Print Your Own Guns at Home? Not Likely

By Steve Sacco

I have a friend. Not just any friend, but an “internet friend.” We met on a stock market message board about 15 years ago, and he (I presume he’s not lying, and is, in fact, male) and I have discussed stocks, technology, and all kinds of topics ever since. I’ve enjoyed our chats immensely, and one of the things I’ve learned is that, unlike my friend, I’m terrible at trading stocks. I’ve also learned that I’m pretty good at nosing out technology trends – as is he. For many years now, the subject of 3-D printing technology has come up in our conversations . . .

Long ago, we both agreed that it would be amazing and, if you’ll pardon the expression, game-changing. Sadly, I never took action on that, and actually bought any 3-D company stocks, but that’s another story.

Don’t worry, this turns “gun” right about now.

The recent hysteria regarding the printing of guns has gained national attention, and has been featured here at TTAG several times. As far as that technology goes, it’s cool, but, seriously, consider this: Who is going to want to have a printer that makes 3-D items? Once you’ve made a few toys, or cute little doohickies, what then? You know that material costs will be astoundingly high. You’ll burn though them at great speed. And you’ll always be running to the store/ordering online more cartridges for whatever material you’ve just run out of, or are missing. Printer technology will race ahead, and your 18-month old 3-D printer will be considered obsolete.

Consider the parallel to paper printing. Yes, you can print a full-color photograph, but you can’t do it as well or as cheaply as the local Costco. The efficiencies of scale which allow current methods of production to turn out products as cheaply as they do won’t change.

More important than making the same old stuff a different way, what’s changing is the ability to manufacture parts in new, heretofore impossible ways.

An article in the March, 2014 issue National Defense Magazine, “3D Printing Promises to Revolutionize Defense, Aerospace Industries” really drives this point home. The author, Yasmin Tadjdeh, interviews power players in this space, and they discuss how “additive manufacturing” is allowing the manufacturing of light weight jet engine parts, pieces for fighter jets, and satellites.

I expect that additive manufacturing will transform firearms design and construction. Imagine, years in the future, after 3-D manufacturing has become mainstream, coming across an “ancient” AR-15 milled lower. “What?” you’ll say. “Look at how much wasted material! It’s made from a block of solid aluminum. It weighs a ton!”

The possibilities are endless: stress simulation can predict exactly where the stresses are. And now, with 3-D manufacturing, parts will be built with material exactly where the stress is, and none where it’s not. What about parts which need temperature isolation? Parts could be built with enclosed areas of air (who knows, maybe nitrogen or something, if the part was built in that environment) which could serve as insulation.

What areas of firearms manufacturing do you think could benefit from this type of manufacturing? Is the industry as ripe for change as I think?