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Christian's Feature

Page history last edited by Christian Bergmeister 10 years, 8 months ago

A simple plastic button lies on a table in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It wasn’t bought at a sewing shop or the button factory. It was made using a machine that prints three-dimensional objects. It’s called a RepRap.


Also known as a replicating rapid-prototyper, a RepRap is capable of taking user-created designs and making objects. It’s basically a 3D printer that is controlled by a computer and builds objects by applying layer after layer of plastic until they are complete.


Nick McCoy owns the RepRap in Ann Arbor. It’s a Darwin model, named after the famous biologist, and cost McCoy about five hundred dollars to build over two years. For McCoy, it’s been worth the wait.


“The rewards are certainly there. To see this thing print out a part… that’s a really good feeling,” said McCoy.


According to Adrian Bowyer, the creator of Reprap, being able to customize designs and print them out yourself is one of the major appeals of RepRap. Bowyer is a Mechanical Engineering professor at the University of Bath in England and started the project in 2004.


The inspiration for the RepRap came from the symbiotic relationship between flowers and insects. In that relationship, flowers give insects nectar and the insects help the flowers pollinate. Bowyer wondered if a similar relationship could exist between a human being and a machine.


“Why don’t we make a machine that copies itself and that is also capable of providing the people that do the copying with consumer goods?” asked Bowyer.


A wide variety of objects that can be printed on the RepRap, from a chess set to an engagement ring. The machine is well on its way to achieving its objective of complete self-replication. Right now, it can print about 50 per cent of its own parts.


Once a person builds a RepRap, they are encouraged to make one for a friend, said Bowyer. That idea is reinforced by RepRap owners like McCoy.


“I hope to build as many of these systems, working for as many people in Michigan as I can. Then I hope those people will help other people build it, so the RepRap project itself can spread a lot faster,” said McCoy.


Open-sourcing is also helping further the development of the RepRap project. Bowyer explained that he wanted a powerful technology like the RepRap to be available to everyone, so he made it free. A list of materials needed for a RepRap and the instructions on how to put it together are all available on the reprap.org website.


RepRap 2.0 or Mendel, is the newest RepRap model and will be released soon. It will be smaller than the Darwin and able to print larger objects in different materials. While Bowyer said he didn’t know what the future would hold for the RepRap, he was curious about its potential.


“It will be interesting to see what changes happen industrially when a large percentage of the population are capable of making things for themselves that they used to buy,” said Bowyer


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