Saturday, March 23, 2013

3D printers and gun control

Time to sprinkle a little variety into this blog. So today's article looks at the emerging supply of 3D printers and contemplates what they mean in the silly discussions of gun control going on.

Not sure if you've been paying attention to the topic of 3D printers. The idea is to have a device that can take a computerized design for an object and actually fabricate that object. As inspired by the replicators on Star Trek?? I do hear tell that 3D printers are among the things available on modern air craft carriers to fabricate parts needed for aircraft repairs.

There's more than one variety of 3D printer. Most common seems to be ones that extrude a fine plastic strand and move the head around much like an x-y plotter, slowly building up a 3D object, lowering the table as the object gain's height. For around $3K you can have one in your garage:

Print Real Objects With The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D Printer (3 minute video)

MakerBot Replicator 2X Now Shipping!

But really serious hobbyists build the printer from scratch, not store-bought.

An interesting twist is that some folks have been working on how to "print" a working plastic gun. A working plastic large capacity magazine clip is far easier. They want to open-source the plans. Would the government dare to declare such information as "classified" in the name of gun-control? Wouldn't it be easier to improvise a law that made it illegal to kill people unless the killing is in self-defense? Or how about a requirement that if you are planning to kill someone, you first need to apply for a permit to do so? Of course, anyone who killed someone without having obtained a permit would be subject to punishment under the law. (7 minute video news report)

3D printed AR-15 can fire off 600 rounds (just over a 1 minute video news report)

There are other technologies. One plastic variant uses a liquid plastic that solidifies when exposed to UV light. So there's a pool of the liquid plastic and the xy plotter selectively hardens a layer of plastic at the surface and then the platform lowers down so the next layer of plastic can be selectively hardened atop the first layer.

Another technology uses powdered metal spread thin on the build platform. The xy plotter applies glue to the metal that is to stay. Then a next layer of metal powder is troweled on by the machine and then glue for the next level of the model. You eventually remove the unglued metal powder and fire the model to fuse the metal particles. It's still porous and fragile, so the next step is to bronze the model to make it pretty much solid metal. Plating is an optional extra step...

3D Metal Printer (5 minute video)

Of course, the big high temperature oven is not likely to fit neatly into your average home workshop. (Can it also be used as a smoker for ribs? But be sure to set it to low and slow before you put your wet hickory chips on the lower rack).

This one seems similar, but instead of glue it uses a laser to fuse the metal:

EOS 3D printer - Metal Parts (3 minute industrial advertising video)

A variety of metals are supported depending on the printer.

3d printing with metal, titanium & aluminum demo by EOS (1 minute video)

A long video that brings some additional perspectives to the topic of 3D printing:

The Future of 3D Printing (50 minute video).

So, as summarized by the Firesign theater on "I Think We're all Bozos on this Bus":

The future is fun! ... The future is fair! ... You may already have won! ... You may already be there!


In case you were wondering, I don't own a 3D printer and have no business interest in any of the companies or products mentioned in this article.

Addendum - 4/11/2013

Here's an additional video about one man's plans to open source the files needed to print your own guns. (24 minutes).