Just back from a very interesting seminar at the University of Oxford entitled: “Copying the Means of Production to the Proletariat” – yes, that meant little to me too – basically it’s about RepRap – the Replicating Rapid-prototyper (more commonly known as a 3D printer!)
The talk was by Dr Adrian Bowyer from Bath University, who’s been instrumental in building this type of 3D printer. His specific work has been in creating a 3D printer that can effectively print another copy of itself – so one printer can build the next printer. It’s not designed to be 100% printable however as that would mean much of it would have to be glued together rather than bolted as in the photo, which would effectively rule out experiments, improvements and tweaks of the printer. The current design, the “RepRap II: Mendel”, has about 50% printed parts. (I’m not sure I agree with this though, I think many people would be very happy to have a fully, 100% printable (well 99%), 3D printer, they’d be so handy to have. You could print spare parts once it’s running, and if a better one comes along, print the new one and recycle the old one back through)
He also discussed many of the pitfalls that are present with patents, trademarks, and copyrights of printing 3D objects. Thankfully, at least in Britain and Europe, the laws are quite lax on individuals printing 3D parts of just about anything, as long as they are for you own use.
Dr Bowyer also bought in several examples of what is possible, from door handles to cartoon characters to children’s shoes(!). I really useful website for printer owners, and interesting one to browse by everyone else is Thingiverse. It has a huge collection of down-loadable 3D blueprints which you can run on your 3D printer, some of my favourites include:
- Gothic Cathedral play set : http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2030
- A Microlathe : http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1570
- Han Solo in Carbinate (!) : http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1274
- A Toothpaste squezzer : http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1009
- A Space rocket model : http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:202
- 100’s of others like handcuffs, puzzles, braille, joysticks, earrings, curtain hocks, iPod docks… loads more!
All the work from design to control software is released under the open source GPL licence which means anyone can get hold of the instructions and build it. Plus, to encourage the propagation of the printer many group or individual 3d Printer owners are giving away for free the parts of the printer that can be printed – you just have to agree to print out more parts when yours is up and running and pass them on too.
The builds are very usable, fairly light weight and strong, and can look great, though they do feel a little rough to the touch, fortunately, given the open source nature, the printer is constantly evolving and improving become, faster, smoother and simpler. You can get hold of most of the parts for around £300 or send of for a kit with everything there, plus detailed instructions, for around twice that.
I can’t wait for one!