As time goes by, there are always those individuals who see the glass half empty. For instance, with 3D printing, there are people out there that see the technology as a means for creating all sorts of illegal objects. Whether it be the 3D printing of patented products, or the 3D printing of unregulatable weapons, there is no doubt that there will always be a select few individuals who abuse this technology which has the potential of changing the world for the better.
We have seen 3D printed guns, and to some extent, I agree that there needs to be some sort of solution created, in order to protect society against ruthless individuals who may use these guns for inappropriate activities. What we haven’t seen much of yet, is the 3D printing of other potential weapons. Surely, before long we will.
One company, Gateros Plating, located in the United Kingdom, has been 3D printing replica swords. While these swords are not meant to be weapons, but rather collectibles, the process that the company puts them through creates objects that are very much like the real thing. Needless to say, the swords look amazing, and could easily be mistaken for actual weapons.
“The swords are made with a combination of printed plastic and metal plating,” Dave Hanson, Director of Gateros Plating told 3DPrint.com. “We print in PLA using a self-upgraded Ultimaker 1.0. The items are then sprayed with a silver-coated copper conductive paint, cured and then given a copper base by electroforming; a layer of copper is deposited on the plastic print. After this any other metal finish can be applied.”
The swords are not actually 3D printed in metal, like what most people would assume when looking at and holding them. Instead Gateros prints them on a typical FDM based 3D printer and then uses the process of electroforming to add the metal coating. Once the plastic swords are finished printing, they are placed in an electrolyte bath which contains copper ions. The ions come from dissolved copper salts, and end up being replaced during the plating process by copper anodes that are suspended in the solution. An electrical current is applied, which reduces the ions on the 3D printed object, and gives it a coherent metal layer.
Once the electroforming process is complete ,the item can be finished in a multitude of ways, just like a regular metal object. Some of the possible treatments include sealing, polishing, plating, passivating, etc. If they wish to create a sword with a different layer of metal on top, they can electroplate it once again with another metal. For example, Gateros created a steel sword by electroforming it with copper, and then electroplating it with zinc.
As for the strength of the swords, they aren’t quite as strong as the real thing, simply because they consist of plastic at their cores. “The swords’ strength is determined by the thickness of the deposited metal layer,” explained Hanson. “Even with a layer of metal only a few microns thick the strength is increased greatly. They obviously would not be as strong as a regular sword but could withstand most forces and knocks”
Gateros actually used a very similar method in working with the Mercedes F1 team on a sample of their laser sintered material. They found that their copper plating method was just as strong as the nickel plating that Mercedes F1 contracted a professional company to do, via traditional methods.
Gateros has created a couple swords and daggers. The steel sword you see pictured, is a replica of a sword from the video game, Skyrim. It was coated with a dull zinc on the blade, and black nickel on the handle. “(It) is only a 1/6th scale replica (15 cm long) and was initially created for a model maker who was creating a scale model of a video game character,” explained Hanson.
The other piece is a Dwarven Dagger replica from the same game (Skyrim). It was finished with brass and is approximately 17cm long. Also pictured is an Orc Axe which Gateros 3D printed for artist Mark Jaegers’, ‘Nord Warrior’, also from Skyrim.
While these swords look and feel quite real, Gateros isn’t creating them for use as legitimate weapons, but rather collectible models. “Both the steel sword and the dagger are not very sharp due to the printing quality but they could easily be printed in a higher quality, plated and sharpened,” said Hanson.
Dave Hanson currently is a student, that splits his time between his studies and helping run Gateros Plating. He also runs an Etsy shop where he plans on uploading more designs in the future. Currently he has no specific plans of selling the 3D printed metal swords, but admits that he may decide to in the future.
These swords that Gateros has made, obviously are not meant to be, and probably would not function very well as weapons, but like Hanson said, they could easily be printed with better quality and then sharpened. Without a doubt, someone, somewhere will create 3D printed swords that could actually be used as legitimate weapons in the future. Let’s just hope that those who do are responsible with their creations.
What do you think about these incredible Skyrim replica swords? Discuss in the 3D printed sword forum thread on 3DPB.com
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