time...
And kf2qd - I totally agree with your cell phone statement!
A 3d printed lower for an AR is a really cool thing, doesn't bother me a bit. Now a particle beam weapon made from surplus microwave oven magnetrons, or an oxy-acetylene powered gatling gun firing ceramic flechettes - those might be cause for alarm...
Interesting article -- how long will it be before we can purchase repair parts for our cars, appliances, etc. as 3D models for home printing? If someone can make something as demanding and intricate as rifle parts at home, imagine how easy it could be to make our own replacement knobs, covers, brackets, and so on.
How will the states tax parts delivered electronically? Will companies which sell 3D models be required to collect sales tax based on the retail value of finished parts?
As for whether this particular project should have been done, I suspect Gutenberg faced many of the same arguments.
Like others have said, I'm not sure this is really troubling, since there are many other ways to acquire or build a firearm. Interesting about the AR-15 lower receiver being the lower stress part of the weapon. I suppose if one would buy all of the other AR-15 parts, and then 3D print a lower receiver specifically to skirt the law (if they aren't legally permitted to own a weapon), that would be the biggest problem.
I am looking forward to the day that I can manufacture my own 3D printed replacement parts for things. Specifically, I'd like to have a small 3D scanner to scan in a damanged part, good design software that it easy enough to touch up / repair the scanned part to how it should be, and a 3D printer to manufacture the replacement in a material strong enough to use.
This was supposed to be an article about some exceptional capability of an engineer who was able to produce a sophisticated part, using conveniently-available drawings & files. What happened? Because the author decided to inject a personal bias against the product having been manufactured, this blog turned into a typical rant about the horrors of firearms ownership with all sorts of accompanying statistics & emotional rhetoric attached.
It's a shame we could not have kept to the original subject matter to praise & critique this engineer's "genius" at work.
By the way, since several people decried the availability of "homemade" firearms falling into criminal hands, may I remind you that our current federal administration conjured up a devious scheme to place weapons INTO foreign criminal hands WITH COMPLETE AFORETHOUGHT! Why aren't you devoting any editorial space to that heinous act of our government, which resulted in the death of a federal agent????
@Old Curmudgeon: I appreciate your comments that some of the discourse on this community based on this post is veering off into highly political territory and perhaps losing sight of why I choose to write about this in the first place, despite my reservations about making it easy for people to make guns. The major point of the piece is to continue to chronicle how far 3D printing technology has come and to showcase how close we are to a time when we will be able to download 3D CAD files of common household appliance parts or products and print them out ourselves, potentially at less cost and definitely at less hassle than buying via mail order or at a retail store.
As for injecting my opinion into the piece, well, that's sort of the new world of journalism when it comes to blogs. I almost felt compelled to do it, even in a small way. Hopefully you'll keep reading!
SORRY! But I can't disagree with you more. This is a technical publication, and the associated blogs & forums should remain about the technical aspects of a product, service, etc. There's plenty of general purpose outlets for expressing your political, social, religious bias available to people now.
However, I DO give you credit for allowing that if a person wants to secure a firearm ILLEGALLY of ILLEGAL intent, then there are many places that one can go to to achieve that goal in far more timely manner than by investing in a CAD program, with its steep learning curve, and purchasing a "$500" 3-D printer to manufacture Bazookas in their backyard.
Finally, do you really believe that even IF EPSON, CANON, H-P were to introduce a 3-D printer for $99, available at WAL*MART that there'd be hoardes of people buying them to remanufacture a bracket for their broken doohickey? I'd advance that the ONLY people who would rise to that challenge would be other engineers, draftsmen, etc. who have experience w/ using screwdrivers & wrenches & soldering irons. JOE SIXPACK ain't gonna spend his Saturday afternoon creating a part for his NORGE washing machine!!!!!
@OLD_CURMUDGEON: It's unrealistic to try to separate the technical aspects of a topic from its social, environmental, economic, or ethical aspects. All of these aspects come together in a single whole, which we call "reality." As engineers, we have a professional responsibility to think about the broad consequences and implications of our work. I don't agree with Beth, but I appreciate her willingness to consider the societal implications of a technical topic.
I grew up in the city of Chicago, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Even so, two of my friends were shot and killed while I was in high school. In my first job, at a church-run immigrant center, I regularly found bullet casings while sweeping the sidewalk. In contrast, my dad grew up in rural Michigan, where there were guns in nearly every home, yet shootings were unheard of. So I am very skeptical of the relationship between violence and legal access to guns. The root causes of violence are far more complex.
