Hands On With America’s First 3D-Printed Metal Silencer

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Silencer design is still something of a black art and extremely complex. Not only do you need to design something that will efficiently slow and cool the expanding gasses to quiet the report of a firearm, but you need to do it in such a way that it can be mass produced. These days, that means a cylindrical housing with small stackable baffles, usually 100% circumferentially welded. But what if you could create any design you want without having to worry about tooling and the complexities of construction? What if the finished product could virtually jump from the drawing board into your hands, fully formed and ready to go? Someone has done just that, and they used a 3D printer . . .

The company in question has asked not to be named, as they’re a parts manufacturer and don’t want to be in the gun business. But as an example of what’s possible with 3D printing, they’ve done some pretty neat stuff with guns to show off their craft. This 3D printed silencer is one of those examples.

The 3D printing being done isn’t the typical plastic extrusion you usually see. Instead it uses a metal sintering process. Layer by layer, the machine applies a light coat of metal particles to a board and then a laser essentially welds those particles into place. The remaining metal particles are recycled for the next manufacturing run at a rate of about 90%, which is excellent considering that a monocore baffle design loses well over 75% of its mass to the machining process and that material is sold to scrappers for pennies on the dollar. 3D printing is more economical, and it allows for some crazy designs.

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The baffle design in use for this silencer is a modified K-baffle, but in reality anything is possible. The internal structures simply need to be supported during the manufacturing process so that they don’t fall over, but anything else is good to go. As for the external design, since the baffle stack no longer needs to slide inside the can for final construction they can make it any almost any shape they want. As the guy who was showing it off said, all he had to do was open SOLIDWORKS, twist the can, and the printer did the rest. It didn’t make machining time much longer (as it would on a traditional lathe or mill) and made the silencer look that much cooler.

The real benefit might not be to end users, but instead to designers. Instead of needing an entire machine shop dedicated to R&D just to produce the testing versions of new cans, they can spring forth fully-formed and ready for action from a metal 3D printer instead and go straight to testing. The process is so precise that even the threads can be printed straight into the device (although they still recommend running a tap through to clean them up).

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The best part is, out on the range, it actually works. Running the can side-by-side with a Liberty Mystic-X, the 3D printed model is slightly louder but still well within the realm of “hearing safe” with subsonic 300 AAC Blackout ammunition. With a little tweaking that could probably be improved, and given the efficiencies of 3D printing, that shouldn’t take too long.

The only real concern I had with the can is durability. 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. 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.

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Any way you look at it thing is seriously cool. The only problem: they’re not for sale. This 30 caliber version and its 5.56 sibling are the only two examples in the world of a 3D printed metal silencer. And they’re being used for the sole purpose of demonstrating the technology and nothing further. There are no plans to go into production anytime soon. Even so, this is an enticing glimpse of things to come.

comments

  1. avatar Gs650g says:

    The NFA is going to be irrelevant at some point. When anyone can set up shop and churn this stuff out the lose control.

    1. avatar Chadwick P. says:

      Almost any person can get pvc and duct tape.

      1. avatar TheBear says:

        Or an oil filter.

        1. avatar Accur81 says:

          But those are crappy silencers. This looks quite nice. And if it wore out early, spares should be readily available.

        2. avatar TheBear says:

          The point is that the item itself is not hard to make by anyone, but the NFA still exists because the penalties are so severe and most people have something to lose.

          3d printing isn’t going to change any of that at all, especially since they will probably never be cheap. All these advances in tech do is make stuff way cheaper than it was before to produce.

          The NFA needs to be dissolved via law, not civil disobedience. It shouldn’t exist in the first place.

      2. avatar marvinwatson says:

        could you email me directions for making a silencer with pvc pipe and duct tape?

        Thanks

        1. avatar pkoning says:

          Right here: http://thehomegunsmith.com/ which interestingly enough is a website in Britain. (The creator was persecuted for it.)

    2. avatar Chrispy says:

      At some point down the road you might be right, but as it currently stands though a Laser Sintering printer is still well into the 7 figures to purchase.

      The fun I could have if I hit the lottery tomorrow…

      1. avatar JJ says:

        My first computer had two 90k disk drives and an 8bit processeor, it cost 2k at the time about $12k in 2015 dollars. I had $500 300 baud modem (about $2k in 2015 dollars). My printer was $1,800 daisy wheel that could do 50 characters, about $10k in 2015 dollars.

        In fact I sat in on Congressional testimony with telecommunications experts saying no home would ever need more than 500 baud because that was the fastest an end user could read an ascii stream

        My kid’s kindle can do 1000x more for 1/100 the money. My phone has several orders of magnitude more computing power than the combined land based computers at Kennedy, Johnson and Apollo onboard computing power combined.

        if you know anyone who works with the tech for either 3d (buildup) or programmable CNC (cut down) machines, they will tell you costs will be plummeting (as will size) and capabilities skyrocketing.

