back to article Cheap 3D printer works with steel

The one thing that made 3D printed guns tolerable to the non-gun-owning community was that they were made of plastic, because metal 3D printers were costly. Now, a bunch of scientists from Michigan Tech are showing off a cheap 3D printer that fabricates in metal. Metal 3D printing isn't new, but it's been expensive until now. …

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  1. M Gale

    Now this is more like it.

    It's not so much the immediate price tag, it's the ability to refill the thing by chucking a 99p cutlery set or a pile of empty drinks cans at it.

    The headless chickens going on about guns can fuck off and go wibble at something else. You can make a gun out of a pipe and a few other bits and pieces, so let's shut down B&Q for selling deadly weapons without a license, eh?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Now this is more like it.

      Not really. The cutlery set is only a part of the equation.

      The difference between this uni project and a real 3D metal printer (one which you can actually use to print a gun barrel) is that you enclose the whole rig in an inert atmosphere. As anyone who has done some welding can testifiy a weld (regardless how good it is) always absorbs oxygen making its mechanical quality nowhere near that of solid metal. In other words - while it may "print" a sprocket, I am not putting that sprocket in my car any time soon as it will last only a couple of miles :)

      So you need to add to it the argon bottles, pressurisation equipment, etc. You also need to make the whole rig tunable to accommodate for the infinite variety of "cutlery" sets you chuck into as well as detect what cutlery set was chucked in in the first place. That is rather difficult so you are likely to end up using pre-mixed pellets with appropriate flux and other additives mixed in too. That will not be 99p any time soon.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Now this is more like it. Argon bottles - tick

        pressurised environment - you only need a positive pressure which can be achieved with a plastic sheet so tick too.

        As for metal of the perfect mix - I doubt that's necessary - just something close with a bit more 'in case' thickness.

        But as a previous poster pointed out you can make a gun out of all sorts of bits and pieces and you can even make different sorts of lethal and non lethal weapons from the shit you find in shops.

        Its education these paranoids need to ban to feel happy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Now this is more like it. Argon bottles - tick

          "you can even make different sorts of lethal and non lethal weapons from the shit you find in shops. Its education these paranoids need to ban to feel happy."

          Education works both ways, e.g. by extending technical capabilities usable for various good or bad purposes, and educating people on the fact that societies with very strict gun laws e.g. the UK have many fewer murders per head of population than societies such as the US which consider gun ownership a fundamental human right - if that were true presumably this "right" would be extendible to any lunatic or criminal not currently institutionalised.

          Paranoia not needed or justified. Just lock up anyone found in possession of an unlicensed gun however obtained without good excuse (e.g. former SAS man given one as gift) for a very long time.

          Educating people about this isn't paranoid whatever your take on this and the swords or ploughshares issue has always been about appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology, and not opposition to technology itself.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Now this is more like it. Argon bottles - tick

            "...educating people on the fact that societies with very strict gun laws..." Yawn. How about we start with the human desire for autonomy and the interesting structures called dictatorships. Then when you're done, you can go and play with your weapons. Mkay? Oh, you love your government? You trust them? Well, then, hopefully you will lead the way to the extinction of your kind. We don't need those kind of pansy genes around here.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Now this is more like it. Argon bottles - tick

              Sir please put down your weapons and step from your bunker into the light. This drone will monitor you and if necessary for your own safety will use lethal force. A UN black helicopter has been dispatched to your location and will transport you to one of Obama's reprocessing centre's at the earliest convenience.

      3. Kanhef

        Re: Now this is more like it.

        This is essentially an off-the-shelf MIG welder with the gun attached to a 3D-printer style mount. Not a complicated idea, though getting it to work reliably is the tricky part. It's fed with standard spools of welding wire and inert gas; there's no way to throw random scrap metal into it, and you wouldn't want to anyway – the resulting objects would be little better than scrap themselves.

        Depending on the wire alloy and shielding gas used, the printed parts could be reasonably strong. It'll never be as good as forged steel, but still more than adequate for most low- and medium-strain applications.

      4. Parax

        Re: pre-mixed pellets

        I'd suspect it's more likely to be a reel of wire, like the kind most continuous welding machines already use... and a bottle of argon (or co2 mix?) like welding machines already use will be cheap.. And who needs expensive pressurisation etc? when you can just overflow the box with argon dribble feed, much like current welders do..

        Sounds like this can all be achieved with a welding machine fitted to a cnc mill..

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: pre-mixed pellets

          Yes, the second link in the article shows the bill of material and it is just a wire feed welder. It also includes a picture of a printed "sprocket" which I enclose in quotes because it's more a roughly sprocket shaped blob of metal than a proper ready to use sprocket. Given it is near net shape it could likely be finished with a bit of machining but it's no high volume production machine.

