Engineering the World’s Smallest Nerf Gun

Mark Rober has done it again. As always, he’s applying the highest levels of engineering, skill and expertise to solve the world’s largest problems. The problem he’s solving this time? Our Nerf guns are just too big! 

In the past, he has created the world’s largest Nerf gun, which was 10 times larger than a standard Nerf model.

With the help of the Brigham Young University engineering department, he has successfully scaled a standard Nerf gun to a 10th the size of a standard unit. 

He achieved this with a clever redesign of the original toy, which eliminated all moving parts and fabricated the Nerf mechanism out of a single piece of material. This single piece of material, also known as “a compliant mechanism” replaces all hinge and spring components with a single piece of material which reduces friction and makes this design possible.

Compliant mechanisms enable all sorts of unique solutions for specialized applications where hinges, springs and other products need to be eliminated.

Compliant mechanisms offer six advantages over standard designs:

  1. Fewer parts: In this case eight parts versus one. 
  2. Lower cost: There’s no labor for assembly. The whole thing can be made in one process, like 3D printing in this case. 
  3. It’s more precise: It always returns back to the exact same spot, and there’s no slop between different parts like the hole in the hinge. 
  4. Lower weight: This is crucial for space applications. 
  5. No friction between parts: That means there is no wear between moving parts and no need for lubrication.
  6. Built-in springs: Every material has built-in springs. It is so the shape we choose cleverly takes advantage of that.

The team settled on the design with a zigzag backbone and flexible ribs which provide propulsion. By using micro 3D printing, which is a high fidelity, small scale, 3D printing method, they are able to print the gun in remarkable detail. They could even print a micro dart to shoot from the gun. This micro Nerf gun was roughly the size of a nickel but could shoot a tiny projectile 3 feet.

Can Mark and the team actually go 10 times smaller than the size of a nickel? Well, their goal was to go 10 times smaller than that: 100 times smaller than a nickel.

Are you ready?

Let’s just say the final design requires a microscope, micro tweezers, and carbon nanotubes. 

You’ll have to watch the video to see the full story.

Thanks again to Mark Rober, who showed us that engineering solutions to seemingly silly problems can have massive implications for future engineering and design challenges.

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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.