Metal 3D printing has started to revolutionize the design and manufacturing of automobile engines, rocket engines, medical devices, and even jewelry. Thanks to metal 3D printing processes like Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) the ability to create virtually any geometry without the need for support structures or needing to consider assembly or molding has changed the way that engineers look at industrial design. And given the United States’ special relationship to firearms, it was inevitable that metal 3D printing would start to be adapted for the production of guns and accessories.
A silencer, or more accurately a suppressor, is a cylindrical device that can be attached to the barrel of a gun that will slow and cool the expanding gasses that are the byproduct of a bullet being shot. This drastically reduces the noise made when a gun is fired, and while the movies and popular media often portray the use of them as a way to prevent a gun from being heard the real use for them is simply to make a gun quiet enough to not cause ear damage. In reality, a firearm silencer isn’t going to make the “pfft” sound often seen on screen but will in actuality still produce quite a loud bang. Suppressors simply reduce that bang.
Firearm blog TheTruthAboutGuns.com was allowed to test out the very first metal 3D printed firearm suppressor ever produced in the United States. The device was made by a metal parts manufacturer that asked that their name be kept from the review as they are not looking to manufacture silencers or other firearms accessories. They simply used the production of the silencer as an example of what the SLS metal 3D printing process is capable of.
The manufacturer used a relatively basic silencer design for the internals, and because it no longer needs to be assembled after tooling the outside shape is now completely unrestricted. In this example, the company that designed the silencer simply put the 3D model into SOLIDWORKS and twisted it around. As long as someone is using the technology of the future to make something, why not make it look like it actually came from the future?
According to Nick Leghorn, the writer who tested the silencer, it performed quite well against a traditionally manufactured part. While the 3D printed silencer was louder than the traditional model, it still did an excellent job of suppressing excessive sound. And this silencer was simply based off of existing designs, with some experimentation actual firearm manufacturers would easily be able to increase its performance. Although the reviewer did note that he would have no idea how durable a 3D printed silencer would be and before any products could ever safely be sold they would require a considerable amount of testing.
“A circumferentially welded titanium can will stand up to an insane level of stress before it finally bursts or wears out. But with a 3D printed suppressor I have no idea about how short the barrel can be on a rifle or how many rounds it can go before it starts to fail,” explained Leghorn in his review. “If this were to be commercially available, I’d want to see some serious testing before I bought one, and even then I might hold off for a couple years to see how things went.”
But any gun enthusiasts should rein in their excitement a little bit as at this point metal 3D printed suppressors are not being sold, and in fact no one has currently even explored the feasibility and legality of doing so. And unless the price of SLS 3D printers drops significantly soon it is going to be a while before you can make a product like this at home. However, there are plastic options available to you. But as an example of how 3D printing can help the design and prototyping of firearms this is still a pretty big deal.
Of course the ability to 3D print firearms is still wildly controversial, and being able to print silencers is not going to do much to temper that controversy. Once something is doable someone somewhere is is going to do it, so 3D printing metal gun parts was really only a matter of time. What do you think about using metal 3D printing to create firearms and accessories? Let us know on the Functional Metal 3D Printed Silencer thread over on 3DPB.com.