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Cheap 3D Fab Could Start an Innovation Renaissance 258

Posted by kdawson
from the ab-fab dept.
blackbearnh writes "An article over on O'Reilly Radar makes the argument that, just as inexpensive or free software development environments have led to a cornucopia of amazing Web and mobile applications, the plummeting cost of 3D fabrication equipment could enable myriad new physical inventions. The article was prompted by a new Kickstarter project, which if funded will attempt to produce a DIY CNC milling system for under $400. Quoting: 'We're already seeing the cool things that people have started doing with 3D fab at the higher-entry-level cost. Many of them are ending up on Kickstarter themselves, such as an iPhone 4 camera mount that was first prototyped using a 3D printer. Now I'm dying to see what we'll get when anyone can create the ideas stuck in their heads.'"
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Cheap 3D Fab Could Start an Innovation Renaissance

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  • by th0mas.sixbit.org (780570) on Friday December 10, 2010 @02:56PM (#34516400)

    This is the cheapest path for a CNC and 3d printer in every home.

    I have done quite a bit of research on it and it's competitors (Zen Toolworks CNC, Mantis CNC, Makerbot, Cupcake CNC) and none lead to a completed kit for this low of a price without serious time investment, trial and error, and knowledge.

  • Re:That, or... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:02PM (#34516486) Journal

    Not until they start trading commercially developed CNC path programs for the parts.

    Anyone can make their own music and movies, it just turns out that you get a much more polished product that doesn't take dozens or hundreds (or more) hours of your own time.

    The question will be come whether sharing or selling the digital reverse-engineered program you feed to your 3D printer is legal. Physical items are generally not copyrightable, and I believe selling copies of patents (which describe HOW to make an item) is also legal. Now, if a CNC path is simply a set of descriptive data describing a physical object, it may also fall outside of a "creative work." That kind of stuff should clog the courts for a while...if this every takes off. How many people are going to drop $400 and several hundred hours of time to make personal replacement parts?

  • Re:One problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ChefInnocent (667809) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:12PM (#34516632)
    You're thinking all wrong man. I own a "vinyl cutter" (Wishblade) that came with some great software. I can do just about anything I want with it. I've made tons of stencils for cakes, woodworking, fabric patterns and other stuff for people. I can scan an image and have it on the cutter in minutes. There's a problem with it. It takes time to learn. It took me about a day to learn and I'm technically adept. My roommate, it would take her a long time to learn. She's been watching me make stuff for a year, and wouldn't know where to begin. She bought a machine which does something similar, but is far more limited. She bought a Cricut. She has made more stuff in the 3 weeks she's had it, than I have all year with mine because it is so easy for her to make stuff. The Cricut is not versatile. It is not cheaper than the Wishblade. It doesn't do half the cool stuff I can do. But she learned it in just a few minutes.

    Wishblade made a very nice product, and they will get to sell me overpriced cutting blades at $20 a pop. Cricut will not only sell their blades at $20 a pop, but you have to buy "fonts" to make it work at $20-$100 a pop. Her friends own about a dozen font cartridges each. Her friends don't need to buy expensive software or even own a PC. They just own a Cricut which holds their hand so they don't have to do any thinking outside the box.

    I'm trying to figure out how to make a 3d fab machine that takes font cartridges I can sell bajillions of. As a person very capable of doing stuff, I love the Wishblade over the Cricut every day of the week. But there is far more profit selling the Cricut. Photoshop is awesome, but when half the population doesn't understand MS Paint, your aren't going to sell to many copies of Photoshop.
  • Re:That, or... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mspohr (589790) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:17PM (#34516694)
    I have an immediate need for two small plastic parts for my car front bumper which spray water on the headlights. They have broken off over the years due to encounters with snowbanks, etc. Dealer wants $110 EACH for them but they look like they cost about $1 to make. I'd love to make my own.
  • Nothing New (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:20PM (#34516760)

    Other than maybe "it's already packaged".

    Search Google for "Home Made CNC" [google.com]. People have been making these out of OSB & plywood for a while.

    Here's a pretty nice one using an off the shelf router [lumberjocks.com].

    Hack a day has an article from 2008 [hackaday.com].

    Another. [freewebs.com]

    They do require some technical knowhow. But that's about it. I think the most basic use parallel ports for IO.

  • Re:That, or... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:32PM (#34516894)

    Assuming he is referring to the injection nozzles, I doubt it you can make a quality part on a reprap. You can probably make ones that work, but they wouldn't be any good IMO.

  • Re:That, or... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:32PM (#34516896) Homepage
    Yeah, and even with this widget you would need to

    1. Find the 3D representation of the little plastic part or
    2. Create the 3D representation of the little plastic part
    4. Find something on the order of the correct plastic - since it was likely a mass molded part in the first place, you would have to find a plastic that had something similar to the mechanical properties of the original but was machinable
    5.Set up your machine
    6. Run the parts through the cycle a few times (or a hundred times depending how good a machinist your are or are not)
    7.Shut the machine down, clean up, install part
    8. Repeat the whole cycle when you figure out you neglected to add the little plastic tab that broke off in the first place thus starting this whole commotion.

