Home 3D Printing: The movement Starts
In January, a couple of months back, we looked at the fab@home 3D printer. A creation of Hod Lipson and Evan Malone from Carnegie Mellon University in the US, the fab@home was a cheap to make, easy to assemble, home fabricator, capable of printing almost any material into 3D shapes.
The hope of its creators was that it would kick-start the home manufacturing revolution.
The 3D fabricator / printers work by depositing layer upon layer of liquid or powdered material in bonding slices, starting at the bottom and working up. By building layer upon layer upwards they can create any 3D shape of any complexity, and with next to non-existent material wastage. Almost like a Computer assisted topology scan in reverse, they can create even more complex forms by working with two or more materials in tandem.
A 3D printer could easily construct a ship in a bottle, by building the bottle, layer by seamless layer around the ship as it itself is being printed out.
The power is obvious. In industry, they have already been used to manufacture components like turbine engine casings, made of titanium, with only a 10% material wastage - this is compared to the 70-80% material wastage of traditional manufacturing processes.
Long anticipated, due to their potential ability to completely reform the manufacturing industries, cheap, high-quality home manufacturing, and large-scale 3D printing combined, are expected to, in the near future, drop manufacturing and new prototype development costs through the floor, completely changing the manufacturing paradigm.
Fab@Home - success or Failure?
It's been two full months since the printer's launch. If it is truly to revolutionise home manufacturing, there should be some signs by now.
Fortunately, there are.
The standard version of the Fab@Home Freeform fabricator - or "fabber" - is about the size of a microwave oven. 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.
This has prompted a massive uptake of the technology, even considering the limited timeframe.
A separate company, unrelated to the creators of Fab@Home has sprung up, called Koba Industries. Koba have made a niche for themselves, buying Fab@Home kits in large numbers, and selling them internationally. With prices ranging from $400 (us) to $3,700 (us) for anywhere in the world, the very existence of Koba is testament to the demand for these machines.
There is interest from biological research - the "God's Inkjet" project, which we looked at before, was a large scale research project to look at printing human body parts in 3D. The Fab@Home cannot do anything so complex as print living human tissue, but what it can do, as biologists at Rockefeller University have proven, is print out slime mould cells in large quantities, and in an ever-increasing number of different configurations. This is allowing examination of cell colony structures on an unprecedented scale.
Malone and Lipson hoped, in January, when they first released, that Fab@Home would grow into a community of enthusiasts, sharing 3D designs for objects and modifying their machines, increasing the effectiveness of home fabrication in the process.
It seems they got their desire. In the last two months, a healthy and growing community has indeed sprung up, on Google groups dealing with creating 3D objects both artistic and useful, and with tweaking and in some cases, redesigning the fab@home.
Rockfeller University Laboratory of Living Matter
Fab@Home community forums
VWN Resource List: The Home Fabrication Revolution