Rep-Rapping: create almost anything with a new 3D printer
An overview of the RepRap project.
As a youngster, Dr Adrian Bowyer spent time taking apart televisions and vacuum cleaners, rebuilding them to understand how they worked. Now as an engineer and scientist he leads the RepRap project, creating a ground-breaking machine that could change the face of manufacturing.
What is RepRap?
Rep-rap is a desktop 3D printer capable of printing plastic objects. Instead of printing onto paper, the machine creates three-dimensional models in plastic, designed on a PC.
The revolutionary machine is capable of copying parts, including most of the parts required to build itself. RepRap can work on a range of applications where it makes between 60-100% of its own parts.
While the project began with a simple machine known as the Darwin RepRap, Adrian and his team have since created new models including travel-sized and faster-to-build versions. The cost of building the machine is around £300.
What does the RepRap project aim to achieve?
“Our aim was to create and give away a machine that makes useful stuff,” explains Adrian Bowyer. “It enables its owner to easily and cheaply make another for someone else. This is particularly useful where capital investment is low. It makes manufacture similar to agriculture.”
The project aims to:
- create a self-replicating machine that can survive and prosper in an environment with people
- make all parts of the tool-chain available to all. From the design to the software used to control the device, all aspects will be released under GNU general public license.
Impact of the RepRap project
Five small companies have resulted from the project; two in the US, two in the UK and one in Germany. Another in New Zealand has also joined the project.
This map shows the locations of people who are either building or using a RepRap machine.
What can the RepRap machine create?
While in the future Adrian anticipates the RepRap machine will be able to produce more sophisticated items, the machine can currently produce items such as:
- child’s sandals
- watertight flasks
- parts of a RepRap machine
- fly swats
- door handles
- coat hooks
- shot glasses
The future of RepRap
Dr Bowyer is optimistic about the project’s future. He says, “It’s potentially an extremely powerful and useful technology. Ultimately, it will give anyone the ability to make almost anything for themselves, including reproducing the machine.”
Will we all become RepRappers – jargon for people building or using RepRap machines – eventually? “We are well on the way,” says Adrian Bowyer. “Increasingly, we are making things for ourselves that don’t cost a lot of money.”