          The best use I can see for this "printer" is as a home welding robot and in that regard, I'll take two with the second somewhat larger that will weld at least 1/4" steel please.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: M Blowhard Re: Now this is more like it.

      "It's not so much the immediate price tag, it's the ability to refill the thing by chucking a 99p cutlery set or a pile of empty drinks cans at it......." If you're making copies of tin toys, maybe, but anything where you need strength in the steel - such as a gun barrel or engine gear - your cutlery set is not going to do the job. High-strength steel is carefully fabricated and I doubt if a welding set used as a smelter is going to do the job with cheap knives and forks.

      "....You can make a gun out of a pipe and a few other bits and pieces, so let's shut down B&Q for selling deadly weapons without a license, eh?" Don't be sillier than you have to be. A gun made out of commercial piping and bits from B&Q is not going to be as safe or as useful as a proper commercial weapon.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: M Blowhard Now this is more like it.

        "A gun made out of commercial piping and bits from B&Q is not going to be as safe or as useful as a proper commercial weapon."

        Nor is a "liberator" but the fact that they exist is generating calls for 3d printers to be carefully licensed and/or banned.

        It's pretty easy to make a zip gun using stuff in a home or high school workshop. It used to be somewhat of a fad at my school until someone accidentally got shot in the arm.

        1. Sporkinum

          Re: M Blowhard Now this is more like it.

          Pipe bombs were a fad at my school 30+ years ago. Several of the farm kids would blow up old outhouses (shitters) with them.

      2. M Gale

        Re: M Blowhard Now this is more like it.

        "Blowhard", coming from Matt Bryant? Sorry, but you have zero right to call anybody that and be taken seriously.

        If you're making copies of tin toys, maybe, but anything where you need strength in the steel - such as a gun barrel or engine gear - your cutlery set is not going to do the job.

        How about we wait until a few people have made things and tested them before saying what this kit will or won't do? Personally I don't think the inert environment this apparently needs would be that expensive to maintain. Nitrogen is cheap and plentiful, bottles of CO2 can be refilled/exchanged at anywhere that does Soda Stream, for a couple of quid, and it doesn't have to be a hermetically sealed box. Besides, it seems that the thing uses standard MIG welding wire. So strong enough.

        A gun made out of commercial piping and bits from B&Q is not going to be as safe or as useful as a proper commercial weapon.

        A zip gun made out of materials of known strength and composition (like a nice thick steel pipe) is probably a hell of a lot safer than anything bought after falling off the back of a lorry. You know, the sort of illegal firearms that the sky-falling-on-head crowd don't think about, because they don't seem to be thinking in any capacity whatsoever.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: M Wail Re: M Blowhard Now this is more like it.

          LOL, quit crying and just admit you didn't think it through. What does your zip gun fire, a .22? Not even a .22LR, I bet. Come back when you can 3D print a repeating weapon that fires a round actually more dangerous to the target than the firer, accurately and reliably, and for only a few hundred bucks. Until then you're just urinating into your namesake and trying to pretend it's smart being stinky and wet.

          There are currently NO CONTROLS in the US or UK for purchasing the kind of lathes and drill presses that you could use to make a PROPER gun. I know because my Dad's old company used to have all the bits for making engine parts to order for out-of-production sports cars, and some of the machinery had previously been used during WW2 to make Sten guns. And that's the old, hand-controlled machinery, not modern CAD-driven lathes and presses. I know EXACTLY how hard and specialised the steels need to be used for such roles, and smelted kitchen cutlery is not going to do the job. Once again, you should have done a bit of research before posting.

          1. M Gale

            Re: M Wail M Blowhard Now this is more like it.

            Did I say that this machine will be awesome for making your own AK47? What, I didn't?

            Did I just say "The headless chickens going on about guns can fuck off and go wibble at something else. You can make a gun out of a pipe and a few other bits and pieces, so let's shut down B&Q for selling deadly weapons without a license, eh?"

            Why yes, yes I think I did.

            Did I also say "A zip gun made out of materials of known strength and composition (like a nice thick steel pipe) is probably a hell of a lot safer than anything bought after falling off the back of a lorry."

            Crikey. Two for two. Hey, you trust that dodgy gun you bought from a guy in a pub if you like. It's probably only moderately less likely to blow your hand off than a Liberator.

            And if a .22 long round is so shit, you go ahead, place one in a pipe stuck against your temple and whack the end nice and hard. Who knows, maybe you might do the world a favour?

            1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
              FAIL

              Re: M Blowhard Re: M Wail M Blowhard Now this is more like it.

              ROFLMAO.

      3. TedF

        Re: M Blowhard Now this is more like it.

        Today I learnt a gun can be 'safe' and 'useful'.

  2. Turtle

    Intentions

    "[T]he Michigan machine gets the world at least part-way towards a printer that's able to make a gun. Not that this is what the university's Open Sustainability Lab is thinking of."

