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I attended a fascinating talk at Oxford’s eResearch Centre yesterday on a device called RepRap, a replicating rapid prototyper (or 3D printer).

Dr Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath explained why he thinks this machine, which he and his team have developed and shared under a GPL licence, is significant. It is affordable — about £300 for the parts plus a computer to drive it and some expertise to wire it together — which contrasts with much more expensive commercial 3D printers. It can even print most of it’s own parts, allowing it to contribute to copying (replicating) itself and also encouraging refinements to be designed and tested (rapidly prototyped), leading to improvements in areas such as as speed, accuracy and simplicity.

Printing is done with a range of plastics; it may not be long before it can even act as a plastics recycler, accepting something like a feed of shredded plastic milk cartons. To be honest, I think it might be a little beyond my engineering skills at the moment but I would love one of these or to know somebody locally to whom I could take designs to print into reality!

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