Well, Dave, you've got a point, BUT I have to take exception to that in a way. I've read these blogs for quite some time, and the focus of MOST of them IS the item under scrutiny, and nothing else! So, because this particular discussion involved a "hot-button" issue of modern society, the tangents became the focus. I can't agree with that logic.
By that reasoning, if someone wrote in about a machine that collates Bibles, and some engineers in this group are atheists, then the tangential discussion should spin off to a discussion of whether God exists???
I maintain that if one wants to get onto their soapbox about some current issue, then by all means, go to a social network, or "like me" outlet, and have at it! That's the beauty of the American experience ... .we CAN express our own opinions in a public forum WITHOUT fear from censorship.
I, too, was raised in a major metropolitan area where "gun control" was extremely harsh, yet the murder rate was much higher than other cities of other states which had more sensible approach to firearms control. Whenever I get tangled up into this issue, I always cite one example, Switzerland. There, EVERY able-bodied citizen MUSt be proficient in firearms use, and MUST own a rifle to defend his/her country! And, what is the crime/murder rate there?? A miniscule part of 1%. In fact it's so low that the records are hardly kept.
The majority of engineers of all stripes seem to favor guns. I think it has to do with rational thinking, or perhaps even Libertarian thought. When I worked for a major DOD contractor in Colorado there was always a fight in the engineering departments (software and hardware) in who could be gone during black powder, early, or late elk season. I usually opted for either black powder or early season and would hunt with guns that I made myself by hand. I may, or may not have broken federal law by giving my dad a flintlock rifle and pistol for his 54th birthday in 1976. He treasured them, and when he passed away in 1992 my mother gave them back to me. As far as making them, I could build nearly any type of firearm, including machine guns with nothing more than a lathe equiped with milling attachments. But why would I want to make something I have no use for? They are pretty much useless as even our military has found. The M16 now shoots 3 round "bursts". When I was a young GI they were full automatic, dumping the 20 round magazine in a heartbeat. An 8 inch screwdriver in the brain is as fatal as a gunshot, yet moral people are not willing to inflict such things on other humans.
3D printing is no threat to anyone unless one gets their fingers pinched by the stepper motor. All tools can be dangerous.
The point of technology has always been weapons. It is what gives us food and defends us from predators. Without a need for weapons, we would never have bothered creating or learning our technology. The the extreme need for weapons will never go away. Nor is there anyway to put the genie back in the bottle.
Any CNC milling machine could already do this, but simply cost a lot more. But while this is very inexpensive, it also is only capable of firing tiny .22 bullets, which are barely lethal.
Although it is true that the military can be a technology driver most technology today is not driven by the military. Practically all the electronic toys that we love today are not the result of military research. This goes for the medical and biological fields as well unless you are talking about war in a more general sense against diseases.
I think I would disagree that all the electronic toys we have today are not spin offs from military projects. I believe the semiconductor is the result of weapons research, and therefore everything using them. And certainly the DOD created all the original computers, networks, etc. Medical and biological are good points, but I think all medicine owes its herititage to the battlefield wounded. Civilian injuries historically just were not constant enough to warrant a medical field being researched enough to exist. Once we understood the function of the human body better from the military applications, only then was it possible to move further into things like disease control. But even the basic research facilities like land grant universities were created by the DOD investments.
I don't think it would be too much to say that most of our current toys originated with the Military. Think of those little gadgets like GPS and cell phones. Mobile phones were developed for the military, as was GPS. Now GPS is being built into practically everything, even pets. Talk about ubiquitous. And household appliances are being fitted with cellular tech so you can call your refrigerator from the store to find out whether you need milk, or the gas stove can detect a leak and call the gas company before the house blows up. But wait, there's more!
Firing only 200 shots is not a true test of durability. More like 25000 shots or more is needed. An interesting achievement in making a plastic receiver, but a long way away from making a truly durable component. Steel and aluminum still rule in "real world" conditions. Heat of burning deserts can warp this plastic receiver into uselessness. Good prototype, but "not ready" for outdoor conditions.
Sad to say, the mostly steel AK-47 is the "world standard" of performance. Not much need to worry about this plastic prototype.