    The Open Sustainability Lab has their intentions for the technology, and those intentions can be very neatly discarded and replaced with new intentions by anyone who has acquired the technology.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Intentions

      No worries.

      Government will "clarify" your intentions for you. In order to protect the children. And dolphins.

  3. DropBear Silver badge
    WTF?

    About that Star Trek stuff...

    "Post scarcity"...? Really? I can't shake the feeling the good professor got a bit carried away on that; somehow all the stuff I'm kinda not having enough of - you know like food, a roof of my own, non-execrable healthcare etc. - don't seem to be coming any fraction of an inch closer just because I can now supposedly print faucets and pickaxes in addition to action figures and shower curtain rings...

    1. Thorne

      Re: About that Star Trek stuff...

      Actually they're working on 3d printers for housing and food. Healthcare is a bit more complicated......

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: About that Star Trek stuff... 3D printers for food

        they're called seeds. You feed them a healthy environment and they work wonders.

        Now all we need is a printer to fix that last 5000 years of man screwing the environment.

        1. Newhouse_Seasider

          Re: About that Star Trek stuff... 3D printers for food

          Yay, so I will be able to make my own Soylent green very soon...

      2. Pete 2

        Re: About that Star Trek stuff...

        > they're working on 3d printers for housing and food

        But what is "printing" for housing - or building in general? I'd suggest it's a process where materials are stacked layer by layer according to a design. If that's not what a brickie does already, then what is it?

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: About that Star Trek stuff...

          huh!

          star trek style replicaters indeed!

          I'm still waiting for my bloody hoverboard.

          1. Admiral Grace Hopper

            Re: About that Star Trek stuff...

            @Jamie Jones

            And my jet pack.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: About that Star Trek stuff...

          > But what is "printing" for housing - or building in general? I'd suggest it's a process where materials are stacked layer by layer according to a design. If that's not what a brickie does already, then what is it?

          Well yes, but the whole 3D printing idea is mostly about automation.

          People are expensive, machines are cheap and probably quicker and better.

        3. Thorne

          Re: About that Star Trek stuff...

          "But what is "printing" for housing - or building in general?"

          They're a big printer that comes on a truck that prints layers of a concrete like polymer. Builds the basic structure of the house and roof ready for fit out.

          Saw one that is capable of doing the wiring and plumbing while printing the house.

    2. cortland

      Re: About that Star Trek stuff...

      Star Trek? Nah, it's a baby Posleen fabricator; just needs some AI. Watch out for the owners, though.

  4. Schultz
    Boffin

    3D printing machine - as revolutionary as the good old Guttenberg model?

    Let's not forget, that Guttenberg's printing machine was reviled by those in power as a dangerous tool, suited to overthrow the god-given order and bring about total chaos and destruction. The scaremongers were actually right about the overthrowing order part: humanity entered centuries of enlightenment and education -- mostly without the good old feudalistic structures.

    Let's see where those new tools will lead humanity.

    1. strum

      Re: 3D printing machine - as revolutionary as the good old Guttenberg model?

      For the first 100 years, the chief output of the Gutemberg process was Indulgences (get-out-of-purgatory coupons) for the Roman Catholic church.

      For the second 100 years, a significant proportion of printed publications were scurrilous pamphlets (think of some of the zanier reaches of the current blogosphere), competing with each other to whip up the most violent responses.

      Yes, printing did bring huge benefits - eventually.

  5. DougS Silver badge

    This is not "post scarcity"

    Unless someone is offering free steel to put in it and free energy to run it with. For small quantities, like making a few guns, that's pretty much irrelevant, but post-scarcity implies that everyone can have as much as they want of whatever they want. Even if you limit "whatever they want" to "whatever these 3D printers can make" that's clearly not the case.

    Having mature versions of 3D printers will change things greatly, but won't offer a Star Trek fantasy world where money has become obsolete. It'll reduce the amount of work available to unskilled and semi-skilled labor, and put the first small wedge into disrupting Amazon's goal of becoming Buy'N'Large - anything you can make something yourself is one less thing you need to buy.

    If/when you can for example make 1000 washers or 1000 nails to a certain spec for less cost in terms of materials and energy than it costs to buy them from Lowes or Home Depot, and especially if you can make them for less than it costs to make them the old way, the world will begin to change a lot, but it won't be post-scarcity, not even close. You don't need to have a 3D printer able to make a toaster or cell phone for it to have major repercussions to the world economy.

    I've read about the "singularity" and my thought is that the one thing that will determine wealth in that world is energy. That in turn will be determined by land, since solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run. Anyone who believes the singularity will occur within their lifetime should start buying up as much cheap desert land as they can afford. Doesn't matter how inaccessible, so long as it gets plenty of sunshine. They'll be the Rockefellers of that brave new world. Australia and North Africa could become the new economic centers of the world.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is not "post scarcity"

      A more reasonable comparison is: when I need *one* washer, can I print it cheaper than buying a box of 1000 from Home Depot, and leaving the other 999 gathering dust in the garage?

