While medical and aerospace applications of metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) are increasingly stealing the headlines, a variety of revolutionary applications exist in other industries as well, and the firearms space is no exception. There are strong business and innovation cases to be made for AM methods (such as DMLS) in the production of firearms components, and while advantages in lead time, rapid iteration, small batch production, and design-without-compromise apply to virtually any industry, Form 3DS has identified a particular set of applications and advantages which exist specific to firearms manufacturing.
Design enhancements frequently aim to maintain (or increase) part strength while reducing weight and minimizing price hikes. The conventional solution is to remove material with costly subtractive methods, but additive parts can be produced with lightweighting features incorporated directly into the print. An internal lattice can keep parts rigid while shaving impressive amounts of weight, and complex external features can be created without requiring additional machine time.
Utilizing more exotic materials like titanium enables resilient yet lightweight parts, but at a price premium. A recent surge in the popularity of concealed carry revolvers highlights lightweight firearms as a highly competitive part of the market, where even slight innovation can distinguish a product. Smith & Wesson has been producing titanium cylinders to put in scandium alloy framed guns for several years now, but the prices of models in the S&W Performance Center line reflect the expense that comes with cutting edge design choices. DMLS can produce a complex, pressure bearing part with much less raw material and without the expense incurred by frequent tooling upkeep. It is entirely possible that AM one day enables an all-titanium revolver to succeed where Taurus’ ill fated Total Titanium model failed. Ruger has also reimagined the design of revolvers for concealed carry with their LCR line, comprised mostly of polymer and lightweight alloys wrapped around a steel cylinder and barrel insert. Ruger could potentially push the design to be even lighter by incorporating a printed titanium cylinder. Additive technology is the ideal solution for this kind of lightweighting, and will prove to be advantageous to the OEMs who explore, design for, and adopt these capabilities early on.
- Optics mounting hardware
- Furniture (grips, forends, stocks)
- Custom accessories (magazine baseplates, mag well extensions, and other competition shooting components)
- Flash hiders
…to name a few that Form 3DS has seen.
To speak more to suppressors in particular: with the SHARE act gaining traction and major growth in demand for suppressors taking hold, companies are taking a serious look at how to reinvent a technology that has not historically had major currency in the commercial market. While solid steel baffles may be the traditional solution, manufacturers are beginning to incorporate titanium into suppressors in order to reduce weight. Daniel Defense, Delta P Designs, and others have gone so far as to announce DMLS suppressors, although the view at Form 3DS remains that the full potential of AM is hardly being used in some of these designs, where simply avoiding welds seems to be the major design philosophy.
Make no mistake, the biggest players in the industry have not let AM go unnoticed. As Form 3DS engages more and more manufacturers it is becoming clear that there is a quiet but serious effort being undertaken by some of the biggest names in the industry, particularly for prototyping applications. Finding ways to integrate these capabilities into product development and production alike is a key strategic initiative for firearms manufacturers who want to remain relevant. It is not unreasonable to expect that Metal AM will drastically change the firearms manufacturing space in years to come, from concept design through prototyping and eventually full scale production.
Equipped with both a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and SOT2 tax stamp, Form 3DS is actively engaging in a variety of projects in this space, designing improved parts and exploring innovative techniques for producing firearms components. Few others have the additive expertise and the legal status to drive innovative progress in this space so effectively. Bringing AM’s potential to ideate, create, test, iterate, and produce with such speed to the forefront of the firearms industry is a truly exciting initiative.