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back to article World's first 3D-printed metal gun 'more accurate' than factory-built cousin

The world's first 3D-printed metal gun has been produced – and we're told it's more accurate than its factory-made counterpart, but also much more expensive to manufacture. 3D metal gun We come in piece(s) ... the world's first 3D-printed gun The printed gun – a .45 caliber M1911 designed by legendary gunsmith John Browning …

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Frickin Laser

If you go to this much trouble, wouldn't it make sense to attach a frickin laser?

Is that asking too much?

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Re: Frickin Laser

They'd need a biological printer to print the sharks first, so the lasers would have something to attach to.

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Anonymous Coward

Now

Every American can have one in their homes, bullets optional.

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Re: Frickin Laser

and targeting app for iphones, pls.

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Happy

Re: Frickin Laser

raving angry loony,

I've got the SyFy Channel on line 1 for you. Apparently they're very interested in your script idea about a group of scientists who attempt to 3D print sharks. Don't worry if you've no experience of writing and no ear for dialogue. That's not considered important...

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Biological Printer

I have a biological printer - you move it back and forth a few times, some goo comes out of the 'printer nozzle' and eventually* a biological entity is printed out.......

*About 9 months.

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Re: Biological Printer

"I have a biological printer"

I foresee QA being an issue :P

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Re: Biological Printer

"I have a biological printer"

Have you checked if your printer can print sharks too then? I suggest a reasonable distance when asking said question.

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Danger Will Robinson

We need to get on top of our governments before they get their fingers too deep into this. It is difficult to have a situation where people can print firearms, but much more difficult still, in my opinion, to have a situation where the government looks over your shoulder and micro-manages everything you do.

One problem I have is that we don't really even know who is doing the looking.

Our capabilities will continue to grow. We *do* need some way to prevent teenagers from deploying home-made nuclear weapons made in their basements. But we also need some way to ensure that our liberties are kept intact. If we have to make a choice, liberty is the only safe one.

States, like corporations, are essentially evil robots. They have nothing tempering their judgment because they are not human. We give them power at our peril. Both should only have the barest minimum of power necessary to do their job and they should be vulnerable to recall by the population at all times.

One way suggested to minimize the danger of states and corporations is to limit the amount of power large entities hold. Most power should be vested in the individual, a bit of power vested in local entities, a bit more in regional and a very tiny bit in national entities. Supra-national entities make me wary. I don't know of one that has not been a disaster.

Unfortunately, we have abdicated our responsibilities at the lower levels and allowed higher levels to draw power well beyond what is appropriate or safe. Witness the encroaching international trade agreements removing sovereignty from citizens entirely.

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Re: Danger Will Robinson

It will be a long time before you can print nuclear fuel and bullets, so the teenagers will not be blowing themselves up any time soon. Everyone seems to forget about the ammo.

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Childcatcher

Re: Danger Will Robinson

But what if you print a paedophile? Don't you know you put children in danger??

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Danger Will Robinson

> Everyone seems to forget about the ammo.

You seem to think it would be difficult to make your own ammunition.

Don't forget that the main propellant in cartridges is guncotton and that was discovered when somebody spilled a couple of acids and then wiped them up with .... cotton. The cartridges are re-useable and are commonly found as items of jewellery. The bullet itself can be easily moulded from lead.

Your biggest problem is the primer, not because it is difficult to manufacture but because it is unstable.

If you go to the trouble of manufacturing your own gun then making a few bullets to go with it wont be an issue.

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Re: Danger Will Robinson

"But we also need some way to ensure that our liberties are kept intact."

Might be too late for that one already.

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@AC 0103 (was: Re: Danger Will Robinson)

Gun Cotton? I don't think you fully understand the subject matter. Unless you're packing a battleship, of course. And their main guns don't use cartridges.

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Re: Danger Will Robinson

Primers won't be that hard if you know where to look. Conveniently the US Army literally wrote book on the subject. The Improvised Munitions Handbook, TM 31-210, has just about everything you'll need from reusing cases and primers to building handguns, mortars and IEDs.

