5 April, 2007
Although I missed part of this session, it turned out to be very interesting. Forrest Higgs presented his work on a self-replicating 3D printer. His goal seems very bold, but actually feasible: build a 3D prototyping machine for less than $500. It should be able to replicate most of its own parts.
Actually, during the talk it turned out that he actually wants such a device to be in the hands of youngsters (his proverbial 12 year old), so that the can make their own stuff.
Most of what he showed dealt with his own endeavour: the Tommelise. It is a spinoff from the RepRap project. Basically, the printer is a hot glue-gun with xyz mechanism to position itself to ‘print’ objects. This is the very short version. Of course it does not print glue, but extrudes different kinds of materials from a continuus filament. The materials could be almost anything, like ceramics, plastics or even metals. So far, it has already printed some plastic parts, but experiments are on the way to also print electronics.
Furthermore, this printer will be able to make other machines as well. This way a whole ‘production’ plant can be printed together. First the plant can be scaled up by printing more 3D printers. Then machines can be printed that can do some specialised things, like printing cogs. If all parts for a certain product can be printed, then a pick and place machine can be print to integrate all parts.
Very cool stuff indeed. In the future it could happen that we do not buy products in a store, but just go shopping for the best filaments to print our own things.
It has been called the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment – and it might just put Santa out of a job too. (Guardian, november 25, 2006)