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Guns, Toilets, and Dragons: This Month in 3D Printing

Let us begin this month’s tour of the world of 3D printing with some very serious news, which could send dire ramifications rippling through the future.

PC Magazine reports reports on a settlement reached between the Trump Administration’s US Department of Justice and ‘gun rights activist’ Cody Wilson, of Defense Distributed fame.

Of course, Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed are hard to forget.  In 2013, “Wilson began uploading 3D printable CAD files to create a working plastic gun, called the “Liberator.”  This drew the attention of federal authorities; the US State Department demanded Wilson pull down the files, claiming he was violating an export rule on distributing secret military hardware.  In response, Wilson eventually took the US government to court; he’s been arguing that the First Amendment protects his constitutional right to share the 3D files as free speech.”

And now, due to the settlement, Wilson has gotten his wish.  Wilson is ecstatic: “I consider it a truly grand thing.  It will be an irrevocable part of political life that guns are downloadable and we helped to do that.”  Wilson plans to relaunch his website, Defcad, where he will resume uploading blueprints for firearms.

Apparently, the Trump Administration’s Justice Department approached Wilson with the settlement.  Under the terms of their new agreement, “the US government has agreed to change its export rules on military firearms, allowing Wilson [and others like him] to publish 3D firearm files without fear of legal penalty.”

The Second Amendment Foundation, who supported Wilson’s initial lawsuit, added: “significantly, the government expressly acknowledges non-automatic firearms up to .50-caliber – including modern semi-auto sporting rifles such as the popular AR-15 and similar firearms – are not inherently military.”

It is important to note the AR-15, a weapon often used by the military in combat situations, has specifically been used by mass shooters on multiple occasions.  This settlement has just made it easier for untraceable firearms to be 3D printed, by anyone.

Indeed, Wilson’s non-profit, Defense Distributed, “is seeking to become a digital warehouse for open source gun designs…[It is currently] offering a 3D printer for $1,675, capable of fabricating a metallic lower receiver to [that very same] AR-15 rifle.”

An Update to this story: A few days before Defense Distributed was to legally upload these gun CAD files, they illegally uploaded them early.  One thousand people downloaded the AR-15 CAD files parts specifically before the files were once more taken down.

Now, a judge has temporarily stalled the uploading of these files.  House Democrats have put forward a bill blocking their upload as well.  Even President Trump is tweeting about this issue, saying: “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

This story is still developing…

In more lighthearted news, 3D printing will now be used to save the U.S. Air Force’s toilet budget.  Yes, you read that right!

3D Printing Industry writes of a bizarre scandal which recently cropped up concerning the budget for Air Force toilet seats.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, in a recent letter, “demanded justification for the U.S. Department of Defense’s DoD expenditure on $10,000 military aircraft toilet seat covers.”  As Grassley put it: “the Air Force has been paying such an outrageous price for toilet seat lids over a long period of time without notice or question makes me wonder whether the DOD Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is asleep at the switch.”

Thankfully, Air Force officials have now “announced it will now pay $300 to produce the part thanks to 3D printing.”  Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Dr. Will Roper explains the years-long debacle: “you’ll think, there’s no way it costs that.  It doesn’t, but you’re asking a company to produce it and they’re producing something else.  And for them to produce this part for us, they have to quit what they’re making now.  They’re losing revenue and profit.”

“The manufacturer of the C-5 cargo aircraft toilet seat covers stopped production in 2001, resulting in an increased overall cost for the parts.”  Now, however, Roper will be utilizing the Air Force’s 3D printing resources such as The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

Miraculously, the cost for these nefarious toilet seat lids will go down and the Air Force will once again be flush with cash.

3D printing wasn’t only affecting the United States this month, though.  Venture Beat reports on some exciting recent news concerning how 3D printing is bringing the past to life once more.

Around 250 years ago in the United Kingdom, during the reign of King George III, the Great Pagoda at Kew (a royal palace) was built, and it featured painted wooden dragons “[adorning] the octagonal corners of the pagoda.”  Sadly, during the 1780s, these dragons were removed in order to accommodate roof repairs.  “But they were never replaced, and rumors floated that the dragons served as payment for royal gambling debts.  Experts now believe the wood simply rotted over time.”

This is where 3D printing comes in.  As part of the final restoration for this palace (which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, has just recently been reopened to the public), “3D printer maker 3D Systems has installed 72 large-scale 3D printed dragons” to replace their wooden counterparts.

In order to complete the project, 3D Systems used “Geomagic software, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), 3D printing, and high quality finishing.”  These new 3D printed dragons were created using “durable polyamide 12 nylon material capable of producing a look and feel comparable to the original dragons…The project involved scanning a wood-carved dragon with the Faro Design ScanArm into 3D Systems’ Geomagic Design X reverse engineering software. The CAD-designed dragons are hollow and are 60 percent lighter than wood alternatives.”

Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) commissioned these pieces, and their project director Craig Hatto explains their decision to go with 3D printing and 3D systems.  HRP knew the sculptures had to withstand the “inclement English weather.  We turned to 3D Systems to provide the rapid throughput, accurate details, and excellent finishing needed for this project.  The engineering skill of 3D Systems’ team, the opportunity to light-weight the dragon statues, and the material longevity of SLS 3D printing were key considerations for this project.”

The final step of this project involved 3D Systems’ “skilled artisans who hand-painted each” individual dragon.

And, yet another strange story in the world of 3D printing:

Digital Trends has picked up on a fascinating new device created by a 21-year-old.  Archie O’Brien originally developed his 3D printed underwater jetpack for a Product Design class at Loughborough University in the UK.

The idea for such an ingenious device came to O’Brien “when he saw a promotional video for the SEABOB, a handheld aqua scooter that is half jet-ski and half…foam float.”  Unfortunately, this aqua scooter costs $17,000 – which is hardly in a student’s budget.  So, O’Brien turned to 3D printing.  He may not be able to afford a SEABOB, but he could make one on his own!

First, O’Brien got to researching.  Then he got in touch with 3D Hubs, which is a “manufacturing platform providing affordable and fast 3D printing, CNC machining and injection-molding services.  He studied the design of high-end cars made by Lamborghini, McLaren, and Aston Martin.”  Obviously, his interest in aesthetics has really paid off.

Speaking of his 3D printed underwater jetpack, O’Brien says: “I want this to be something so cool that you’re wearing it when you’re not even using it.  [I want you to] feel like James Bond.”  Evidently, O’Brien wants to start dressing like James Bond as well, because he wants to sell his ‘CUDA’ jetpack soon: “By this time next year, I’m planning on having the production model…I plan to get sponsored by GoPro and Red Bull.  The idea is to be able to produce this one, get enough funding to reinvest it into the company, and try and make a much cheaper model. That’s almost working it like Tesla did, with something that really grabs people’s attention, and then bringing that price down to something people can afford more.”

Hopefully, the almost exclusively 3D printed CUDA jetpack will reach its targeted Q2 2019 date for first production models.

Image Courtesy of PC Magazine

Quotes Courtesy of PC Magazine, 3D Printing Industry, 3D Systems, Venture Beat, and Digital Trends

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