    Just buy the damn part or use duct tape... People have had DIY 3 axis machines for years with CNC capability (See weird w's post above). Sherline Tools [sherline.com] sells the canonical setup. Cost you about $1000 but you will spend many more hours and dollars learning how to use it. Even with CNC, there is an art to figuring out how to cut something complex out of a block of material.

    So I don't think bringing the costs down to $400 is going to make much of a difference. It will still take lots of time and effort and the couple of hundred dollars a dremel tool based rig is going to save isn't going to get you anywhere.
  • Re:That, or... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:33PM (#34516928) Journal
    It is eminently possible that really widespread 3d printing(unlike novelty prototype stuff where the copies are worse and more expensive than the real thing) would simply lead to a change in the law to "address the problem". In this case [copyright.gov], for instance, the proposal was advanced to create an entirely new form of "intellectual property" consisting of the shape of boat hulls, because it was trivial for company B to copy company A's design just by buying one, taking an impression, and then producing as many fiberglass copies as they could sell.

    If memory serves, something similar was done for IC masks, and in the EU certain geographic regions now have a novel form of quasi-trademark status, not belonging to a company or person; but to a place(ie. Heinz inc. or licensees are the only ones who can see 'Heinz brand catsup'; but anybody can market sparkling wine as 'champagne' IFF it was produced in Champagne, and under no circumstances otherwise.)

    I would assume that truly practical 3D printing would draw the fire of incumbents, much the same way that VCRs, MP3s, etc. did, as soon as they become economically viable. It will also be interesting to see if there is some "hardware DMCA" blocking the reproduction of parts that incorporate 'anti-reproduction-technology like microdots or GUID RFIDs or the like'...
  • Re:Desktop CNC (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wierd_w (1375923) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:40PM (#34517052)

    Good luck with the latter... Machine time is expensive. :(

    Personally, I'd use this to make specialty cabinets. Simple 3-axis is all you need, and if you keep the spindle speed down, wood does not need coolant.

    For a coolant "enhancement" though, you could add another opcode to the G-program to turn on essentially an aftermarket watergarden fountain pump, and mount the machine over something like a bathtub. That way you could turn on coolant for soft metals like aluminum and copper.

    Mild steel would be OK with the right cutters, but anything in the hard steel category would most certainly be outside the cutting abilities of the proposed spindle for this DIY kit. (Prototype specs a dremel tool.) You would just need to sacrifice speed for utility by turning up the spindle speed and radically reducing the depth of cut.

    Granted, that would RADICALLY shorten tool life-- and cutters aren't cheap.

  • Example (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pgn674 (995941) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:53PM (#34517264) Homepage

    Here is an example of what happens when you have an idea stuck in your head, and you have pencil and paper at hand: YouTube - Doodling in Math Class: Infinity Elephants [youtube.com]

    And here's what happens when you have the same idea and a 3D printer on hand: Vi Hart: Blog: Entry [vihart.com]

    Just drawing stuff and 3D printing stuff because it's nifty. This is one of the places where awesome things come from.

  • Re:That, or... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:57PM (#34517296) Homepage
    The current technology allows anybody with a couple of grand and a fair bit of time build fairly complex stuff. The major impediment is a rather limited set of materials that are 'easy' to work with. Using other materials (like Stainless Steel) takes much more work).

    I don't think you will see devices that can scan a complex object and then 'print it out' without much in the way of user knowledge and intervention. The actual machining aspect is only a small part of this. For your application, there are a bunch of devices that can do the job today. Heck, you can even upload your designs to a number of small run fab shops for very reasonable prices.

    Extruder technology is going to be limited to stuff that you can melt or liquify. I doubt anybody has extrudable aluminum as of yet.
  • Re:That, or... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by caution live frogs (1196367) on Friday December 10, 2010 @04:11PM (#34517480)

    I work in a research hospital. I recently had a conversation with our in-house shop guy, while he was doing a 3D build of a prototype part for me. He said this is a huge friggin' deal for people in the industry. He has had his finger on the pulse of this for quite some time now, and the big companies are very definitely worried about this. Right now, he can make anything he wants, and the only major issue is cost of materials. In the future, especially when metal forming rather than plastic is more easily done, who knows? His take is that the commercial-size 3D printers are quite likely going to come complete with DRM systems that will check specs and refuse to print anything that matches certain database flags. He doesn't like this, but he sees it on the horizon. As it is now, it's cheaper for us to do prototyping and then have a manufacturer mass-produce the part we designed; it won't be too much longer before it's just as cheap and fast to do it in-house. Manufacturers are worried. They won't sit idly by and let it happen without a huge fight.

  • Re:That, or... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Friday December 10, 2010 @05:33PM (#34518370)

    Bingo.

    It's certainly possible to copy other equipment, but unless it is ridiculously overpriced it will not be economical to do so.

    If the item is ridiculously overpriced, then the price needs to come down anyway.

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