Huh, that makes me wonder where I put that old manual the Marine's handed out in the early 60's. Of course if memory serves, it focused mostly on two scenarios; the first was immediate and you had to solve your problem with what is in your hand at the time and the second was the more casual wet work and they figured you'd have a claymore or at least a grenade or two handy. Then again maybe I'm thinking of the advertising brochure.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @AC 0103 (was: Danger Will Robinson)

Small arms propellant is made of nitrocellulose (explosive), nitroglycerin (explosive), ethyl centralite (inhibitor), dibutyl phthalate (plasticiser), polyester adipate (acid inhibitor), rosin (resin), diphenylamine (anti-oxidant), ethyl acetate (solvent), potassium nitrate (oxidiser), potassium sulfate (flash reducer), graphite and N-nitrosodiphenylamine (stabiliser).

The main ingredient is nitrocellulose (up to 70%) which is also known as gun cotton. Nitroglycerin isn't really needed and the rest of the ingredients are not controlled.

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@AC: 08:48 (was: Re: @AC 0103 (was: Danger Will Robinson))

Minimizing your list of ingredients is contra-indicated if you want good results. The original AC suggested gun cotton was the only ingredient in modern small arms propellant.

The primary ingredient in bread is flour. The devil is in the details. Think about it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @AC: 08:48 (was: @AC 0103 (was: Danger Will Robinson))

He said main propellant, jake. Main. Not only.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @AC: 08:48 (was: @AC 0103 (was: Danger Will Robinson))

I am the original poster who said the main ingredient was gun cotton and I am also the poster who wrote out the list of ingredients. You don't need all of the ingredients for good results, but all the other ingredients (apart from nitroglycerine) are not restricted (at least in the quantities you would need).

> primary ingredient in bread is flour. The devil is in the details. Think about it.

Basic bread is made from just flour and water. Other breads can contain salt, sugar, yeast, butter, milk and a host of other ingredients. These other ingredients are used depending upon what task you want the bread for. Think about it.

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Re: @AC: 08:48 (was: @AC 0103 (was: Danger Will Robinson))

You've obviously have no idea about modern (post WWII) powder. Most of those other ingredients are included so that the powder can hold the shape it is molded into. Grain shapes run the field from round cylinders, hexagonal and octagonal cylinders, spheres, buckyball and flat grains with differing numbers of sides.

The shape of the powder is critical to the performance of the round. Different powders and powder shapes are used to adjust the burn rate of the powder in order to impart the desired flight characteristics onto the bullet itself. In precision shooting the powder and primer are matched with the rifling of the barrel to best suit the target distance and in the case of military weapons those things are matched depending on what you're trying to kill. If you combine the powder and primer incorrectly (because you don't know what you're doing) the round can explode instead of burn and result in serious injury or death or best case, not fire at a.

Modern powder looks nothing like black powder and hasn't in nearly 70 years. If you saw a pile of it in the ground most people wouldn't know what it was. There's a lot of science in powder and primers and ignoring it is completely defeating the purpose of cased rounds. You'd be better off with a muzzle loader if you don't want to do powder the right way. It'll be safer and more reliable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @AC: 08:48 (was: @AC 0103 (was: Danger Will Robinson))

The formula I gave is a basic formula for a modern powder. The other ingredients are there to slow the burn, increase the shelf life, reduce muzzle flash and to dissipate static electricity (graphite). The ingredient used to hold the shape (tiny balls) is rosin.

Black powder was replaced with cordite (acetone, gun cotton, nitroglycerin, and petroleum jelly) over 120 years ago.

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Re: Danger Will Robinson

You're essentially arguing for a return to city-states and town hall politics, but as Dahl, successfully I believe, argues, this is only a viable form of political structure until small regional political units such as city-states gang up militarily and economically on other city states, which is then absorbed until a large unit, a nation-state emerges. For this reason small politically sovereign units are obsolete.

Additionally, too much power delegated to local units in federal systems creates inefficiency and sclerosis and the inability to make national policies in response to national challenges, such as effectively managing an economy. The nation-state is a creature of political necessity.

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Re: Danger Will Robinson

Civil Liberties?

Why does every conversation about tools to kill people come down to an argument about Civil Liberties?

From a country whose wealth is based on using slave labor in countries with no civil liberties, I find it hard to take you guys seriously.

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Re: Danger Will Robinson

Mmmm, and we also seem to be forgetting the cost of the metal printers and the power needed being way beyond what a domestic supply could achieve.

