Rapid Prototyping 3D Printers: RepRap and Co

What a coincidence. A few days ago I was musing how awesome it would be if 3D printers would be as readily available as normal printers and everyone could start printing own stuff.

Then I read some totally unrelated blog post which had a cross-reference to some build-it-yourself site which in turn had a cross-reference to a print-it-yourself blog which mentioned the RepRap project.

RepRap is intended to be a Replicating Rapid Prototyping System. The goal of this project is to have a 3D printer that is able to replicate itself by producing its own parts and have humans assemble it. This currently doesn’t fully work, but the new RepRap Version Mendel (successor of the first version called Darwin) is able to print approximately 60% of its parts.

A printer that can replicate itself may be cool. But RepRap is cooler than that because it also allows you make things apart from itself. You can create a 3D model in your favorite modeling tool (if any) and have it print it. You can even download stuff from websites like Thingiverse and print it. Just download a coat hook and print it. Isn’t this awesome?

As far as I know, there are three main ways to get the parts for building a RepRap:

  1. The way that is the spirit of the project: Get someone to print all the printable parts for you, buy the rest and build it
  2. Since getting someone to print the parts for you currently is the hardest part (how many of your friends own a RepRap?), the second most reprappy way is to build a RepSTrap machine. It is a RepRap bootstrapper, a simplified 3D printer to help you print the parts for a real RepRap. Then continue as described in option 1
  3. Since option 2 is probably only for people who get bored easily (kidding), buying a RepRap kit is another option.

The whole “where the hell do I get the parts from” question is detailed here, along with a lot of answers.

There is a variant of option 3 which is worth being mentioned because it is an outstanding project itself. It’s called Makerbot. It is probably the easiest to assemble and is also constantly improved. They also started an interesting test for crowdsourced production. Makerbot has a smaller printing area (10 cm x 10 cm) than Mendel (20 cm x 20 cm) but I believe that Makerbot could be used to print Mendel’s parts. Someone also mentioned that printing large things gets difficult quickly, so Makerbot sounds like a really good time-money-flexibility trade-off to get into this 3d printing business.

Still, I hope that there will be kits for Mendel just like they exist for Darwin today. The whole idea seems to be really exciting. Anyone else feeling alike?

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