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.
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).
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.
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.