This is a stunningly useful technology for manufacturing high quality low volume parts, the owners of many vintage vehicles, locomotives and aircraft will be able to source parts at far reasonable prices than they can at present, in small volumes.

Likewise any other hightech low volume product, like a Formula 1 car, a space shuttle, a large hadron collider or a warship can leverage this technology to produce complex parts. I'd be interested to know what the cut off point between casting and printing is in economic terms. In fact this technology is alreay used to do this.

The biggest risk is some politician, supported by Daily Mail readers will assume that it can be done by 10 year old in their bedroom, and insist the technology is licenced or banned.

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hmmm..

I wonder how it will hold up after a few thousand rounds.

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Re: hmmm..

Apparently, it should hold up quite nicely. Look up "Selective Laser Sintering". However, until this kind of thing has been around & "field tested" for a couple decades, I think I'll stick to my Kimber .45 ;-)

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MJI
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Re: hmmm..

Well it works with some con-rods

I know that BMW used sintered ones at one time

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Re: hmmm..

Sintered and laser sintered are different things. Traditionally sintered parts are formed in a mold with the temperature controlled very tightly over a period of time while the entire part fuses together. In the laser sintering used here the laser only heats the top layer of the powder fusing it to the previously fused layers. Because traditional sintering makes the entire part in one shot it tends to be considerably faster.

The connecting rods you speak of are generally made in a process many people are calling powder forging where the initial part is first sintered, more or less traditionally, and then brought up to forging temperature and compressed (forged) to final density and then the rod caps are cracked off. By breaking the caps off the rods it ensures a precise fit around the bearing where flat mating surfaces are much less precise. And it isn't just BMW, nearly everyone has been using the same process for years.

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Pint

@Jake Re: hmmm..

"... I think I'll stick to my Kimber .45 ;-)..."

And being in the UK, I'll stick to my stick - making sure the pointy end isn't too pointy or Mr Plod will have me...

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Re: @Jake hmmm..

I have a 7'2" by 1.85" white oak staff that I occasionally use as a walking stick. I forged iron caps for each end of it, mainly because I don't want it to wear out before I'm done with it. It's a comfy piece of wood ... When I ran across it, I knew exactly what it was meant to be.

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Re: hmmm.. con rods

My dad told me all about them as at the time he was a BMW mechanic and liked to do a good job.

Unfortunately BMW GB messed around and caused the dealership to close (it was taking work from other dealers due to their incompetence - so use the independant!).

He ended up working on Skodas until retirement and found a design flaw in the braking system on one model. Something to do with tolerances on the master cylinder and the servo.

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Interesting.

Leaving the obvious gun debate aside.

I'd been wondering when it'd be possible for 3D printing technology to be more precise than machine technology. This goes a long way to illustrating that 3D printing is the way to go when precision is absolutely essential. We're only steps away from technologies that could get right down to the orientation of atoms or molecules on each layer of a surface as it builds.

I wonder if such technology will be used to build such precision in other objects -- tighter tolerances on internal combustion engines, tighter tolerances and winding in electric motors, perfect spheres for ball bearings and the like.

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Re: Interesting.

We are already at the point of molecular additive construction. This is being done for chip fab work. The trouble is it has to be done in a deep pure vacuum.

Manufacturing items that can be later cast from molds made from plastic 3d printed male molds is the way to make much of these products.

The latest 3D printing done for Lohan shows how good the plastic work can be.

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Re: Interesting.

The latest 3D printing done for Lohan shows how good the plastic work can be.

Not really. Look at the photos again. The only term you can use for the surface finish on Vulture 2 is 'rough', as the V2 team admit. As they've already said, they need to fill and smooth the surface before they can paint it.

I can do a much better job with sandpaper and a couple coats of cellulose dope on balsa. And its likely that my surface would be harder and more damage-resistant.

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Re: Interesting.

>build such precision in other objects

You can diamond turn surfaces to about 1/20 wavelength which migth be difficult to achieve with 3d printing

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Boffin

Re: Interesting.

"I'd been wondering when it'd be possible for 3D printing technology to be more precise than machine technology. "

There were reports of F1 teams laser sintering gears about a decade ago.

I don't know how much finish machining was involved but the basic structure was done in the laser system.

