How to Build a Rep RapPrinter

 The RepRap printer was widely acknowledged as the first manufacturing machine to replicate itself, because of its ability to print many of its own plastic parts. It has since advanced so that models are now available that will print in any kind of material. These parts are contained in a RepRap kit, enabling anyone who so desires to assemble their own version of the free desktop printer. It is possible to build a RepRap printer that can then print new parts, so that a friend can assemble their own RepRap 3D printer and so on.

 

RepRap project timeline

RepRap is short for ‘replicating rapid prototyper’ and the goal of the project, which began in the University of Bath in the UK in 2005, is to provide open designs so that communities and individuals can create complex products at local level without having to use costly scientific machinery or equipment.

Dr. Adrian Bowyer founded the RepRap project and over a period of three years, 2007–10, four RepRap printers were released: Darwin; Mendel; Prusa Mendel and Huxley. Initial development funding came from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and in 2006 the prototype successfully printed its first part, which had been created originally using a commercial 3D printer. This replicated part was promptly used to replace the original one.

By early 2008, Darwin was capable of making more than half of the total number of the rapid-prototyped parts required to create a new machine. A couple of months later a clamp was printed that could attach an iPod to the dashboard of a Ford Fiesta car. During the rest of that year, the 3D printer RepRap produced an entire ‘child’ and the first part for a ‘grandchild.’ There were more than 100 computers in circulation and the first person outside the developer team achieved replication and produced another set of parts.

During 2009 RepRap began printing circuit boards, which were then integrated into the machine, and the next generation of 3D printer, Mendel, came on stream. Developments in 2010 saw the introduction of Huxley featuring the Mendel hardware in a miniaturised version.

Early 2012 saw real engagement with the RepRap project within the engineering, gadget and tech communities and commercial derivatives began to appear in mainstream media. By the end of the year, smaller, start-up companies began to sell assembled systems, kits and derivatives and new processes were in constant development.

 

CAD and 3D modelling

There is a strong relationship between how RepRap 3D printers have been developed in terms of editing and creating 3D parts and the two categories of applications that may be used to create a design for an object – computer aided design (CAD) programs and 3D modelling. While 3D modelling is generally the preferred medium for artistic purposes and computer animation, as special effects can be applied using a surface mesh, the files are not easy to manipulate when it comes to making changes.

CAD files, on the other hand, can be more easily moved and/or manipulated, so that it is possible to alter designs for a part more rapidly. They also easily translate to computer aided manufacturing (CAM) programs that are capable of converting RepRap designs as created by users into a set of instructions to the hardware that will turn them into the desired physical objects.

 

Prototypes

With free open source information and software available enthusiasts all over the world are developing their own prototypes based on the RepRap model. New versions tend to mimic the extrudable functions of 3D printers and its Additive Manufacturing (AM) technique, known as fused filament fabrication (FFF). The RepRap project positively encourages such developments and variations, genuinely welcoming modifications and improvements, as long as these are shared freely with others.

There are a number of alternative machines based around RepRap designs and electronics including the commercial Makerbot, which has a completely different mechanical structure. Adapted alternatives are known generally as RepStrap designs in the RepRap community (short for ‘bootstrap RepRap’).

 

The impact of self replication technology on manufacturing

Amid the excitement abut the potential of 3D printing to change the world, as we know it should there be a note of caution about the possible negative impact on manufacturing industries? Opinions vary, however, when it comes to sustainable design and manufacturing, 3D printing seem to have a lot to offer that is not detrimental to the conventional manufacturing base. Thus far, for example, it has cut down on time spent on prototyping, waste management and transportation emissions. Getting products to market more rapidly benefits everyone.