      I doubt it. How much energy will it cost to melt down the tiny amount of steel required? How much time will I spend cleaning and unclogging the machine afterwards? The economies of production are geared towards volumes.

      Why is it cheaper to buy a supermarket cake than to bake your own from scratch? The commercial bakeries buy ingredients in vast quantities, and have enormous ovens that can bake 1000 cakes at a time, at an energy-to-cake ratio far far lower than you can achieve at home. So even adding in the cost of transport, retail space and wastage, the supermarket cake is much cheaper. Not as nice of course.

      In the case of washers: if you build a machine which is tooled specifically for making washers, it will churn them out ridiculously cheaply.

      1. Lunatik

        Re: This is not "post scarcity"

        When you consider the resources you need to employ just to get that one washer you need from the DIY store though, things change markedly.

        In addition to the minuscule resources to actually make the single washer you need you have to pay for:

        Packaging, transport and all the other overheads for the manufacture of the washers (and CO₂ if you care about such things)

        Overheads for the store (+CO₂)

        A car; taxed, insured, sitting on your driveway

        The fuel, wear and tear of getting to the store and back (+CO₂)

        The time take for the above.

        And then you have 999 washers sitting in the garage.

        A future where printing just one washer at a low enough cost, even if this is a few orders of magnitude greater than the current negligible bulk production cost, will be hugely disruptive.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: This is not "post scarcity"

          "When you consider the resources you need to employ just to get that one washer you need from the DIY store though, things change markedly."

          No, they don't.

          All those factors you mention (plus a healthy profit) have already been factored into price you paid for the box of 1000 washers and if you dont' take the cost of running the car into account then you're not even going to think about the overheads of printing a single washer.

          3d printing is good for prototyping, very low volume production runs and uber-complicated shapes. Everything else is (currently) best done with tradtional techniques - and I doubt that 3d kit will ever compete with the economics of stamping out washers from sheet steel.

      2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: This is not "post scarcity"

        Why is it cheaper to buy a supermarket cake than to bake your own from scratch? ...have enormous ovens that can bake 1000 cakes at a time...

        I get the economies of scale argument, but my experience is that this sort of thing is about convenience to the consumer, not about driving down the price of the product. In other words, large scale production is all about increasing profit margins which does not necessarily lower product pricing.

        To use your example, supermarkets in my area charge more for a cake than it would take me to produce one myself. While they can do some things better than I might or that I cannot, I am not only paying for materials and energy, but for labor and store profit as well. Also, the scale is not what you make it out to be as there is not enough demand for these grocery stores to produce 1K cakes on a regular basis; they are produced in the store, not in some central location.

        This printer is a hobbyist's toy at this point. It has potential. Mapping out when it is useful for projects and when it would be better to buy off the shelf is going to take time to work out, but it offers an alternative to what was available before which I believe to be a good thing.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

      I was with you right up to that sentence.

      Solar power is not the future of Humanity, fusion is. Solar power is, in the best of cases, limited to the amount of energy that reaches the surface of the Earth. That is measured in KW per square meter. It will not increase.

      Todays nuclear reactors have outputs that reach the MW range on a surface that would take a solar farm half a continent to replicate. Tomorrow's fusion reactors will do even better. And, with more energy available, we might discover new methods of energy generation, leading to even more energy available, leading to God only knows what (interstellar travel within a human lifetime, maybe ?).

      What matters is that Humanity is in need of much, much more energy than Solar, Wind or Hydro can possibly give. Fusion is the future.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

        Todays nuclear reactors have outputs that reach the MW range on a surface that would take a solar farm half a continent to replicate.

        Bollocks! A small fraction of the Sahara desert alone could generate more electricity than the human race currently uses.

        The Solar radiation flux onto Earth's surface is about a kilowatt per square meter. Allowing 10% for harvesting efficiency and a factor of two for dark night-times. you need 20 m^2 per kW power-station output. A large power station is a Gigawatt: a million kilowatts, or 20 square kilometers of desert covered in solar panels.

        Controlled nuclear fusion would be great if we could get it working (economically). So far, we can't (at all). Certainly worth continuing to try, but ... in the meantime, solar panels really do work, and offer an alternative should fossil fuels become uneconomic or accepted as too damaging to use. Solar panels are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels where there are deserts in close proximity to cities (for example, in Arizona).

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

          "Allowing 10% for harvesting efficiency and a factor of two for dark night-times. "

          Ah, so doubling the area of the collector station in the Sahara will allow it to work at night?

