Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cloning a reprap in less than 30 minutes

(corrected, 10 minutes was a typo, 30 minutes is correct)
from i.materialise via boingboing

This machine can make all the molds.... that can then be used to make all its own plastic parts.... to make as many copies of itself as it wants. And people thought the industrial revolution was disruptive.

Well, not quite.

This is the Prusa Mendel
It still needs to print out circuit boards, chips, stepper motors, wiring, and metal support rods before it can be truly said to print itself. Plus there would still be cleaning up all the flash and defects that happens when you make molds or models. Not to say that we won't eventually be able to do all of this.

Metal support rods are doable via laser sintering... Simple, compared to some of the other processes involved... But that's an entirely different type of 3d printing. Maybe an extruder head that can print with clays to be fired to the desired hardness of metal? or perhaps a clay mixed with metals that can use the same molds as the i.materialise process?

circuit boards are doable... even relatively easy... a layer of conductive material printed onto a non conductive layer. Essentially a plotter controlled soldering iron. a different extruder head can probably do that.

wiring.... with multiple heads printing conductive and non conductive materials, I can see ways to make wiring, but the end product would be far more brittle than the traditional way of pulling hot copper thought smaller and smaller holes then dipping it in pot of melted insulator. Maybe print  flexible plastic tubes, tightly packed with conductive powder instead? A couple extruder heads could pull that off.

for motors, you need insulated conductive wiring tightly wound in specific patterns. once the wiring problem is solved, this could be done rather quickly, but what about the magnetic core?

Chips... until we can print at the micron level scales used by chip manufacturers (and I'm not saying that's out of bounds) this would be a part that still benefits from  economies of scale. In other words, we will be buying the chips for some time to come.

Cleaning up flash, fixing defects, error corrections. All of these things are part of post production... everything that comes out of these machines still needs some cleaning up before it can be used. As the machines improve, the amount of post production work will drop dramatically. But right now this is a significant barrier. Reprap and makerbot are very much hobby tools at the moment, as much as I love them.

I'd say in computer terms we are in at the comparable time frame of the timex  sinclair, and we haven't found our commodore 64 yet.

All of these problems are solvable, but this is going to be hard... damned fun....but hard.