A License to Print: How Real is the Risk Posed by 3D Printed Guns? – The Science Explorer

Recent raids in Australia suggest criminals are potentially adopting 3D printing equipment at an industrial scale.
Thomas Birtchnell, University of Wollongong
3D printed guns are back in the news after Queensland Police reported last week which they had discovered a 3D printing device in a raid on what appeared to be a “large-scale” weapons production facility as a part of Operation Oscar Quantum.
According to police, the raid uncovered homemade weapons and ammunition in a workshop making facility “containing equipment utilized in the production of fully automatic machine guns, which include a 3D printing device, lathes, drill presses and other tools”.
The Gold Coast Bulletin reported which Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker, of the Drug and Serious Crime Group, said the “Uzi”-style guns, idea to be made with the assist of a 3D printing device, were “fairly close” to factory high end.

One of the weapons seized in the Operation Oscar Quantum raids. Queensland police
One of the home made weapons was captioned in one media report as being a “3D-printed submachine gun”. This may pretty raise alarm and hint at a new era of disorganised and decentralised weapons production, and a burgeoning “reshoring” of weapon making as an alternative to importation of overseas.
But the fact is which 3D printing advancement is not yet at the stage where it can readily create weapons. On the other hand it can be utilized to assist rogue gunsmiths work their shady trade.
Impracticalities
The fact is which in the present day’s home or consumer grade 3D printing equipment are not able-bodied to create durable-bodied metal objects, such as may be needd to print a gun. The standard nozzles utilized in the system of futilized deposition modelling (FDM) just do not get hot adequate to melt pure metals.
There are pretty efforts to bring metal FDM 3D printing equipment to market. One of the next contenders for weight adoption is a prototype open source FDM metal 3D printing device, much like a home welder. At the moment this does not quite compare to the resolution of plastic printing equipment, although the concept is claimed to be at very least proven.
But, there is constant advancement with 3D printing device materials. There are may already efforts to make metal-infutilized filaments in bronze and copper. These are pretty a promising development for budding home jewellery createers and makers, but not gunsmiths, as firearms need stronger and purer metal feedstocks.
One of the key hurdles for gunsmiths is the incredibly high temperatures needed to melt or sinter metals. For example, iron sinters at between 1,100℃ and 1,300℃, whereas a general FDM 3D printing device can reach 195-220℃.
One other hurdle is the cost of “powderised” metals discovered in direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or selective laser sintering (SLS) printing equipment.
Powdered metals in addition need safe facilities to use them: finely divided metal powders, such as titanium and aluminium, can spontaneously combust cavia fires.
It is possible to see limited runs of significant metal parts for automobiles and other specialist objects made on 3D printing equipment in many research and industry facilities.
Indeed, for tiny and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) around the world, “additive making” via 3D printing equipment is a game changer for donate chains. Many SMEs are investing in their own high end metal 3D printing equipment or utilising facilities in universities and incubators.
But one catch is the cost. For example, the EOS EOSINT M 100 is a relatively “entry level” DMLS 3D printing device and costs between US$100,000 and US$250,000. Such machines are unmost likely to turn up in the Christmas stockings of criminal gangs.

The EOS EOSINT M 100 can print via metal, but it’s not bargain-priced. EOS
Prototypes
What makes me sceptical which the guns recovered of Operation Oscar Quantum were 3D printed in their entirety is not just the prohibitive cost of 3D printing in metals, but the presence of typical gunsmith production machines at the facility.
But a 3D printing device may have pretty been utilized to make many non- or near- significant parts, such as grips or the outer framework.
A 3D printing device may have in addition been utilized for “rapid prototyping” for mock-ups to test the final create in plastic. This is where a 3D printing device can rapidly create a prototype part for testing preceding the final part is made via additional conventional means. This is one of the many common uses of 3D printing equipment in industry in the present day.
It should be stated which this is not the initially time which police have flagged 3D printing as playing a role in weapons production.
On December 10, 2015, Queensland Police reported which Taskforce Maxima discovered methamphetamine and steroids, drug paraphernalia and “a loaded handgun allegedly made by a 3D printing device” in a raid on a meth lab.
The handgun of Taskforce Maxima pretty seems to be made on a 3D printing device, showcasing the characteristic surface ribbing you see of 3D printed items. It in addition seems to conform to the create parameters of a 3D printed gun, the “Liberator”, made by American organisation, Defense Distributed.

The ‘Liberator’ recovered by Queensland police in December 2015. Queensland Police
But, the significant part – the barrel – seems to be a conventional non-printed piece, many most likely metal. Whether it may have in fact worked safely or just been utilized for intimidation is another question entirely.
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione’s team was in addition reported to have bought a 3D printing device for A$1,700 and made a polymer Liberator handgun of a create file downloaded of the internet.
Backyard gunsmiths
We shouldn’t quite be surprised which 3D printing equipment are now an integral part of illicit gunsmiths’ repertoires. 3D printing is a near essential element of any pre-production suite, particularly for rapid prototyping. Metal 3D printing can no doubt be a part of the suite too, if it is not may already.
Gunsmithing in addition has a long heritage in Australia as the photo at a lower place shows. Indeed, Lithgow Arms’ history dates back to 1912.

The flintlock maker, Lithgow, NSW. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Jeff Carter exhibition
3D printing in addition offers immense advantages and maybe actually a new industrial next. Other local industries may benefit of 3D printing boutique, custom and novelty objects. This may buck the trend of offshoring which has ailed Australian making over the 21st century.
And we should remember which it’s not just 3D printing which enable-bodieds folks to create illicit firearms. With the right tools, a skilled gunsmith can make a weapon in their back shed. But, 3D printing can make which system simpler and additional accessible to less skilled people.
The Conversation
Thomas Birtchnell, Senior lecturer, University of Wollongong
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The Conversation


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