Design wise, "The cat is out of the bag". Access to these printers by Muslim extremists is already a reality. No friends of "gun control". Now, a war of wits and ingenuity, as well as physical weapons. "Safety not guaranteed". Got to keep closer watch on invention.
While the AK may be the standard for performance for the ultimate reliability in harsh combat conditions without much maintenance (cleaning), it's otherwise, in my experienced opinion, just a piece of ugly junk...a lead sprayer at best. I've never seen an AK do anything serious at target shooting, unlike the accurate and very refined AR rifles. As for semi-auto rifles, many old timers will say they've never seen a person who is a "good shot" who uses such a rifle. I prefer fine bolt action rifles for my target shooting...although I do enjoy shooting semi-autos also.
To all you detractors, my guns are "sporting goods", not weapons! Design News should not be a political opinion place like CNN.
Most of these posts are invalid concerns about unconstitutional laws.
According to the constitution, all 'gun control' laws are unconstitutional - yes we need to guard against incompetent people having access to guns.
The reason we still have guns is because we already had and have guns - and this is true for all our rights - our founders were so smart - surely way smarter than we are today!
As much as we would like to think differently, we are corrupt at the base, and only controlled by force. The government controls us by force and we accept it. The government is also people (probably of the worst kind). We also must control them by force or the threat of force or our freedoms are gone. Please do not be fooled!
Not even the most conservative pro-gun Supreme court justices have said that the "right to bear arms" is unlimited and absolute, any more than "free speech" allows fraud or "freedom of religion" allows human sacrifice. Carrying your position to its ultimate conclusion, why can't I as a physicist (in principle) set up a uranium isotope separator in my basement to built a you-know-what? Of course it would be used only for personal self defense and sport.
My point was merely a "reductti ad absurdum" to show that no right can be absolute or unlimited. Please be assured that I have no intention of making any kinds of weapons, so you don't have to arm yourselt to defend against me. I'm really not out to get you.
As for amateurs using 3D printers to manufacture unlicensed guns, remember that a competent machinist can make almost any firearm by old fashioned metal working tehcniques.
What is more scary is that a gun made of non-metallic materials like plastics would escape metal detectors. Such a gun would not even have to be particularly good or durable to serve quite adequately for any number of crimes.
Interesting article ...but the concerns creates an opportunity for lots of fun thoughts to inject into the discussion - such as;
1. You can have my 3-D Printer when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
2. When 3-D Printers are outlawed, only outlaws will have 3-D printers.
The "genie" is out of the bottle, and the capabilities become available to anyone who can afford the 3-D printer, know how to use the 3-D printer to make parts, etc. That seems to limit the problem to people of reasonably well-off finances and reasonably intelligent abilities. (And as someone else already noted - it would be far easier/cheaper to buy the real thing than to try to make one!
Popular Science mag had an article recently about this engineer on their web site and the conversation predictably veered off into the bushes, just like here. A couple clarifications, both to the positive and negative.
First, on the negative side, the part this engineer made is, in strictly legal terms, the "firearm" itself. The receiver is where the manufacturer markings and serial number are required by law to appear if the firearm is to be sold. So from that perspective, this really is a big deal. You could buy every other part on the Internet or in gun shows without any restrictions (no ID, nothing) and only create this one part at home, and have a completely anonymous weapon, for whatever good it might do you.
On the other hand, some clever soul could also whittle the thing out of a scrap of pine two-by-six, so from that perspective it's NOT that big a deal. This is mainly a "proof of concept" and nothing more. Hardly enough to get your knickers in a twist. The average drive-by shooter is not going to spend his nights and weekends working on this. There are dozens of other outlets, legal and illegal, which will provide the same thing faster, and at a bargain price.
For the dyed-in-the-wool anti-gun enthusiasts out there, if you're serious, don't waste your time arguing with anyone about how you don't like parts of the constitution. Organize to amend the constitution the legitimate way: get the House and Senate to approve your proposal by 2/3 vote and have 3/4 of the states ratify it. If that's too much trouble, then kindly find another subject to discuss, thank you so much.
In reply to Chuck_IAG: Indeed it's a "firearm", though not a particularly practical one. I hope the maker paid attention to the relevant laws. The BATF is notorious for being out to get people, sometimes shooting to kill first and asking questions later. (Look up "Ruby Ridge".) So while it's not a big deal in a rational sense, it might very well be made into a big deal by government officials with big guns and small minds.
