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Ask HN: Thoughts on 3D printed guns?
2 points by thangalin 1817 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 4 comments
In 1822, Charles Babbage wrote about a plan to print mathematical tables using a machine. Yet not until 1979, 157 years later, did Epson's competitively priced printer hit homes, establishing a market for such trinkets. The burgeoning realm of computer printers was launched. Today, mass-produced printers flourish, present in nearly every North American home, owing to a visionary mathematician.

In 1984, Charles Hull invented stereo-lithography: the ability to print tangible 3D objects. By 2002, scientists had engineered a functioning kidney, demonstrating the idea of printable organs. In 2008, the first printer capable of printing most of its own parts was created. The year 2012 saw the first 3D-printed prosthetic implant. Printing 3D objects is a technology poised to bloom.

In 1901, Ransom Olds invented the modern assembly line, ushering an era of mass production. His idea allowed manufacturers to make everything from horseless carriages to automatic weapons on an unprecedented scale, but not with free rein. Factory owners, distributors, and stores must abide by certain regulations, including strict gun controls. In a world of mass-produced, manufactured goods, drafting laws that restrict who can buy or produce guns makes sense.

Hardly will it take 157 years for 3D printers to go from hobbyist tinker-toy to standard home appliance. The technology is advancing faster than a speeding bullet. A decade hence will dawn the age of 3D printers, wounding the mass production industry and killing certain government controls.

Once people can print plastic cups and assorted nicknacks from their couch, the proliferation of untraceable guns could be... explosive.

I'm doubtful of the 3D printing revolution that everyone is expecting or is claiming is occurring.

Guns are an interesting example. Printing a 3D gun is somewhat viable but a 3D printer is not a dispenser where you can just press a button and a perfectly crafted glock pops out for your 5 year old. 1) You have to have strong enough materials for the casing 2) The inner surface of your barrel better be smooth (something even high precision 3d printers are relatively bad at) 3) If 1 or 2 is in any way flawed its going to be your own hand thats blown off - better get it right.

3D printing is going to have to compete with a global distribution system that is already extremely efficient. Take for example coffee cups - great example of something to print but I'd probably never print a coffee cup. Why? Because they are damn cheap and ubiquitous. By the time I get done with downloading the model, purchasing the materials, printing the cup, preparing the surface (shining, painting, whatever) Ive spent more time and money than just hopping over to Walmart and spending a few bucks. Guns within the rings of people who want them in mass who you are mostly likely worried about are in a similar situation - they can get one down the street.

On top of it, 3D printing currently competes pretty much only with the lower tier of manufacturing... stuff made out a single material with usually at most a few parts. Whenever I see what can be done with a 3D printer its honestly not that compelling - toys, utensils, models, etc. I think 3D printing has potential but also think it will be a long time until everyone is printing everything they want.

At TurboSquid.com you can search and download 3D models in 60 seconds. Printing cups is a parallel task, so only a few minutes are lost. You can also print in various colours, so painting is not necessary. You would, of course, have to buy the material spools, but those will come down in price and you can order them online quite quickly.

If you make $30 per hour as a consultant and it takes 15 minutes to get to Walmart, 5 minutes to purchase the item, then those cups have cost ~$20 in your time, plus gas.

You might like this article, showing the strength of mixed materials:


And then there's this video of a printed gun in use:


For a gun to be lethal, it need only successfully fire one bullet.

There was a really interesting article on Forbes about this a couple of months ago. Ultimately, only a receiver for an AR-15 was printed, but it is scary thinking about the possibilities:


I wonder outside of TV, how many crimes are prevented by tracing guns?

At some point we have to trust our fellow man to use good judgement. Every day I drive past cars going the other way at a combined speed > 60mph and the only thing protecting me is a couple of lines painted on the road.

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