Thursday, February 28, 2008

Broadening the definition of "fabber"

I want to broaden the scope of this blog a bit. The word "fabber" is generally accepted as synonymous with "3D printer" but a 3D printer has a lot in common with both CNC machines (routers for wood or milling machines for metal) and laser cutters. There are hobbyists building all of these. All of them make a 2D or 3D shape under computer control with relatively little human intervention, and minimal need for human skill.

How many of these gadgets could be self-replicative in the RepRap sense? For example, could one use a laser cutter (or a laser-cutting service like Ponoko) to cut out pieces and use those pieces to build another laser cutter, thereby driving down the cost of laser cutters? As with RepRap there will inevitably be complicated pieces that can't be made that way. CO2 lasers are dangerous and expensive, so I don't think this could make the kind of impact in the developing world that RepRap hopes to make. A replicating CNC machine might be a better bet, as Dremel tools are much cheaper and safer than lasers.

That self-replicative idea does fascinate me a good deal. It will, over time, drive down the price of the self-replicating thing. That doesn't mean we'll enter a microeconomic paradise, but it promises at least to be interesting and possibly to raise the quality of life noticeably.

I've haven't blogged too much about commercial machines. I want to do more of that. I admire the hobbyists and their perseverance in the face of difficulties, but the technology appearing in commercial machines will gradually trickle down into the hobbyist arena as patents expire.

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