3D printing isn't going to do much for actual whole firearms. You're not going to get a workable barrel this way.
I wonder what people who think this project is bad think of http://thehomegunsmith.com/index.html .
Finally, it's well established that guns do far more good than harm. But to get the benefit, you really need one that's highly reliable, which means made in a more conventional manner from steel and other appropriate materials.
I don't mind that the blogs are filled with political/social/political discussions because engineers don't (or shouldn't) live in a vacuum bounded by technical subjects only, while remaining innocent (ignorant) of life' realities. In this, case I am inclined to celebrate Engineer Michael Guslick's ingenuity for using a 3-D printer to make rifle receiver, rather than join the anti-gun brigade lined up to crucify the guy for his choice of 3-D printing project.
Just suppose that Guslick himself, or another engineer inspired by his work, used Guslick's 3-D experience to work with a molecular biologist or medical specialist using an appropriate medium and cellular material to build tissue and organs, perhaps to defeat cancer or other serious diseases. In my humble opinion, I think Guslick and others like him should be encouraged because the potential good far outweighs the any imagined downside.
If 17th century naysayers had their way, Jean de Hautefeuille never would have proposed an early form of internal combustion engine using gunpowder as a fuel, nor would Christaan Huygens (a very bright guy in several other fields) have built and demonstrated a gunpowder-powered rudimentary I.C. engine to pump water. Their pioneering work perhaps in some way inspired the later work of Lenoir, Otto, and Diesel who followed up with the internal combustion engine pretty much as we know it to day.
I agree with you about the gun's innovation and engineering but there are social and political ramifications to "homebrewing" weapons. With no traceability of a 3D printed gun, an ample supply can be made on the weekend and sold on the streets Monday morning. If a crime is committed with the gun, there's no way to identify the weapon because it was manufacturered on a 3D printer. Importantly, children would have access to online CAD files and 3D printers and you know the implications to that scenario.
@Mrdon - While you can use a 3D printer for some of the components, some parts have to be made of metal. These parts include springs, bolts, upper receivers/slides, firing pins and finally, barrels. There are no polymers strong enough to be used for these parts. While some components in a gun can be made from plastics, we are a LONG way off from a plastic gun that can be printed over the weekend and sold on Monday. In addition, even if you could "print" a gun, you still have to feed it. You can't print ammunition.
As so many have posted before, it's far easier to purchase a gun that to print out pieces that are still going to beed metal parts to be functional. Criminals have other things on their minds than how to make a gun completely out of plastic. Even if you could make the barrel and slide out of plastic, you still need springs. Those have to be metal.
@MYRONB: I couldn't agree with you more. That is in fact why I choose to write about Michael Guslick's project--not because of my political feelings for or against gun control, but because he is an engineer pushing the boundaries of technology for purposes of advancing engineering. I knew when examined through that lens, the project was newsworthly and would be of interest to the Design News audience.
@chuck_Aig quoting "On the other hand, some clever soul could also whittle the thing out of a scrap of pine two-by-six, so from that perspective it's NOT that big a deal. This is mainly a "proof of concept" and nothing more. Hardly enough to get your knickers in a twist. "
your right... and if thats the case, they could go to sears and get a craftsman rig that will cut wood for them. they can put HD plastic in instead and the sears machine will cut the thing for them.
oh... and on top of it... go online and you can download the instructions and such to make you own CNC machine... (i am making one out of a set of electric micrometers... ie a CNC that can work on parts no larger than 2"x2")...
why arent they making CNC Machines and making recievers then selling them on the black market? heck, i remember back in the 70s they were selling machined versions of mac 10s.. (ie. the regular mac 10 has lots of stamped parts, but they copied them using a computer mill lath machine).
then again.. once you print it, and have all those parts, you have to put it together. ever see someone try to put a gun together who doesnt know how?
Personally in my opinion I really can't see this technology being used by gangs or terrorists at this time to produce firearms.
There are several reasons for this:
1. I can not see the 3-D printers being an inexpensive investment.
2. This requires someone to be familiar with 3-D modeling software that will interface with a 3-D printer. There are likely not any engineers, designers, drafters working for terrorist organizations or gangs.
3. Requires you to be able to calculate structural and thermal stresses that will occur when the projectile is fired. Again requires a person who understands high level math such as calculus, Differential equations, etc. Also to understand dynamics, static's, and complex physics theories.
