Monday, February 05, 2007

Create your own objects

New Scientist reports: [edited]

Rapid prototyping machines are already used by designers, engineers and scientists to create one-off mechanical parts and models. These create objects by depositing layer upon layer of liquid or powdered material.

These machines typically cost from $20,000 to $1.5 million, says Hod Lipson from Cornell University, US, who launched the Fab@Home project with PhD student Evan Malone in October 2006.

The standard version of their Freeform fabricator – or "fabber" – is about the size of a microwave oven and can be assembled for around $2400 (£1200). It can generate 3D objects from plastic and various other materials. Full documentation on how to build and operate the machine, along with all the software required, are available on the Fab@Home website, and all designs, documents and software have been released for free.

"We are trying to get this technology into as many hands as possible," Malone told New Scientist. "The kit is designed to be as simple as possible." Once the parts have been bought, a normal soldering iron and a few screwdrivers are enough to put it together. "It's probably the cheapest machine of this kind out there," he adds.

Unlike commercial equipment, the Fab@Home machine is also designed to be used with more than one material. So far it has been tested with silicone, plaster, play-doh and even chocolate and icing. Different materials can also be used to make a single object – the control software prompts the user when to load new material into the machine.

Adrian Bowyer, who is also working on rapid prototyping machines at Bath University, in the UK, agrees that the technology could have mass appeal once the equipment is cheap enough. One of his own machines can even make some of its own parts.

"Fab@Home is an interesting idea; it should be easy for anyone in the world to build," Bowyer says. "Once you've used one you never want to go back, it's liberating and enormously fun." Bowyer believes the technology could one day even replace traditional models of manufacturing.

Bowyer adds that the Fab@Home machine could probably already be used to make many cheap injection-moulded products already on the market: "I can imagine people swapping plans of things to make online, or paying to download them instead of going to the shop."


Aaron Butler said...

I really want one. Really, really want one.

brett jordan said...

you, and every male in the world :-)


plaasjaapie said...

Fab@Home is really only a DIY 3D printer. If you find fab@home impressive but would actually like a replicator of sorts you might also want to take at look at the RepRap project out of the University of Bath in the UK...

Their soon-to-be released machine is also open source, has a proper plastics extruder presently qualified for polycapralactone which can make usuable, hard objects. Whereas the fab@home machine costs $2,400 for parts, the RepRap Darwin is on track to cost no more than $400.

A spinoff of the RepRap project, Tommelise, is focussed on the American parts environment and uses somewhat different technology and a different control strategy. It's also an open source specification will let anybody with a few hand tools and primitive woodworking skills bootstrap themselves into 3D fabrication for about $150. Tommelise's extruder is qualified for polycapralactone and is presently being qualified as well for both high density polypropylene (HDPE, the stuff your plastic cutting board is made of) and polypropylene (HPP, the stuff your coffee maker and plastic electric kettle is made of). You can keep an eye on the Tommelise project at...

Both of these machines are designed to be able to reproduce most of their own parts as well as make any number of other useful things for you.

Have fun!

brett jordan said...

thanks plaasjaapie

will check the site out


Big Bad Pete said...

If you do not want to invest money in something you might not use all that often, try using to make the bits for you.
On the ball as ever
Big Bad Pete

brett jordan said...

hi bbp,

thanks for the comment, however, the url you've provided is a dead one, and google just brings up a second-rate pc maker... any other links for me?