Solid Concepts Inc., a premier 3D-printing service based in Austin, Texas, recently announced that it completely constructed a 1911 handgun using a 3D printer. The pistol is comprised of 33 17-4 stainless steel and Inconel 625 components and adorned with carbon-fiber filled nylon grips. The company claims it is the first working 1911 pistol made of 3D-printed parts.
“It is the first [complete] firearm we made as well,” Solid Concepts’ Alyssa Parkinson told OutdoorHub. Parkinson is a marketing and communications specialist with the company, as well as a technical writer working with engineers behind the gun’s construction.
The firearm, pictured below, is a single-action, semiautomatic handgun based on the 1911 design made popular by legendary gun maker John Browning. Despite being constructed by an industrial-grade 3D printer, it shares many similarities with a traditionally manufactured 1911.
Parkinson was quick to say that the gear used by Solid Concepts is much different than a commercial 3D printer. Earlier this year, 3D-printing pioneer Cody Wilson designed and printed the world’s first working firearm out of ABS plastic. The machines used by Solid Concepts are much more sophisticated.
“We’re proving this is possible, the technology is at a place now where we can manufacture a gun with 3D Metal Printing,” Kent Firestone, Vice President of Additive Manufacturing at Solid Concepts, said in a press release. “And we’re doing this legally. In fact, as far as we know, we’re the only 3D Printing Service Provider with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Now, if a qualifying customer needs a unique gun part in five days, we can deliver.”
Parkinson explained that the 1911 handgun was produced via a process called selective laser sintering (SLS), which is widely used around the world due to its ability to produce objects directly from CAD data. This makes SLS popular in making limited runs of items such as prototypes.
Solid Concepts decided not to release the model or make of the printers they use, but Parkinson was willing describe the process.
“It works via a bed of powdered metal and we use stainless steel 17-4 and Inconel 625,” she said. “The bed of powdered metal has a nitrogen gas chamber that helps actuate the process as a laser sinters the metal layer by layer.”
A more detailed look into the process can be seen in the video below.
Parkinson said that the idea of building a 1911 came about after the company heard concerns that 3D printing was not accurate or strong enough, and fit for only printing “Yoda heads.”
“The guys in Austin are gun enthusiasts,” she said. “They were getting kind of fed up with people saying that [3D printing] wasn’t as good as machining. They decided to prove that it can meet the tolerances needed and the heat and the pressure. A gun is something people can understand, and understand the power behind it.”
Parkinson explained that there was no machining involved with the handgun. All 33 components were 3D printed, except the gun’s springs and magazine. After printing, there was some post-processing work such as hand sanding. When completed, the firearm took engineers 10 minutes to assemble. As for the rifling, that was done during the printing process.
“It was rifled. It was printed or, as we like to say, grown that way,” Parkinson said.
The handgun was then test-fired, successfully shooting 50 .45 ACP rounds. You can see that video below.
It is not currently known how much it cost to create the 1911 pistol, but Parkinson said the company may be open to a selling a limited run of these firearms.
“The whole concept of using a laser sintering process to 3D Print a metal gun revolves around proving the reliability, accuracy and usability of metal 3D Printing as functional prototypes and end use products,” Firestone shared. “It’s a common misconception that 3D Printing isn’t accurate or strong enough, and we’re working to change people’s perspective.”
Solid Concepts does not usually dabble in gunsmithing, but does have a history of producing gun parts.
“We do produce gun parts for other gun manufacturing companies, and we’ve been doing that since June 2013. Before that we did prototypes and production runs, aerospace is our biggest industry, as well as medical work and business consumer products,” Parkinson said.
Solid Concepts wrote on its Facebook page that it will be doing additional testing on the 1911 handgun soon, involving a trip to the range with 500 rounds of ammo. The company holds a Type 7 Federal Firearms License.
Images courtesy Solid Concepts Inc.