The 3D-printed gun: not as worrying as it seems, says expert

by Toby Manhire / 15 May, 2013
US 3D-printing expert says the model is rudimentary, and shouldn't stop positive developments of the technology.
The Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer and its gun parts.

The designs for the world’s first 3D-printed gun may have been ordered offline by the State Department (and Kim Dotcom), but not before a thousand headlines around the world gave the technology its first serious wave of bad publicity.

While the “Liberator” plastic zip gun, which can be assembled almost entirely from printed parts (the firing pin being the exception), is genuine cause for concern, the fears are in many cases overstated, according to Ryan Wicker, a 3D printing expert at the University of Texas.

The structural integrity and accuracy of models printed on lower-end machines is limited, he tells the Scientific American (reprinted at Salon), and nothing like as dangerous as the sort of thing that can and has been built in domestic workshops for years.

I would be much more scared of people who have expertise in machine shops that I would be of someone using a 3D printer.

And what of the impact on the burgeoning 3D printing industry?  “I think this type of project was inevitable,” says Wicker.

We would all like these technologies to be used for the benefit of society, and I believe these benefits far outweigh the risks. There are lots of wonderful examples – customised hearing aids, 3D-printed electronics and even shoes as well as [efforts to print artificial human] organs.

The government will ultimately decide whether the technology should be regulated, but I see these technologies completely disrupting the way we make products, and bringing innovative, entrepreneurial manufacturing work back to the US. We’ve travelled too far down the road to turn back at this point. With these technologies, the future is limited only by one’s imagination.


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