Selective laser melting – no, we’re not thinking about burning the nose off of your face or blasting a target with a magnificently brilliant beam of photons.  Selective laser melting is a very hot (pun intended) development in 3-D printing.  The technology is mature enough that NASA is using it to fabricate components for its newest rocket engine (NASA 3D Prints Rocket Parts) and the price is falling fast enough that soon most anyone with a serious interest or intent can have an SLM 3-D printer.

NASA bit

Selective laser melting is an extension of sintering – forming components by pressing and/or heating a metalic powder.  There are laser sintering processes, then electron beam melting (which must be done in a vacuum) and then laser melting (which is done in an inert gas environment to avoid oxidation).  It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this technology can be used to quickly fabricate some very sophisticated weapons.  In fact, you can make parts using SLM that you can’t easily cast or machine at all.  Who knows what new weapons may emerge or what evolution we will see of current designs.

With Makerbots proliferating we can find instructions on making simple weapons at home (Making Guns In Your Garage).  Most of these have been plastic.  They are generally single use weapons.  Some have no moving parts and include electrical firing systems.  Sounds a bit like MetalStorm doesn’t it.  Life will become very interesting if “the bad guys” start printing hard to detect, plastic, single use, many projectile, rapid fire systems.  Mix in a printed circuit board link it to sensors or the web and we have a serious game changer.