          More seriously: The single buggest problem with wind, tidal flow and PV solar is that you either use the energgy generated or lose it - and this nobbles the economics of stations which have to be built and used to back up these non-constant energy sources (Renewables pros will say that it's always blowing in some areas of the country but the national grid power curves show that's plainly not true and wind power runs up/down reglarly.) On top of that the power distribution grid has to be substantially overbuilt to allow for flows going in more-or-less random directions and that's _expensive_, plus runs into legions of NIMBYs opposed to more power towers walking across the countryside.

          One can only build so many pumped-storage hydro stations, so unless ways are found to _economically_ store and release the collected energy from renewable plants the whole power distribution system as we look at it now becomes almost impossible to control and/or so expensive to run that the cost of the energy itself is simply a minor component of the whole equation.

          The "green taxes" are a big hint that the latter is already coming to pass.

          Putting that money into decent nuke plants (molten salts) and research into same would be more productive than building more windmills and having National Grid PAY operators to keep them offline. (The going ransom rate for keeping a large windmill off grid is between £12-21k/year. You can do what you lke with the energy as long as National Grid doesn't have to deal with it)

          1. strum

            Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

            One of the biggest problems with building a sensible energy policy for the future, is that the proponents of each option cannot help themselves from rubbishing every other alternative. That leaves decision-makers with the certainty that any deciaion they make will be the wrong one.

            Each option has its benefits and its drawbacks. A sensible policy would combine most of them, into a practical, multi-element approach.

        2. BenR

          Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

          Bollocks! A small fraction of the Sahara desert alone could generate more electricity than the human race currently uses.

          The Solar radiation flux onto Earth's surface is about a kilowatt per square meter. Allowing 10% for harvesting efficiency and a factor of two for dark night-times. you need 20 m^2 per kW power-station output. A large power station is a Gigawatt: a million kilowatts, or 20 square kilometers of desert covered in solar panels.

          10% for harvesting efficiency is a nonsense. I refer you to Wikipedia:

          Solar cell efficiencies vary from 6% for amorphous silicon-based solar cells to 40.7% with multiple-junction research lab cells and 44.4% with multiple dies assembled into a hybrid package.[11] Solar cell energy conversion efficiencies for commercially available multicrystalline Si solar cells are around 14-19%.[12] The highest efficiency cells have not always been the most economical — for example a 30% efficient multijunction cell based on exotic materials such as gallium arsenide or indium selenide and produced in low volume might well cost one hundred times as much as an 8% efficient amorphous silicon cell in mass production, while only delivering about four times the electrical power.

          However, there is a way to "boost" solar power. By increasing the light intensity, typically photogenerated carriers are increased, resulting in increased efficiency by up to 15%. These so-called "concentrator systems" have only begun to become cost-competitive as a result of the development of high efficiency GaAs cells. The increase in intensity is typically accomplished by using concentrating optics. A typical concentrator system may use a light intensity 6-400 times the sun, and increase the efficiency of a one sun GaAs cell from 31% at AM 1.5 to 35%.

          You're looking at a 20% conversion efficiency probably, so you need to increase your area by a factor of five. So that's 100km² / GW. The area of the Sahara is 9.4 million km². That gives you a total power output of 94,000 GW, or 823.4 PWh per annum. Planetary energy consumption in 2008 was approx. 144 PWh. So the Sahara, assuming you could cover it ENTIRELY with solar panels, keep them clean, and with an exact 50/50 split of day/night, and that each panel was generating it's maximum possible theoretical output the entire time it was in sunlight, would provide about half of the planetary energy requirements. Realistically, probably more like a quarter or less.

          And then, on top of all that, you've got transmission losses to take into account. You'd lose another 10% or so in that. Again, from Wikipedia:

          As of 1980, the longest cost-effective distance for Direct Current transmission was determined to be 7,000 km (4,300 mi). For Alternating Current it was 4,000 km (2,500 mi), though all transmission lines in use today are substantially shorter than this.

          Can anyone spot any problems with this plan? Answers on a postcard...

          1. BenR

            Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

            I ran out of edit time:

            But let's not even consider the embedded energy of the array either.

            Polycrystalline panels have an embedded energy of 4.07 GJ/m² ( http://perigordvacance.typepad.com/files/inventoryofcarbonandenergy.pdf ). So to build the entire array would require:

            9.4 million km² x 1 000 000 m² / km² x 4.07 GJ/m² = 3.8258 x 10^13 GJ.

            1 GJ = 0.001044444 GWh, hence 3.8258 x 10^13 GJ = 3.9958 x10^10 GWh = 39 958 PWh.

            Therefore, to build the array, we'd need to utilise the entire energy consumption of the planet as it (just about) currently stands for 39 958 PWh / 144 PWh / annum = 277.5 YEARS just to build the array that wouldn't even power a quarter of the planet.

            Does that seem like an efficient use of resources to anyone?