Note that like all additive processes "holes" are cheap but solid (especially full density) is expensive.

So all those nice multi colour FEA plots showing stress patterns can act as a guide for the next generation part.

In principal the resolution is set by 3 things. 1)Laser wave length 2)Ability of optical system to deliver a diffraction limited spot 3)Size of metal grains. These can be into the 10s of nm for very fine grain chemically produced (IE expensive) powders.

Of course high power UV lasers are not exactly cheap....

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Boffin

Re: Interesting.

This is kind of long, be warned. 3D printing has a ways to go to reach parity with the accuracy of CNC machining and will likely never meet the precision levels of traditional hand machining.

Higher end Commercial 3D printers can reliably output to about .0005 but beyond that their output falls off exponentially. Even with optimized instructions they are also terribly slow compared to a CNC machine. 3D does seem to offer a lot in the way of new processes and design options but there are a few challenges be for you see them in the mainstream.

Product design as well as manufacturing is built around established 'subtractive' processes that have been proven at scale for 100+ years. Changing those mindset a won't happen within a single generation. From raw materials to a finished good is an incredibly complex and established system and is profitable only if every step and person in the chain is optimized for maximum output. The primary reason I employee software developers and a computer scientist is for optimizing small production runs through the CNC. Each step that can be eliminated and each minute saved on the machines translates to hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout the year and we're a small operation specializing in bespoke parts for extremely specialized uses. In a mass production facility changing 10 generations of proven best practices is going to take a while.

There's no infrastructure to support 3D manufacturing at scale. From trained machine service techs, to materials supply chains and billing systems, they all have to develop and it will take a while for that to happen. There's also no scale and quality provider of all the different tooling needed. Although we can make about anything it isn't cost effective to produce things like hold downs, vices, waste removal systems, etc... I've got to have a steady supply of lots of little things and those little things are completely different in a 3D environment. In an emergency I can send our plane to a supplier and get exactly what I need in just a few hours and that's normal in the industry. There are no 3D suppliers yet that are equipped to deal with that and a million other things.

There's no real standardization in raw materials yet. From the actual materials, their transport processes, waste disposal even materials handling: Will the containers of raw materials be compatible with the tine setups on my fork lifts and cranes? Who is responsible for empty containers? Will the containers be compatible with the rails and belaying systems in my railcars or do I have to buy new railcars? If so who is going to design the railcars?

There are a whole host of other issues as well. That isn't pouring rain on anyone's parade, it's the reality of inserting completely new things into large, well established processes, it will take a while. There's also lots of opportunity for enterprising individuals to set up all the infrastructure... People take for granted how incredibly complex manufacturing is. You can't just plop a machine down in a factory and expect anything to happen without thousands of other people doing specialized tasks before you even turn the machine on.

Within my industry there is pretty much agreement that 3D printing will eventually operate in parallel with CNC, but won't supplant it as there are advantages to both. But 3D is a very immature industry and it will take many years of solving operational logistics and standards issues to reach the mainstream.

And as far as extreme precision, that will remain in the hands of the traditional machinists and their traditional tools and machines. There's general agreement that an entirely new form of technology (think replicators) will be required to go beyond the levels of precision achievable now with hand work. We've got the finest CNC equipment money can buy and a starships worth of lasers (one big enough to put a car in) and none of those things can really approach the old school methods as far as tolerances go. Not many things really require or benefit from those levels of precision* which is why CNC has been a success and 3D defiantly has a future in the industry.

*We can work down to a few millionths of an inch if required and automated machines simply can't do that, there's just too much slop in them. The work runs into the many thousands of dollars per hour and individual components take days or even weeks to make but sometimes it's required. Among other things we design and manufacture laser positioning devices for high energy research experiments that have tolerances so high that the finished goods are hard to look at. Things that precise simply do not exist in nature and it's a little unsettling to see something like that. It simply looks unreal, like it shouldn't be in this universe. It also puts the general sloppiness of the natural world into perspective. It helps me to remember that most things aren't perfect and it's unrealistic to expect them to be.

** As a fun side note, I have a tungsten table I made for my office and on top of it sits a six pound tungsten weight, both finished to .00001". The surface tension from the moisture in the atmosphere and molecular entanglement between the two surfaces make it so that it requires a stronger than average person to lift the six pound weight from the table. People think they're magnetized, but no, they're just flat. Really, really flat.