        Moreover the materials used in 10 to 20 years will be 10x to 100x stronger than current polymers used in 3d.

        This tech will completely blow away all gun control.

    3. avatar Dev says:

      The NFA will NEVER be irrelevant, because it is an easy revenue stream.

    4. avatar Richard says:

      Or an aluminum D cell flashlight body, freeze plugs and a little ingenuity.

  2. avatar michael nieto says:

    will tech like this make silencers (suppressors) cheaper?

    1. avatar Matt says:

      Not typically, this type of additive manufacturing is suitable for development and not intended for mass production.

      1. avatar Chris says:

        yeah, and 3D printed wax can be used for quick prototyping of designs for investment casting. It’s a great rapid prototyping tool, but not scalable to production rates.

      2. avatar J- says:

        I did my PhD in additive manufacturing and yes it is suited for mass manufacturing. It is, in some cases, cheaper than high material volume machining or multi-step assembly. There are several medical devices on the market that are AM produced, and the GE LEAP engine is assembled with several AM parts.

  3. avatar mk10108 says:

    Who would have thought Metal 3D printing and a Solidworks becomes the stalwart to our Constitution.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      I think our Founders would have been quite proud… 🙂

  4. avatar Have Blue says:

    Nick, this is not the first 3D printed metal silencer – Oceania Defense has been doing DMLS printed cans for about 2 years now, and they’re for sale: http://oceania-defence.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=41&zenid=uh9vj6irp5gbjtpfmvnqb5kk43

    It wouldn’t surprise me if someone had done it even earlier (a company in Utah had been doing SLA printed cores for testing a number of years back, but I never heard much more about it).

    1. avatar Red in Texas says:

      Beat me to it, Have Blue. There is a European manufacturer that had been doing it as well.

    2. avatar Nick Leghorn says:

      Huh. Noted and fixed. Thanks!

      1. avatar Have Blue says:

        Nick, your statement of “this 30 caliber version and its 5.56 sibling are the only two examples in the world of a 3D printed metal silencer” needs to be amended as well, then.

  5. avatar Excedrine says:

    I’ve got two questions and they both have to do with money.

    1.) How much is that 3D sintered metal printer?

    2.) How much per pound is the sintered metal?

    It doesn’t take much before it simply isn’t practical or economical for anyone wanting to do this as a hobby and only run off a few cans for shits n’ giggles. On the other hand, it might always be worth it for those that simply want to stick a finger in the eye of The Man for passing such asinine and unenforceable laws. 😉

    1. avatar Matt says:

      1.) These machines start out at 1 mil and go up from there.

      2.) a mason jar sized contained of 17-4 powder will run anywhere from $3000-4000, pros are that the unused powder is able to be used again (unlike SLS) cons, obviously the cost.

      1. avatar JJ says:

        3d prices will plummet over time. kind of like paper printers for home use went from the equivalent of $10,000 to $200 in the space of about 15 years

    2. avatar BDub says:

      When I tell you the answer to number one you wont care what the answer to number two is. Usually they are 250K and up. However a company just recently announce the first “low-cost” and “affordable” SLS machine – it costs about 34K (and I don’t think it prints in metals, but duro-foam & carbon-fiber/polyamide composite).

      So you have a bit of a wait till one is sitting on your bench in the garage.

  6. avatar BDub says:

    This is the same process used to print the working 1911. Given that, why does the author sound so surprised that this can works?

    1. avatar Robert W. says:

      Simply because someone who does not have an engineering background tends to look at new technologies in terms of: better, worse, and as good as.

      When you have an engineering background, you are able to look at the specs of something, define exactly what the difference is, and use that information to predict performance.

      Layman sees “sintered metal,” and with their limited knowledge of the base tech determines that it is inferior to other manufacturing technologies that his existing products are made from.

      Someone with an engineering background (at least some types) will look at laser sintering and see its current deficiencies, the finished products tend to be less tough (that is technical term 🙂 ) and will look to make sure that the designers compensated for the fact.

      If the material properties are taken into account during the design, and proper analysis is done, there should be no reason that a printed can would fail outside of design parameters.

      If a layman takes the existing design of a traditionally manufactured can and just prints it straight out, then you will most likely have either an over-engineered can, or a fragmentation grenade on your muzzle.

    2. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “This is the same process used to print the working 1911. Given that, why does the author sound so surprised that this can works?”

      45 ACP has a chamber pressure of about 21,000 psi (140 MPa).

      Solid Concepts made a 1911 (including the barrel) 3-D printed Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) in 2013.

