The 3D Printed Arms Race Just Got Real with This Working Handheld Railgun

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3dp_railgun_diagramElectromagnetic projectile launchers called railguns are what many in the military are hoping will be the weapon of the future. A railgun doesn’t use traditional projectile propellants like gunpowder or explosives, but instead they use electromagnetic fields to propel projectiles at speeds that can exceed an incredible Mach 10. A basic railgun design will include a pair of parallel conducting rails that will accelerate a sliding armature when the electromagnetic current flows through one rail, into the armature and then back into the other rail. Using this rapid acceleration, the armature can launch a wide variety of projectiles at incredible speeds.

The US Navy testing a railgun.

The US Navy testing a railgun.

Currently the military is still researching railgun technology, but they expect that once perfected, the projectiles will cause considerably more damage than conventional munitions due to the rapid rate of acceleration that they can achieve (up to 13,000 mph in just 0.2 seconds) and the resulting wave of kinetic energy that is pulled along with the fired projectiles. Current military prototypes are massive guns that are intended to be mounted on a battleship, unlike the handheld versions often seen in video games. Until now the idea of even making a handheld railgun was almost entirely the domain of science fiction.3dp_railgun_handheld

But over the weekend a crafty maker named David Wirth uploaded pictures of his latest project to Imgur, as well as several test videos up to YouTube. Incredibly, he had created a working, handheld railgun capable of firing several different types of metal rods as ‘bullets.’ The railgun was constructed using a combination of 3D printed parts, readily available electronics and hardware. And it’s powered by a bank of six capacitors that are capable of producing over 1,800 joules of energy per shot

of The 3D printed components included parts made using a few different materials. The casing around the electronic components is made from ABS. However, as Wirth noted, “after the first test, the pressure broke a steel bolt in the injector and a piece of weak 3d-printed PLA which held the bolt in place. A new polycarbonate injector piece and nylon bolt plate were printed and the problem never happened again.”
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“The rails consist of a set of outer and inner rails.  The outer rails are non-replaceable and made of aluminum. They never contact the armature so they never experience rail erosion. The inner rails are copper and are designed to be periodically replaced. They are held in place by the polycarbonate muzzle break and the polypropylene injector and are free to slide in and out once the muzzle break is removed,” Wirth wrote on his original Imgur gallery.

Wirth used an Arduino Uno R3 board to run the railgun’s electronics and monitor charging levels, temperature, capacitor voltage, amperage, and the battery voltage. Just like the full-sized railgun being developed by the military, Wirth’s railgun uses a set of parallel electrodes to launch aluminum, tungsten, graphite or even plasma projectiles at an absurd 560 mph. Yes, you read that correctly, this railgun is also a handheld plasma gun.

If that sounds terrifying, don’t worry, Wirth’s version of a railgun uses the same technology and principals of the military’s larger versions, but it isn’t quite as lethal. While the projectiles will certainly hurt, and if the shot is exceptionally lucky maybe actually cause some damage to a person. But the 560 mph that the projectiles reach is a drop in the bucket compared to the 13,000 mph the military versions can travel. As impressive as this handheld version is, don’t expect to be using it to hunt down other dimensional Lovecraftian horrors anytime soon. But boy are you going to be able to mess up some cantaloupes something fierce.

Here is some video of Wirth firing a 4.3g tungsten-core aluminum projectile at a cantaloupe:

You can read more about the technology and components that Wirth used to build his railgun on the original Imgur album. And there are several more video’s on his YouTube page of him firing different projectiles, including an aluminum sabot and a carbon rod that vaporized before it could even hit the target.

Let’s hear your thoughts on this weapon.  Discuss in the 3D Printed Rail Gun forum thread on 3DPB.com

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