          2. BenR

            Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

            Cock.

            Just realised I've misread a decimal place:

            You're looking at a 20% conversion efficiency probably, so you need to increase your area by a factor of five. So that's 100km² / GW. The area of the Sahara is 9.4 million km². That gives you a total power output of 94,000 GW, or 823.4 PWh per annum. Planetary energy consumption in 2008 was approx. 144 PWh.

            Not 82.3 PWh as I initially read while I was typing. So the entire Sahara would generate about FIVE TIMES the current energy consumption of the planet, so including for losses etc. you'd realistically need to cover only about 40-45% of the total area.

            Which is STILL over 4 MILLION SQUARE KILOMETERS!

            Which would STILL require over a HUNDRED YEARS WORTH of our current energy usage to create the array.

            And it STILL wouldn't generate power for 50% of the time, no matter the fact that the 50% capacity reduction was taken into account, so we'd either need to store the excess (in ma-HOO-sive batteries for example) or simply turn off the planet when it's night-time in North Africa.

            It's still a f**king stupid idea, whichever way you look at it. Just because it's only 40% of a stupid idea doesn't help.

            [Slinks away in shame at making a rudimentary mathematical error when typing]

      2. John Hughes

        Re: solar power will be the limiting factor on what humans can do in the long run

        "Todays nuclear reactors have outputs that reach the MW range"

        For values of "Mega" that are more like "Giga".

        Most power reactors being built today are in the 1.7GWe (EPR) to 1.1GWe (AP1000) range.

    3. Al Black

      Re: This is not "post scarcity"

      Buy up deserts for solar power farms? It would be less harmful to the environment to build more coal-fired power stations. Eventually Hydrogen Fusion will render both technologies obsolete, but right now Coal is the cheapest source of electricity (in places where hydro dams cannot be built).

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: This is not "post scarcity"

        How is it hurting the environment to put solar panels in a desert? What is being hurt by covering up sand and rocks with solar panels?

        Fusion will hopefully become the future, but until we get it working at economic scales it won't be. Nor will the power be free. What if installing solar panels costs less per watt than it costs to buy fusion power from the grid?

  6. Pete 2

    The scarecest resource of all

    > post-scarcity society

    Where the rarest resource is, as now too it would appear, common sense.

    Quickly followed by the simple, innocent, yet very hard to answer questions about where the raw materials will come from, the sustainability/cost/efficiency of the energy the printer uses and possibly something about reliable designs, as well?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The scarecest resource of all

      Afaik many advances in technology happen because of military use, I don't think it will be too long before someone finds a 'killer app' for these things regardless of initial costs and difficulties

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The scarecest resource of all

        "I don't think it will be too long before someone finds a 'killer app' for these things regardless of initial costs and difficulties"

        AIUI the US military has been using 3d metal printers in war theatres for the bast part of a decade to print basic automtive parts, up to and including truck driveshafts.

      2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: The scarecest resource of all

        "Killer app", why am I concerned that this "gun printing" thing might resurface in a different market? :O

  7. dbayly

    .. and who makes the iron ?

    I guess this is an opportunity for the Feds to control iron distribution too.

  8. Stooriefit
    Thumb Down

    Settle down

    Nothing to see here.

    If you have ever seen the parts these things produce you wouldn't imagine making a gun from one. They have a finish quality similar to a constipated dragon's stool. You would have to post machine it to get any kind of fit or function' in which case why not start with stock bar? You could use your FOS lathe.

    This work is positively last century - at team at Cranfield did this years ago, and have been doing much more impressive stuff of late, welding steel to aluminium and seven other impossible things before breakfast etc.

    Only the mention of open source firearms (which is patently bobbins) has garnered any press for this at all.

    1. <shakes head>

      Re: Settle down

      do you have any more details as this seems interesting?

      1. Stooriefit
        Headmaster

        Re: Settle down

        Sorry can't find a magic link - check out Prof Stewart Williams' publications at Cranfield. There is stuff on welding dissimilar metals and doing additive manufacturing using arcs in fancy alloys.

        You could also check out AILU's list of active research groups http://www.ailu.org.uk/assets/document/randreport/091205table2.pdf

        It is a bit out of date and the field is moving fast - there is more activity at Liverpool and Heriot Watt as well as Cambridge than that disclosed here.

        There is also a NSF report on Additive Manufacturing in Europe but I can't paste it because of a little IT difficulty I'm encountering...

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Settle down

      Most of these "Gun printed with 3D printer" stories usually neglect to mention that the only thing the printer printed was a plastic widget that modifies the receiver or something like that, e.g. permitting the rifle to fire in automatic mode. The rest of the gun being a bog standard gun. Not surprising when most consumer grade printers are basically extruding plastic like some glorified coil pot.

