02 November 2006

Open Source Fabbers

People whose opinion I respect think that 3D printing machines, which allow you to "print" an object in layers, just as ordinary printers allow you to output images a dot at a time, are going to be big. As in enormous. So clearly it's important that such "fabbers", as they are also known, are available to all and sundry, to use in any way they want. Which also means, by implication, that we must have open source fabbers.

Happily, there's already such a project:

Fab@Home is a website dedicated to making and using fabbers - machines that can make almost anything, right on your desktop. This website provides an open source kit that lets you make your own simple fabber, and use it to print three dimensional objects. You can download and print various items, try out new materials, or upload and share your own projects. Advanced users can modify and improve the fabber itself.

Fabbers (a.k.a 3D Printers or rapid prototyping machines) are a relatively new form of manufacturing that builds 3D objects by carefuly depositing materials drop by drop, layer by layer. Slowly but surely, with the right set of materials and a geometric blueprint, you can fabricate complex objects that would normally take special resources, tools and skills if produced using conventional manufacturing techniques. A fabber can allow you explore new designs, email physical objects to other fabber owners, and most importantly - set your ideas free. Just like MP3s, iPods and the Internet have freed musical talent, we hope that blueprints and fabbers will democratize innovation.

While several commercial systems are available, their price range - tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands of dollars - is typically well beyond what an average home user can afford. Furthermore, commercial systems do not usually allow or encourage experimentation with new materials and processes. But more importantly, most - if not all - commercial system are geared towards making passive parts out of a single material. Our goal is to explore the potential of universal fabrication: Machines that can use multiple materials to fabricate complete, active systems.

Sounds positively, er, fab. (Via Open the Future.)

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