X-Message-Number: 26037
From: Kennita Watson <>
Subject: 3D printer to churn out copies of itself 
Date: Sat, 16 Apr 2005 12:06:27 -0700

Apropos of my comment to Basie regarding
monopoly -- if you're spraining your imagination
muscle visualizing where nanotechnology can take
this, I guess you'll just have to wait and see
and be amazed :-) .  (Note, we already have
robotic surgeons -- just wait till they have AI!).

Be still, my beating heart!
(image and more links at article URL)

(Q.v. http://cba.mit.edu/projects/fablab/ ,
the Center for Bits and Atoms FabLab -- a $20K
tabletop factory that can be used to design and
build many different things -- I saw a talk on
it yesterday, and it's really cool!

Live long and prosper,

3D printer to churn out copies of itself
Celeste Biever
13:32 18 March 2005

A self-replicating 3D printer that spawns new,
improved versions of itself is in development at
the University of Bath in the UK.

The "self replicating rapid prototyper" or RepRap
could vastly reduce the cost of 3D printers,
paving the way for a future where broken objects
and spare parts are simply "re-printed" at home.
New and unique objects could also be created.

3D printing - also known as "rapid prototyping" -
transforms a blueprint on a computer into a real
object by building up a succession of layers. The
material is bonded by either fusing it with a
laser or by using alternating layers of glue.
When it first emerged in the mid-1990s, futurists
predicted that there would be a 3D printer in
every home.

But they currently cost $25,000 ( 13,000) and so
have not caught on as a household item, says
Terry Wohlers, an analyst at Wohlers Associates,
a rapid prototyping consulting firm in Fort
Collins, Colorado, US. Instead, they are used by
industry to develop parts for devices such as
aircraft engines, spaceships and hearing aids.

Plummeting prices

Now Adrian Bowyer hopes to change that by making
the first 3D printer capable of fabricating
copies of itself, as well as a wealth of everyday
objects. He reasons that prices would plummet to
around $500 if every machine was capable of
building hundreds more at no cost beyond that of
the raw materials.

Better still, the machines could evolve to be
more efficient and develop new capabilities, says
Bowyer. Once he has the software to guide the
self-replicating process, he plans to make it
freely available online, allowing users to
contribute improvements, just like the
open-source Linux computer operating system, he

Bowyer dreamt up the idea of the RepRap in
February 2004. But now he has he figured out how
to print conducting materials in three dimensions
without using a laser, a key step if the machine
is ever to make copies of itself.

"We are very constrained in our access to
materials," he explains. They must be sturdy
enough to make up the body of the machine and yet
simple enough to be fabricated entirely by the
machine. "We have to avoid any design needing
lasers and high precision measuring systems," he

Tepid metal

3D printers normally build circuits by fusing
together a powdered metal with a laser. But
Bowyer plans instead on using a low-melting point
metal alloy of bismuth, lead, tin and cadmium
that can be squirted from a heated syringe to
form circuits.

Bowyer has already produced an electronic circuit
by squirting the alloy inside a plastic
autonomous robot, which itself was created using
a commercial 3D printer. Because the heated
syringe he used is very similar to the nozzle
that deposits plastic layers in the printer, he
envisions squirting both plastic and metal from
the same nozzle in future self-replicating

The machine need not be capable of assembling
itself, he says, only producing all the necessary
parts, with the exception of the microprocessors
and the lubricating grease. These could later be
added and the various parts clipped together,
Bowyer says. "People are quite capable of
assembling things if they want to," he adds. "I
am not interested in self-assembly, just

Whether such a machine would work has experts
sharply divided. "I think Dr Bowyer's idea is
very plausible," says Matt Moses, a consultant
who has built a small self-replicating robot and
advises NASA on research into self-replicating
machines for space.

But Wohlers disagrees: "[Bowyer] is referring to
something that does not exist and has not been
demonstrated. Will it develop in the future?

He adds that even if all its components could be
replicated by the machine, the concept does not
make economic sense. "Many of the components
could be produced much faster and cheaper by
other machines," he says.

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