      I think even if metal sintering printer devices became affordable that it wouldn't do much for the viability of printing guns. Even if the device were capable of printing parts, they would still have to be finished in a workshop and if someone has a workshop, then they probably could make a gun anyway.

    3. jubtastic1

      Re: Settle down

      Agreed, as far as I can tell this is just a computer controlled mig welder, so it's going to average at 5mm resolution with a fairly wide variance and is going to need a milling stage to get any sort of usable parts out of it.

      If you wanted a gun this would be a really poor way of making one, interesting though.

  9. Khaptain Silver badge

    Synthetic Polymers

    Let's see what happens when someone brings out a Synthetic Polymer printer. A la Glock.... Now that will be interesting.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Synthetic Polymers

      Why synthetic? Just stick a spider on the print head and see what you can achieve.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Khaptain Re: Synthetic Polymers

      "Let's see what happens when someone brings out a Synthetic Polymer printer. A la Glock.... Now that will be interesting." We'll, yes and no. If you mean for designing a "scanner-proof" gun it makes no difference in the West, airports and the like have switched to non-magnetic scanners to look for explosives hidden on the body, and those scanners will pick up a plastic gun just as quickly as a metal one. If you mean from the viewpoint of making guns easier to build, then you still need to fabricate a barrel and chamber out of a very strong material (usually steel) - the rest of the weapon can be made out of plastic mouldings or sheet tin folded into shape (receivers for AR-15s are commonly made from aluminium or plastic). I suppose you could make a low-pressure gun using plastic and black powder, but that's an expensive option in many countries when you can just go buy a commercial gun for a fraction of the price.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Print a gun, the right way.

    1. Search for a gunsmith

    2. Print out the address and map

    3. Go there

    4. Purchase said gun (assuming you live in a redneck community)

    5. Use it without it 'asploding' your own head!

  11. DrXym Silver badge

    I look forward to the headlines

    "Man loses hand / eye / part of face / dies when printed gun explodes"

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: I look forward to the headlines

      The only ones who will make them are 'mad scientists' who will only test them reasonably safely - the rest of us will just buy proper guns off the street - or in 'shops' for less than the price of the aforementioned argon bottles.

  12. Tom_

    Not even close to useful yet.

    I don't need to print a washer, shower curtain ring, action figure , circuit board or anything else so trivial.

    I'll buy my first 3D printer when I can print Kelly LeBrock.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Not even close to useful yet.

      Actually, the circuit board printing has been and is in use long before these stories started to happen. They actually "print" some CPUs (well, they use a photography and etching technique) and Unis can buy "part pickers/placers".

      They can print add on boards for the Raspberry Pi with solder then use the part picker to place, then they bake it in an oven.

      With conductive ink, and sticker like chips, you could theoretically print out simple board. Thing is, most of use need reliability and cheap cost, not quick delivery/expensive one off use. However prototyping and Uni projects do. :)

    2. The Stolly

      Re: Not even close to useful yet.

      Try ASDA

      http://your.asda.com/news-and-blogs/create-detailed-miniature-versions-of-you-and-your-family-with-3d-printing-at-asda

  13. stu 4

    3d printers are the mutts

    Got one at the weekend there - it really is quite special seeing a part sort of appear in front of your face:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cOo79cm9Wo

    I'd been in the 'meh' camp with 3d printers till now, but once you get one, you find there are so many projects you can use it for.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: 3d printers are the mutts

      For that kind of use it's much cheaper to go down to your local makerspace and hire a printer to do it.

      It'll stay that way for a decade too.

      Coming up with a multitude of things to do with your printer != it's more economic to do so than simply buying the part you need.

      1. stu 4

        Re: 3d printers are the mutts

        jeez, thats jsut an example. I didn't buy it to print out things that exist...

        I bought it to print out a whole load of prototypes for other designs I'm working on.

        At around £30 for a part to be printed by a 3rd party, vs 3p to do it myself, I only need to print about 20 prototypes to have reached my ROI.

        And no decade wait required.

  14. MrXavia

    Why bring up guns?

    That is a very unlikely usage of this, it is much easier to obtain a hand gun through criminal channels than it is to print one...

    1. Steven Jones

      Re: Why bring up guns?

      Indeed. It's hardly as if improvising a working gun using fairly basic workshop machine tools is difficult. There are plenty of plans around for those.

      Indeed, there are some parts of the world where "cottage" gunsmiths make a living out of producing AK-47 clones using relatively simple workshop tools. I'm not sure that the introduction of 3D steel printing will make much difference to that market.

    2. Mark #255
      Facepalm

      Re: Why bring up guns?

      Also, I thought the whole hoo-haa about 3D-printed plastic guns was the fact that they were made of plastic, and so weren't detected by metal detectors which protected "secure" areas...