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Re: Interesting.

@Don Jefe:

Good read. Makes me nostalgic. I once was, long ago, a purchasing agent for a company that sold injection molding machines and parts. Some stuff came from Europe and lead times were too long for emergency repairs. I often had to have stuff manufactured locally from blueprints. Quality varied and at the time the European parts were just better, but good shops all were exacting to a spectacular degree. If champfers were not properly specified, the edges would be sharp like a knife. Husky made stuff for us occasionally and their tool and die people were practically supernatural.

That was more than 30 years ago now and at the time it took many years to master tool and die making. Most of the people I worked with came from Europe and had at least 20 years behind them. To be honest, I thought this was going away. Doing stuff like injection molds is incredibly difficult. The mold has to create a part with proper dimensions when the mold itself changes size and shape with heat and the part also changes shape as it cools after release. How those changes take place depend not only upon the temperatures and materials involved, but also beginning and ending shapes. Some of it seemed like voodoo. I don't know where we are at now, but back then, a mold could easily cost more than a house.

It will not be easy to replace human beings for tools like the above. However, that is true whether we replace them with machinery or other human beings. It is hard either way and frankly I have more faith in the progress of machines than I do in the likelihood we can attract the right people to such a job.

If you read this and such a thing exists, point us to a URL with photos. I love the toys.

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@Don Jefe - Re: Interesting.

Spot on!

And I wish I had that W table myself, my only access is to a granite one. Would be interested in how you made and polished it, W's somewhat hard and time consuming to polish flat, exp if not 100% pure.

;-)

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Go

Re: Interesting.

"Higher end Commercial 3D printers can reliably output to about .0005 but beyond that their output falls off exponentially. "

That's 12.7 micrometres or 1/2 a thou. To be clear I once read the the difference between a car engine that runs smoothly and one that leaks oil is roughly 50 micrometres.while the typical surface finish, even of things like turbine blades, is around 1.625 micrometres (64 micro inches). I'll also note that non specific polishing techniques exist (using small plastic beads with embedded abrasives to deliver very gentle, very precise surface finish without special tooling), giving a surface finish of 16 micro inches.

Laser sintering will be complementary to other techniques. The challenge is to play to it's strengths, such as making holes (or closed cavities for lowering weight, which is virtually impossible to do with other ways), in the way that using carbon fibre as "Black Aluminium" is a poor use of its properties and that parts really need to be re-designed to accommodate it.

The challenge is it's speed. It's strengths are a)Flexibility b)Properties variable by varying the feedstock c)Ability to mfg variable density materials.

These suggest integration of multiple parts into a unified, lighter element is the way to go.

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Happy

Re: Interesting.

Yes, reliable, consistent, high precision 3D isn't here yet. A major disadvantage is that you have minimal control of the material as it leaves the print head to its new home. It's a small area for 'chance' to come into play, but in precision manufacturing that small window might as well be a canyon. Reducing that window will be the source of much study over the coming years. Traditional manufacturing has the advantage in that the material is already there and doesn't (effectively) move you just take away what you don't want.

A 3D printer could probably create most of the parts for an engine (obviously not an F1 engine :). IC engines have the advantage of lots of seals that can cope with most any inconsistencies from 3D limitations in the engine components and that wonder fluid, oil. Without going too far afield, our civilizations love of burning the most fantastic lubricant on the planet drives me nuts. Currently there is absolutely nothing that can replace oil as a lubricant and without it everything, literally, grinds to a halt.

But anyway, the cylinder bores, piston faces, cam(s) and the valve faces are the only moderately precise part of a normal IC engine and those are simple to execute machine operations (bearings and rings are OTS parts). Beyond raw materials, obviously, most of the cost in a modern engine is tied up in machining the coolant and parts passages and tapping holes to bolt it all together. 3D could conceivably create the passages in process and save substantial time and reduce waste.

I haven't been remotely impressed with 3D threading capabilities though, there's a lot of work left there. Creating custom fasteners is just dumb if you don't have to, but the 3D parts I've seen this far force you to use the rudest of OTS fasteners. At present there's no way to tighten to and maintain desired torque, the variances are simply too large.