      TTAG did a review on it.

      http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2013/12/robert-farago/gun-review-solid-concepts-1911-dmls-direct-metal-laser-sintering/

      I think it’s safe to say it works.

      BTW – The printer Solid Concepts used cost 600 thou. Few years later, likely 6,000…

  7. avatar Noishkel says:

    3D printing/additive manufacture just keeps getting better and cheaper. Within a decade I image most things will be made with it. Including guns.

    1. avatar neiowa says:

      You song has been playing since at least 1990.

  8. avatar Almost Esq. says:

    The NFA is being challenged in federal court as we speak. I have a dream that one day everyone will be able to legally and cheaply print their own NFA devices from home. I have dream that Class III weapons like machine guns will cost $500. I have dream that one day everyone will be able to open and conceal carry everywhere.

  9. avatar Kendahl says:

    The thing to remember about 3D printing is that it’s in its early stages. About like personal computers were around the time Apple got started. My first computer was an IBM with a 5 MHz 8-bit processor, 64 KB RAM, two 160 KB floppy drives, and a low resolution 4-color monitor. It cost $5,000. Today, $500 gets me a 64-bit processor, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB hard drive and 1920×1080 24-bit video. Think about laser printers. When they first came out, a black and white model cost so much that everybody in a large office shared one. Now, color laser printers are cheap enough for home use. It make take a decade or two but 3D printing will go the same route.

    1. avatar Mr Pierogie says:

      Looks like ‘liquid’ 3D printing is the next step, or leap forward even. I’m certainly no expert, but I think this type of technology will make 3D printing super fast and very inexpensive. Now, if this would only work with metals.

      1. avatar BDub says:

        Its not the next step – it was the first step. 3D printing was born with the SLA process in the 80s. I now have a $3400 SLA printer on my desk.

        The printer you are linking to is the first of a 4th generation of SLA printers. It uses DLP projection system (like 3rd generation SLA printers) and a continous fluid contact curing system (thats the new part). It uses an oxygen layer in the bottom of the tank to inhibit the UV curing of the fluid resin. This entirely eliminated the “peal” step from older generations of the SLA process.

  10. avatar Wayne says:

    When the first “consumer” grade printers came out, I wanted one desperately….I just did not fall into the appropriate economic demographic (they were still way too freaking expensive)

    I recently bought a 3D printer, more capable that the first gen versions, capable of much larger builds & faster, for 1/4 the price. I have spent days printing crap I don’t need or want, primarily to watch it print. It is amazing the level of complexity they are capable of. Like any other piece of technology, the quality goes up and the price comes down; laser sintering has gone from a multi million dollar investment to under 50K and will be a tenth that in a couple of years.

    I agree they will not likely become a fast enough system for mass production; I don’t see that as an impediment because I think the dynamics will change fundamentally. We will be less reliant on mass production when we have the capability to produce a new widget at the press of a button in our home shop. durability is also improving…I would never have believed a sintered product would be capable of the stresses imposed on a .45 firearm, yet one is being made. Even the plastic systems are more durable than I’d have thought. It may well advance in the direction of improved plastics technology where making a silencer out of metal is an option, not mandatory. All you need to look at is all of the polymer weapons available today to see that eventuality.

    I expect within my lifetime (and I’m already old enough to be retired) that tech will advance to a point where a 3D silencer will be easily and inexpensively produced at home with no need to invest millions of dollars.

  11. avatar joelT1 says:

    I’m an engineering student and I just got my hands on a copy of SolidWorks a couple weeks ago. I haven’t had the time to go and learn how to use it yet, but I’m excited by the possibilities. Even more so with this article.

    3D printing may seem like a pipe dream to a lot of you, but its a rapidly advancing field. As the technology gets better, additive manufacturing will become viable, and more companies will switch to it. Costs will come down as a result.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      For a machinist/gunsmith, Solidworks is a huge package.

      For an engineer, it’s an even larger package.

      The only way to learn SW to an engineering level is to buy a bunch of books, preferably ones with CD’s/DVD’s that contain some parts/drawing/assembly files for you to dissect, put your head down, and grind your way through it.

      You will need a pretty hefty PC to do engineering analysis (FEA, CFD and other add-on packages), one with lots of memory. A PC with a Xeon CPU that has at least 16GB is a good place to start.

    2. avatar K-J says:

      There are many excellent tutorials online which will get you up to snuff. Solidworks also has several tutorials which are quite instructive. If your university pays for Solidworks seats, there should be courses (and even SW conferences) that you can take.

      A nice way of learning is to go on the mcmaster carr website and download their cad models. You can then pick dissect them and learn a trick or two.

