Just this week, news broke that the "world’s first entirely 3D-printed gun" was successfully built and test-fired by an engineer in Texas. The technology involves a special printer that uses melted polymers to generate plastic components for a variety of uses, now including working firearms. Today, in a press release announcing a $200 million program for a "Competition for Three New Manufacturing Innovation Institutes," the White House also touted a $30 million award in a similar competition in August 2012 for the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
President Obama mentioned the new institute in his February State of the Union speech. The purpose of the institute is to help develop the very 3D technology used to produce the newly revealed 3D gun:
In August 2012, the Administration announced the winner of an initial $30 million Federal award to create a pilot institute, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). Headquartered in Youngstown, Ohio, NAMII consists of a consortium of manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges, and non-profit organizations primarily from the Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia ‘Tech Belt’. NAMII was selected from amongst twelve teams from around the country that applied for the award. The members of NAMII will co-invest $40 million against the initial Federal award.
Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, is a new way of making products and components from a digital model, and will have implications in a wide range of industries including defense, aerospace, automotive, and metals manufacturing. Like an office printer that puts 2D digital files on a piece of paper, a 3D printer creates components by depositing thin layers of material one after another using a digital blueprint until the exact component required has been created. The Department of Defense envisions customizing parts on site for operational systems that would otherwise be expensive to make or ship. The Department of Energy anticipates that additive processes would be able to save more than 50% energy use compared to today’s ‘subtractive’ manufacturing processes.
This announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing gun control debate led by the White House and spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden. Some lawmakers, including New York senator Chuck Schumer, have already called for legislation to ban the plastic guns and regulate the technology involved. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., renewed a call to pass his recently introduced “Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act,” which renews the current ban on undetectable weapons that expires this year.