A working, reliable, IC engine made with 3D tech would be a great proof of capabilities. Far more interesting than a firearm. Personally I wouldn't consider it 'cheating' if the precision components were finished with traditional machines and processes. Those parts undergo special operations in normal production anyway, so you aren't adding anything to the process. Someone should print an engine. Then print 20 more the same day on the same machine at the same tolerances. That'll catch people's attention, one off means nothing to mass production.

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MJI
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Re: Don Jeffe

I have seen CNC machines at work and they are something to watch.

Over 30 years ago I saw 3 axis machines making fuel valves for jet engines. Possibly Pegasus but not sure, it was Dowty though, now the Cheltenham Park & Ride

Watching them was fascinating.

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Re: Interesting.

I was at a meeting last week with one of the engineering companies we work for. They're a small firm, with only a few million turnover, in a specialist area, and the product list is only 17 pages long (which includes about 5-10 options per item. So nothing huge. Yet they've just implemented a computerised stock control / quote system. This needed a code for every part and sub-assembly. They have 11,000 product codes!

They put out work for things like enclosures, castings and obviously they buy in fasteners and washers. But there are quite a few small fittings, that they might only use on one or two products. Which sell in the hundreds a year.

So I can see a niche for 3D printing. Instead of holding stock of huge numbers of rarely used, simple, parts - I can easily see it becoming economic to have a small printer in the corner of the factory. It'll be a while before you want to use it for anything complicated, but if you need a few simple fittings it could easily be cheaper than having to maintain stock, and keep up with 10 or 20 extra suppliers.

You get those funny economies, where you could end up making your own part for 10p, that you could buy in bulk for 1p each, and still be ahead on the deal because you don't have to order, stock and store all that extra stuff.

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Re: Interesting.

Small, non precision parts are likely going to be the way 3D creeps into manufacturing. Like you say, they'll start in a lonely corner and in a decade or so they'll be parked inline with the CNC machines. It simply isn't feasible to make them a cornerstone of the fab but they'll be important one day for sure.

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Re: Interesting.

Agreed. I can't see them replacing mass production for a long time to come. But they're already a great tool for prototyping and low volume / low complexity jobs - and I can only see that role growing as prices drop.

It's interesting to see your take on it. The manufacturers I represent are a mix, some are making quite complex things, entirely of their own design. Whereas others are assembling standard bits of kit in clever ways to do specialised tasks. Nothing of high enough value to be worth keeping a plane for emergency deliveries.

So one of our principals used a 3D printer for a prototype about 4 years ago. It was an actual working model. Admittedly it broke after 2 days of testing - but that was enough to prove the design. But they make a small range of standardised stuff, so until printing can beat moulding, they'll only use it to prototype. I'd be surprised if it can.

One of the others have a larger product range, and often do custom jobs. I wouldn't be surprised if they got a 3D printer in tomorrow.

Someone also needs to do a 3D printer that works in chocolate. I've been trying to persuade our principal to model their signature product in choccie for ages, to give out as novelty Christmas promotional goodies. It's a bit of a running gag. If only you could clean out your 3D plastics printer, and whack in a cartridge of chocolatey goodness...

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Re: @MJI

The 3-Axis machines are fun to watch for sure! We have two room size machines with independent tooling turrets and watching them go is kind of creepy. Even though I know that everything it is doing is programmed step-by-step, it almost looks alive. The tool turret has to stay out of the way of the machine head but also be as close as possible to speed up processing so it is flying around on its own arm and 'anticipating' where it needs to be next. It is really fast and fluid and constantly looks on the edge of disaster, but it just goes.

I think the neatest part of being on the floor is how quiet it is when things are working well. The people are concentrating on their tasks and the machines are humming away in their enclosures. It's kind of surreal. It looks like it should be deafeningly loud, but it isn't.

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Happy

Someone also needs to do a 3D printer that works in chocolate.

Funny you should say that.

There is a a simple version of a laser deposition system that uses granulated sugar.

Obviously it's somewhat low resolution but early results are described as "palatable."

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Pirate

"The cost of the printed firearm is many times that of a traditional model...

"...and the equipment needed to do it is highly specialized."

At the moment.

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Re: "The cost of the printed firearm is many times that of a traditional model...

We are just waiting for Mr Fusion to power this thing.

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