      Best Regards

    3. avatar Geoff PR says:

      The same types of places that bootleg music have those books Dyspeptic mentioned.

  12. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

    A hybrid design would be a better approach. The strength of a standard CNC mill or lathe is in the simple shapes (cylinders, threads, rectangles). 3D print the baffles and use standard machining for the rest.

  13. avatar FTA says:

    Um, suppressor design is not a “black art” and they are not that complex.

  14. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Awesome.

  15. avatar Don from CT says:

    One other thing about 3d printed cans.

    You can can do designs with additive manufacturing that you can’t do any other way.

    Imagine a ball with a 3 d monolithic honeycomb structure inside. This is impossible to make at any cost using normal methods. But this is the kind of design freedom a silencer designer could have. The magic does not happen when you take a standard design and 3d print it. The magic happens when the designer optimizes the design based on computtational fluid dynamics and can then build it without regard for tubes or welds or anything like that.

  16. avatar JimmyG says:

    I wish I could be here 50 years from now to see what advances these 3-D printers will allow…..the possibilities are endless……

    1. avatar Grindstone says:

      That’s what I really fear about death; missing out on all the cool shit.

    2. avatar Gunr says:

      Dump the booze and racy women, and you might make it!

  17. avatar Locke_n_Load says:

    They form 1 that can?

  18. avatar PeterK says:

    They can 3d print in Titanium with ebm technology. Actually I think I found a company in Australia doing it. Can’t find it now, though.

    EDIT: found it! http://oceania-defence.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=41

    I am studying 3d printing in school right now and it is dang cool stuff. Nice to see someone getting the complexities right. Though it should be noted the powder for these machines is relatively hard to make and therefore scarce and pricy.

    Still. It’s promising. And awesome.

  19. avatar Havar Eriksen says:

    Indeed there are others that make 3D printed suppressors. One of them is TE-Titan Manufacture in Norway. They mass produce suppressors #D printed out of grade 5 titanium, and tests show that so far they don’t wear out fast, and they cost less than 1000 dollars here in Norway. https://www.facebook.com/3d.titan/photos_stream

    http://www.titandemper.no/product.php?id_product=47

  20. avatar SGT P says:

    While design is not the primary function of a silencer I like the way it looks. I’m waiting to see how this holds up when really put to the test.

    Future armories will just consist of 3D printers instead of rifles. Wouldn’t that be nice? No more waiting for hours to turn my rifle in. A man can dream.

  21. avatar ME says:

    From a materials science and engineering perspective, there are a few concerns. Laser sintering produces a fully metal product, but the crystalline structure of the metal is far different that that of a billet metal. As a result, the metal responds differently to stress and strain, and the bonds between individual portions (ultimately, we’re talking atoms here) are not uniform as they would be in a crystalline structure, and creates a lot of random weaknesses in the piece. Not to say that these don’t exist at all in a billet piece, but overall sintering produces a weaker product.

    Someone produced a sintered 1911 about a year ago, but the key fact was that everything but the barrel was produced by sintering. I think this is fairly indicative of what would be required of a supressor as well.

    1. avatar Have Blue says:

      That’s incorrect – the 1911s that Solid Concepts made (I’m pretty sure Solid Concepts is also the same company that made this silencer) had DMLS barrels as well, precisely to prove that the process is able to handle high pressure applications.

      They have more information here: https://blog.solidconcepts.com/evolution-custom-manufacturing/how-its-made-3d-printed-1911-pistol/

  22. avatar pkoning says:

    A few comments:
    Yes, Solidworks is big. There are other 3d CAD programs that are not, including ones like FreeCAD that are open source (free).
    There is now a 3d printer in the upper consumer range that makes carbon-fiber (continuous filament) reinforced thermoplastic parts (check out “Markforged”). It would be interesting to replicate this design using that printer. Given the properties of carbon fiber, it may work just as well as the metal part, for under $10k for the machine.
    It sure would be nice to have the design files posted on the web, as the Liberator II ones were.

  23. If they produce these in adamantium then that is some remarkable technology.

    😉

  24. avatar Jerry says:

    Overall this article is pretty well written, but I really had to struggle with continuing to read after the first sentence: “Silencer design is still something of a black art and extremely complex.” Silencer design is no more of a black art than a 30 second Google search, and a silencer is no more complex than the muffler on a typical family sedan. I’m sorry, but the author’s credibility took a serious blow with that sentence. Obviously he doesn’t understand suppressor design very well or he would never have made such a ridiculous claim.

  25. I delight in, cause I discovered just what I used to be
    taking a look for. You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day.
    Bye

  26. avatar high quality says:

    If they produce these in adamantium then that is some remarkable technology.

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