3D printing is a concept that has been around for some time now. Wikipedia defines it as:
3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material.
Recent advances and clever innovations are bringing these printers to the home desktop whilst also harnessing the power of online communities & open source ideologies.
Commercial printing machines are expensive, you can expect to pay upwards of £20,000 for one. Not exactly loose change. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Reprap appears to be breaking down the barriers to entry by producing a very low cost and free to build 3d desktop printer. In their words:
RepRap is a free desktop 3D printer capable of printing plastic objects. Since many parts of RepRap are made from plastic and RepRap can print those parts, RepRap is a self-replicating machine - one that anyone can build given time and materials. It also means that - if you've got a RepRap - you can print lots of useful stuff, and you can print another RepRap for a friend...
Thats quite a statement. A printer that can print itself? At the time of writing, the Reprap can print around 50% of its parts. Their aim in the second iteration of the printer is to improve that ratio further. With some evolution, they may achieve a fully self-replicating printer in the end. So buy one, print n more, some good viral potential there.
Aside from the self-replicating feature which is fairly astounding. The potentially viral and game changing reality of 3d printing is that the 3D printers are in effect, mini product factories. Users can download product designs from an online community who have shared their creations for the benefit of the community. Once downloaded, the 3d printer gets on with its work and presto! you have that online design physically created into plastic by your home printer.
It doesn’t take long after watching the following video to start to understand the potential of being able to print your own products at home, Star Trek fans will remember the ‘replicator’ fondly, could we be looking at the start of a movement that will end up changing how products are distributed? At the moment, the construction material is plastic, but there are plans to enable the printing of circuit boards and other materials allowing for more complex products to be produced.
Here is a video from the Reprap wiki that explains it in full:
RepRap from Adrian Bowyer on Vimeo.
A great quote which summed up the potential was made by Google’s Chris DiBona who said, “Think of RepRap as a China on your desktop”.
One to watch.
Tagged: 3d printer, 3d printing, crowdsourcing, open source, product printer, reprap