4. So if a gang or terrorist organization wanted to produce said firearms they would need lots of money, a few highly educated individuals with the proper experience as mechanical engineers.
5. How many Engineers, designers, and drafters do you know who are unethical enough to join up with organizations such as this to create firearms with a 3-D printer for them?
While I can see giving out the file is a bad thing they don't have the information on how to make the working parts of the AR-15 the do all the heavy work. At this time I can not see gangs, terrorist organizations going around and making plastic firearms that actual work.
The article was informative, and factual ... up to a point. To mention the legalities of producing such a device is reasonable. (Even if the laws behind it may not be truly constitutional.) However, your "gun control" comment was out of place. Leave your biases out of supposedly factual articles.
It was quite encouraging to see that the majority of comments are quite rational, and did not get carried away with brain-washed media propaganda. Thank you.
On a practical sense, it is highly unlikely that the criminal types out there would go through the bother and expense of producing a 3D printed gun. Real ones may be illegally obtained much more easily, and cheaply. The idea that one may produce a non-metallic and thus non-detectable gun is a real possibility. However, this has been a possibility long before 3D printers. Remember the film "In the Line of Fire"? However, producing a rifle by 3D printing would likely end up with something very weak, and possibly fail immediately. There are better methods for doing this if one has criminal intent.
Thanks everyone, for your comments. For those who are bothered by the fact that I injected my opinion, I did so because this is a blog forum, which gives the writers a bit more creative license to impart some of their personality/ideas/beliefs more so than a facts-based news article. I definitely think the discussion is worthwhile, however, despite any differences in opinion.
I do agree that most criminal types won't go through the expense or bother of producing their weapon via a 3D printer. And all of you who said so are right that it is much easier to get guns via other channels. However, once these printers become regular household items (and that's not far off given that some cost $500+ and prices are coming down and packaging is getting more and more turn-key), it will be easier and easier for teens, kids, DIYers to be tempted to experiment with making weapons, and that can end poorly. I'm not saying a 3D printed gun is the only scenario for something ending poorly, I just couldn't write about it without putting it in that context.
There's an often quoted line that guns don't kill people... etc. In support of that is that in Switzerland almost every male over 18 has a rifle and ammunition (if they went to the army) as part of that country's defence policy. They have a significantly lower crime rate with guns than most other countries. This seems to support the initial quote. But when you combine guns with a society such as that in the US with almost no social justice and an incredible gulf between the richest and poorest, you really have a disaster waiting to happen, and so often it has. The guns certainly don't kill the people but the almost free availability of them makes it really easy to commit crimes with them, and when comapring a gun to screw driver as one reader has, a gun with a 20 shot magazine can easily kill 20 people at many metres without any hope of the victims being able to fight back regardless of strength, where as a perpetrator with a screw driver can only kill those within reach and less strong than him/herself. That to me says that removing guns can put a serious dent in the crime statistics. That said, creating an environment where social justice prevails will be far more effective at reducing crime with guns. Now with all of that said, and getting back to the original article, a technology about to become ubiquitous (3D printing) would in the presence of freely available CAD files and in the absence of social justice make matters horrendously worse I believe. There are similar threats conceivable through availability of on-line ordering of gene fragments and papers describing how mutant bacteria was created by researcher xyz when that fall into the hands of a would be terrorist. It's nice to have freedom, but it always comes at a cost, and it has to be an amount we are willing to pay. Just my 2 bob's worth. This is of course MY opinion, and one thing we should all defend is the right to all to have an opinion and the right to voice it.
"There is another quote worth considering here....."when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns..." . If you disarm the overall population, the criminal element will know that they will have not have to be concerned whether Mr Smith in the house down the street will meet their home invasion with a 12-gauge. I still cannot understand why pepople just don't get it.!? In every case where concealed-carry laws are passed, the violent crime rate goes DOWN..... not up. In cities with the strictest gun laws, violent crime is through the roof.
Stop swallowing the typical liberal tripe and use the brain that GOD gave you! Actually look up the stats; logic and reason might just open your eyes.
