Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Machines are Breeding

I checked out the Artifactory space in Mt Lawley on Monday night and was really impressed with the enthusiasm of everyone there and the quality of what people are working on. There were a couple of very impressive homebrew CNC machines downstairs and three 3D printers in various stages of completion upstairs including two MakerBots.

MakerBotOne of the really exciting things being built here is a RepRap or Replicating Rapid Prototyper. This is essentially a 3D printer that is capable of producing components that can be assembled to make a replica of itself, a concept that is both liberating for makers and incredibly scary at the same time. This ability to rapidly create new and improved generations of 3D printers using the current generation will ensure rapid improvement in this technology over the next few years.

The 3D printing process is something akin to a hot glue gun being controlled by a robot with 3 axes of movement. A long plastic extrusion (I’m told the plastic is the same stuff as Lego is made from) is fed into a heated extrusion head which squirts a very thin trail of molten plastic in layers to build up a 3D object.

RepRapThe white plastic component pictured here was printed on a 3D printer and is currently mounted on a RepRap that is under construction. The designs for these components are made freely available on the web allowing anyone with the time and inclination to get started on 3D printing.

One of the most interesting stories I heard at Artifactory was that a 3D printer being used to print a referee whistle – with the pea inside! This design was published on the web and within a very short period of time had been reproduced at several locations around the world. Something very significant to come from this event was the fact that the whistle was printed in places quicker than it could have been shipped there. If this concept was developed sufficiently we would have something approaching teleportation possible for printable objects.

I will definitely be heading back to Artifactory soon to catch up on what’s been happening with the RepRap and maybe even get my hands dirty with a bit of 3D printing this time.

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