California engineering firm claims first metal gun made on 3-D printer

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A California engineering company has produced the first metal gun made on a 3-D printer, releasing a video showing the firearm scoring repeated bullseyes in successful tests.

But Solid Concepts, which describes itself as a world leader of 3-D printing services, said making the classic 1911 pistol did not come cheap, requiring a lot more than a souped-up desktop printer.

"It functions beautifully," it said of the gun, in a blog accompanying the video clips. "Our resident gun expert has fired 50 successful rounds and hit a few bull's eyes at over 30 yards (meters)." The gun comprises more than 30 3-D-printed components, including stainless steel and other metal parts.

The 3-D printer they use does not come cheap. "This isn't about desktop printers... The industrial printer we used costs more than my college tuition - and I went to a private university," said Solid Concepts' vice-president Kent Firestone. "And the engineers who run our machines are top of the line; they are experts who know what they're doing and understand 3-D printing better than anyone in this business."

The use of 3-D printing technology to manufacture weapons is not new, but making them out of metal is. Earlier this year, computer files allowing someone to make a single-shot Liberator gun were downloaded more than 100,000 times from Defense Distributed, an open-source website dedicated to 3-D printable gun components.

The State Department, which oversees US weapons exports, ordered the blueprints to be taken off the Internet in May - but by that point, users had already reposted them widely on various file-sharing sites.

Solid Concepts said, however, its system is legal, claiming that they are the only 3-D printing service provider with a Federal Firearms License.

"Now, if a qualifying customer needs a unique gun part in five days, we can deliver," the company said.

"We have the right materials, and the right engineers who know how to best program and maintain these machines, to make 3-D printing accurate, powerful and here to stay."