I am sorry to say that the logic here in the idea that cheaper printers will make such more accessible is kind of silly, and one would only think not through ignorance.
the ignorance of what other things can be done, and are done, and much easier to do, and so forth. ever wonder how we can produce a thousands of chemists, engineers, hobbists, EEs, and do so all over the world... and how many go out and actually use their skill to do that?
the inner city idiot (of which i grew up in a slum in ny) can barely USE a gun. you can go online and you can pull up youtube and see people in the mid west discussing shooting clusters of 10 shots in a 3 inch circle at 100 yards. meanwhile, the thug with the gun and an IQ below 100, can barely hit the broad side of a barn.
now, these same almost illiterate people are going to go out, buy a computer, install drivers, then learn autocad, get a printer machine... now, first they have to go steal a gun, to steal the money, so they can buy the machines.
and if they can do all that, they are not going to go out on the street and rob people with a custom made gun on a computer printer at home. they are going to go buy a 2 dollar water pistol and paint it.
heck... with the right knowlege, you can make a weapon that can kill a few hundred people who wouldnt know they were dead for several months, and would be no more complicated than a plant water sprayer.
you worry about teens doing this? they been making guns in machine shops since i was a kid. cool things like lipstick guns that fit into a chapstick case and fire a 22 long. its not hard...
oh.. and here is another vote for ridiculous. go get a gun, rob someone to pay for computer equipment you cant use as you have low education, to then download a plan, which will then be used ot make a gun...
why not go outside, break off an antenna, tie it to a board, get a thumbtack,and make a zip gun? its THAT easy... i saw someone in my old neghborhood make one in about 15 minutes with some rubber bands, an antenna, some wire, a thumb tack and thats it.
why would i spend a few thousand dollars and be traced, when i can just put garbage together and make it?
hey? Calthrops are easy to make, how many times you ever hear them used in a crime?
next lesson: lest outlaw yo yos, as they were originally weapons of war... and are dangerous and deadly in the right hands... in fact, as deadly as a gun in the same average distance, oh, and you never run out of ammo as the ammo comes back for the next shot... (see origins of the yo yo)
I'm interested in the developing 3D printing technology, and was naturally interested in the story. The use of terminology was unfortunately sloppy.
It wasn't an AR-15. It wasn't an automatic rifle. It wasn't even a rifle.
It was a .22 caliber pistol built on the platform of an AR-15 lower receiver. You'll see a commercial version of something like this at almost every gun show. That's not unique. As the article rightly stated, the novelty was the way the receiver was made.
The reactions were funny and surprising to me, for a bunch of engineers. As was pointed out, anyone with a home milling machine or bench top drill press can make a fully legal AR-15 out of aluminum. I made one on a Sherline, surely one of the smallest metal mills out there. An AR lower has been made from a plastic cutting board (HDPE). Again, the only novel thing here was the way the receiver was made.
The AR-15 (AR is short for Armalite Rifle, not automatic rifle, and not assault rifle - Armalite developed the design in the 1950s) is probably the most popular sporting rifle in American hands. I've heard that well over 10 million are in civilian hands, but can't back that number up. Again, they are for sale everywhere; they're sold in Walmart. Like every other manmade object they are completely amoral - neither good nor bad; that can only lie in the human that uses it. The recurring idea that guns are only used for killing is also absurd to recreational shooters. Of the many millions of AR-15s out there, the vast, vast majority have never been shot at anything other than paper targets at a range. As for making up karma for building one, I wasn't aware paper targets had a soul. I have shot a lot of paper plates and printed paper.
Would people have been as upset if the post had been about printing a major component of a crossbow or compound bow? I sure wouldn't want to get shot by a broadhead arrow, but I know there are archery clubs and archery competitions all around the country. Why the difference?
Excellent article; the awesome technical advances demonstrated by these achievements are well worth noting.
Unfortunately, it does also pose some issues that sadly through the actions of criminals (more particularly, terrorists) may indeed present new technical challenges to effective security. Not withstanding the politically correct insanity that we all must endure when it comes to security in general, it will require attention if such weapons are to be rightly screened and identified. However, more importantly proper attention to identifying the potential criminal must be first and foremost. Once again, that 3-D printed 22-caliber handgun in the carry-on is no threat until the perpetrator gets it out...
One final thought....... consider the how different the possible outcome could have been if several, or even potentially just one passenger (or the flight crew) on those 911 flights had had a 357. As it was, EVERYONE was basically defenseless.
People talk of only criminals making weapons, but there are 4000 instances a day in the U.S. where guns are used to stop a crime. Only 750 times a day guns are used in criminal activity. I would say, more guns to good people! And if they have to make them themselves, why not? It is better there be more of us than more of them!
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