If personal computing revolutionised the 80’s and the Internet revolutionised the 90’s then I would dare say this decade will (almost) be revolutionised by home fabrication & rapid prototyping. I say almost because, I think it will take 4-6 years before it’s potential is fully realised but I think it holds massive potential.
The number 1 hold back factors are “materials” – ie: the types or range of materials that are available for home fabrication is rather limited at the moment. Home fabrication has it’s foundations in Rapid Prototyping, which is essentially a three-dimensional dot-matrix printer.
So let’s get to it, and see firstly, what’s now available and then look at the future of home fabrication.
Conceived by Prof. Hod Lipson and designed by Evan Malone, the Fab@home project allows people to begin to produce three dimensional objects right on their desk.
The two main drawbacks of the system in it’s current state are resolutions (3dpi) and suitable materials.
The resolution can be related to the digital photography. That is, when you zoom in on a low-resolution image, you see pixelation. The current 3D printers are much the same, in that you see the general shape but there is kind of “pixelation” in the edges of the shape.
For example, you are currently not able to print an object in steel, alloy etc. – though you may be able to print a shape in another substance, that you can then make a mould of, that you could then pour steel into, but you cannot print directly into steel. There is no doubt though, that give 2-10 years and there will be materials that when set will have similar properties to steel, in heat resistance, strength etc.
The idea was originally though out by Adrian Bowyer a Seniour Lecturer at the Univeristy of Bath in this article. The reprap project uses a process called fused deposition modeling.
Reprap is based around:
Linux operating system for PC’s
Java programming language for PC programming
Art of Illusion 3D modeling system
Small Device C Compiler (SDCC) for firmware programming
KiCAD circuit design system
The budgetary estimate for building a Reprap is $300-400
3dreplicators.com is the home of the Tommelisa, a spinoff of the reprap project. It varies a little in that it uses a Windows-based Visual Basic Software rather than Linux and Java, it also uses a different microcontroller that uses a basic compiler rather than the C compiler used in the Reprap.
Additionally, it also has a lower budgetary entry point, estimated to be approx. $125-175.
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