  15. Sir Sham Cad

    Trust issues

    After every article I've read and TV spot I've seen about consumer/home 3d printing I've been left wondering about the quality of the part that has been made. From a replacement plastic bit for a fridge to nuts and bolts of steel I've been left thnking that I wouldn't use any of those parts in any device or machine that underwent any kind of physical stress. I wouldn't put a 3d printed washer in my washing machine in case it failed under duress in the spin cycle and trashed my appliance never mind trust one in a vehicle or the extremes of temperature and pressure in the business bits of a firearm.

    I know that this tech is exciting and we're all keen to see what it can do but this hysteria in (mostly) the media by notable quotables with an obvious self interest about post-scarcity, imagination is the limit, next industrial revolution bollocks is driving me up the wall! Schtop! This revolution is not ready yet!

    1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: Trust issues

      ...This revolution is not ready yet!...

      Hmmm... according to your definition, the revolution will only be ready when it is no longer a revolution...

  16. Drae
    Stop

    Blatant attention-grabbing articles by irresponsible tech writers

    Would all you so called journalist and tech writers -please- stop rattling on about 3d printers and guns with EVERY new advance in 3d printing technology that comes around?

    People like you creating irresponsibly attention-grabbing headlines and sub-headlines are responsible for giving widespread attention to people who get a kick out of publicising "Look what dangerous thing we can make with 3d printers!"

    Those people will be all that's needed to remove easy access to affordable home printing-and-design of cheap prototype (or better) items, through regulation and other things.

    And journalists/tech writers like you will be the ones who reliably churn out the pageviewcount-grabby "3d printers - omg guns!" line to the masses.

  17. willi0000000

    i like it. the general idea anyway. it's cheap and the bulk of the cost is buying the welder and that can be dismounted when you're done and put to use around the shop (sticking two bits of metal together is a talent worth having for a serious DIYer). other than that, what it produces is a crap-shoot effort to get the temperature curves and alloys right just to produce an unfinished part.

    years of development might get you a totally new welding head (useless for welding anything but foreskins back onto circumcised mosquitoes) that can lay down sufficiently fine lines to make a spare part if you're desperate. this still needs some serious attention to sensors and software to get the temperature curves right.

    something like this is a wonderful thesis project for the students but past that ... meh. NASA will probably send a 3D printer that can do plastics and even laser metal sintering in one box to the ISS someday because it makes sense there given the long and difficult supply lines.

  18. envmod

    T-1000

    "knives, and stabbing weapons"

    fuck worrying about guns, they're too complicated. bladed objects on the other hand...

  19. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Economics 101

    ...resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost”...

    Wealth doesn't work like that.

    If objects become readily available from a printer, the rich will simple be the people who can pay for personal service, or land ownership, or something else which can't be printed...

  20. earl grey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    i want the 1000 washers

    What hardware store actually stocks those kind of numbers in different sizes?

  21. Jim 59

    Light engineering contractors make bespoke stuff out of metal all the time, did I miss something ?

  22. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. iranu

    Old Technology ;)

    This is called Shaped Metal Deposition or Near Net Metal Deposition and isn't 3D printing in the usual sense. I was evaluating this technology 10 years ago for Rolls Royce because they were looking to produce aircraft engine components, mainly casings, from Ti 6/4 alloy using this method.

    Casings are usually cast and therefore suffer from all of the usual reduced material properties. By using this method of building up weld metal you produce a casing that has improved mechanical properties, akin to traditional manufacturing methods, but with much less (expensive) machining and waste to produce the finished component.

    This method also reduces lead times and designs can be changed without much increased cost.

    The surface produced is quite pretty and unique in Ti 6/4 - it's a kind of golden colour with lots of hues of purple and blue throughout with a large grain pattern amongst the lines of build up. I had some cuff-links made from some of the left over material!

    Pics of test boxes using this method and close-up of surface.

    http://www.rapolac.eu/images/Deposition.jpg

    http://www.emeraldinsight.com/content_images/fig/0490380608005.png

    And a paper on the subject.

    http://www.mtm.kuleuven.be/Onderzoek/Ceramics/publicaties-1/2009/2009no23.pdf

  24. Jim99

    Post scarcity

    Much of the scarcity we face is artificial, created by government to meet wider social goals.

    Housing expensive? It's cos we don't let people build on fields so as to preserve the countryside.

    Power bills high? That's because people are scared of radioactive accidents at nuke stations, and cheap coal power creates CO2.

    Food expensive? It would be much less so if we let third world farmers export their goods to us, but we protect the incomes of domestic agriculture instead.

    I am not saying all of these wider goals are wrong (although I think two of them are), but I think it is important to be aware of the costs we pay to achieve them, particularly when those costs fall heaviest on they poorest.

  25. 2cent

    Newsline: Autobody shop stops order parts..

    If you have enough print heads and control, your autobody shop might not order anything but raw plastic, steel and nut and bolts.

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