3D printing technology growing in Kentucky - WDRB 41 Louisville News

3D printing technology growing in Kentucky

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Cutting through the air on the grounds of an old bourbon distillery are tiny noises announcing the start of a new world.

And world that's being built up one plastic layer at a time.

"Who knows, who knows what the world, the future is going to hold for these things," said Benjamin Van Den Broeck, the owner of a 3D printing shop.

Van Den Broeck, a former 3D animator, is the owner of the only walk-in 3D print shop in Kentucky. While the technology isn't new, 3D printing is becoming more accessible and affordable.

It's also stirring the gun debate in statehouses and Congress as the digital age welcomed the world's first 3D printed gun last year - the creation of Texas-based Defense Distributed and its founder Cody Wilson.

"You can make anything, like literally anything out of these machines," said Van Den Broeck.

His Lexington workspace is filled with creatures he's created -- models for builders, designers, even chefs or anyone who wants a 3D model. 

They all came off the printers he built from kits he found online. Many of them cost less than $1,000. Even parts of his printers were made from other 3D printers.

"Most of my clients are just folks just trying to prototype new inventions. But the practical application for every day people is huge," he says.

Users and enthusiasts can find almost anything online and download directions to print it.

But there's one thing Van Den Broeck won't print:

"I won't print any weapons or guns or anything that will hurt anyone," he said.

Cody Wilson, who invented the Liberator -- the first plastic gun created from a 3D printer -- didn't respond to repeated emails sent by WDRB News seeking an interview. His invention has sparked debate in the halls of statehouses and Congress.

The ATF even made its own version and found it worked.

"We made a prototype of that as did the FBI and the Secret Service. And we found it functions as a firearm - that's correct," said George Huffman, a spokesman for the ATF's district office in Louisville.

Inside the ATF's evidence room in the Louisville federal building, there are dozens upon dozens of confiscated guns - but none from a 3D printer. Huffman says while his office confiscates illegal weapons it has yet to come across one from a printer.

Huffman said: "The ATF has no knowledge of any shootings involving a 3D gun nor does it have an investigations on 3D guns right now.

"Currently the way the law is written there is not language stating how a gun can or cannot be produced. There's no law to say how it can be produced."

Van Den Broeck says that could create of a slippery slope for people who want to make gun parts. But he still feels the benefit of these machines far outweighs any risk.

"It's revolutionizing the world of manufacturing for sure," said Van Den Broeck.

He's hoping to create a groundswell with his Lexington printing business.

GE's Appliance Park in Louisville began using the technology in 1998 - but only got serious about it five years ago.

Now, a giant warehouse is home to more than a half-dozen 3D printers -- high tech versions that cost between $50,000 to $250,000 dollars a piece.

"Right now we are using them as test prototypes to get us to the final part," said Scott Welham, GE's General Manager of Advanced Development.

The machines use plastic to make "mock ups" of stove top knobs or parts of your refrigerator.

The ability to print off these prototypes has led to cost savings up to 80 percent, Welham says.

"I think it's a game changer. We went through a whole era where we were outsourcing our stuff to Mexico to China, Korea and now if you look -- I'm making this right here."

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