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The 3-D printer that can print a 3-D printer.

Adrian Bowyer

This is Dr. Adrian Bowyer, who alongside his team of engineers at the University of Bath in England, is working on a project called the RepRap; an open source 3-D printer – a self-replicating machine that will one day be able to print out all of its own parts.

It has been hailed as “the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment.” Well, maybe. I interviewed Bowyer for the book, and his thoughts on the future of capitalism and society after 3-D printers become widespread are profound. He wonders if the RepRap has the potential to “make a dent in the entire concept of money.”

Perhaps even scarier than the concept of this machine is the recent announcement from RepRap that they will achieve self-replication sometime this year.

43 Responses to “The 3-D printer that can print a 3-D printer.”

  1. MythProgrammer Says:

    Brilliant stuff. Must make my own and contribute.

  2. Patrick Says:

    It would be nice if he fired that thing up and showed us, instead of talking pompously for five minutes about symbiosis. As a result I can only conclude that this machine probably takes about a day to make one of those pieces of plastic.
    Until I see otherwise, I will pass this off as a fad.
    People on instructables.com are making better 3-d printers for less than this guy is.
    pwned!

  3. ilovebonnie.net Says:

    I agree with Patrick. It’s an 18 minute slide-show presentation about how cool a self-replicating technology is. Yet, by his own admission, the device is not even self-replicating. I would have preferred to see the device actually perform rather than just talk about the implications if such a device existed.

  4. nathan Says:

    Patrick-
    Self-replication, not just 3D printing, is the point. I imagine the talented folks at instructables haven’t achieved that yet.

    so… pwn.

  5. JD Says:

    MythProgrammer – if you really do contribute to MythTV – THANK YOU! I love mine.

    oh, and 3d printers…. super sweet.

  6. Paul Says:

    Does anyone else find the idea of a robot being able to build copies of itself frightening?

  7. SH Says:

    @Patrick and ilovebonnie:
    I think that this presentation was some fine example on how to make presentations, of course one can always improve…if you want videos go there:
    http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/RepRapVids
    Don’t watch a presentation when you want a demonstration.

  8. PAtrick Says:

    “nathan Says:
    January 7th, 2008 at 1:16 am

    Patrick-
    Self-replication, not just 3D printing, is the point. I imagine the talented folks at instructables haven’t achieved that yet.”

    Actually Nathan, you missed the point, which is that this guy, and his team, are nothing special because there are already TONS pf people that have functioning xyz printer projects online (less constly than this.
    Self Replication is irrelevant if it takes 30 days to “print” the parts. In other words, if you are in such a remote corner of the world that it takes longer than thirty days, to ship that Ikea looking piece of crap, or a better product then what is the point. If you are in such a remote location, does it make sense to conserve energy and effort, since you would have to be so far off of a grid in order for this scenario to make any sense. We won’t know that since he was to busy guiding us through his lame shamanic rant about nature, this guy is not changing the world.

    Not to mention zero talk about software applications.

    In a valid comparison to what is already functional this guy is behind. But like I said take him seriously he is British sounding. Nevertheless good thing he pontificated in a “TED” like power point for about five minutes as opposed to turning the thing on. Typical British sensationalism, put a mop top on it and call it Ringo.
    A glue gun attached to a computer.
    Ah Harry Potter science!

    NATHAN PWNED! & A BIATCH_SLAP

  9. Enlightenment Says:

    >>>It would be nice if he fired that thing up and showed us, instead of talking pompously for five minutes about symbiosis.

    Just like a marketing person…put up or shut the f*ck up. Heck there are already 3D printers…so this is old news already.

    >>>Self Replication is irrelevant if it takes 30 days to “print” the parts. In other words, if you are in such a remote corner of the world that it takes longer than thirty days, to ship that Ikea looking piece of crap, or a better product then what is the point. If you are in such a remote location, does it make sense to conserve energy and effort, since you would have to be so far off of a grid in order for this scenario to make any sense.

    ok, how about living on the Moon or Mars? Huh?

  10. Frank Says:

    PAtrick Says:
    January 7th, 2008 at 6:41 am
    “I’m horribly racist, have little to no sense of perspective, and also don’t see the value of explanation and forward thinking. I’ll probably grow up to be a software engineer who never comments his spaghetti code just to spite his coworkers.”

  11. Benji Says:

    “We made the decision early on not to have the machine produce everything, but everything that it can’t produce we must be able to get cheaply and easily.”

    Such as an electrical motor? Isn’t that one of the most important parts of the machine?

    “Everybody in the world, no matter how poor they are, can afford a few nuts and bolts.”

    No, no they can’t. Funnily enough, some people are struggling to buy food.

  12. Spacebat Says:

    I attended a linux conference last year where the RepRap was demoed and it does take a while to operate. I think that cooling of the plastic is a significant part of the delay, but if so there are ways to solve and/or work around that, and remember it can run while you sleep.

    The really significant elements of this project and some others like it are that they can use and recycle corn derived plastic, are not proprietary and support open community design processes. They really could make an impact on the spread of appropriate technology as traditional industry runs into scaling barriers (there is no economy without ecology).

    While others might be ahead in technical details, I believe these guys have the right attitude and goals.

  13. Pace Says:

    WOW!

    SkyNet here we come!

  14. Jeff Barr’s Blog » Links for Monday, January 7, 2008 Says:

    [...] The Pirate’s Dilemma: The 3-D Printer That Can Print a 3-D Printer – “This is Dr. Adrian Bowyer, who alongside his team of engineers at the University of Bath in England, is working on a project called the RepRap; an open source 3-D printer – a self-replicating machine that will one day be able to print out all of its own parts.“ [...]

  15. A 3D Glue Gun Does Not Self-Replication Make « Gravity Loss Says:

    [...] 2008.01.07 by gravityloss I’ve been wondering at this ever since the meme has been circulating. People make a printer that shoots glue, layer upon layer [...]

  16. O'Neill Says:

    Speed is irrelevant.
    If a machine took nine months to fully replicate itself without human intervention, it would still be majorly awesome.
    The main issue is that it does not, in fact, replicate itself yet.
    Still, it gives a small glimpse of what could be, and for that alone, it’s a great project.

    Now… when do we start seeing some open nano-technology projects? I need me some replicators to take over a planet.

  17. Greg Says:

    to #2

    He isnt really trying to sell the product, he is selling the idea.

  18. Think or Thwim » The 3D Printer That Can Print More 3D Printers Says:

    [...] The Pirate’s Dilemma 3d printing, adrian bowyer, rapid prototyping, [...]

  19. sikanrong Says:

    someone up there asked if we should find the concept of the self-replicating robot frightening. Maybe someday dude, but I kinda doubt you’re going to find yourself blasting through hordes of evil 3d-printers run amok (lol) stfu!!!!

  20. smarterthanu Says:

    To all of the idiot rednecks: 3D printers already exisit.

  21. Replicating 3D Printer…Rise of the Replicators | Tyler Johnston’s Blog Says:

    [...] 3D Printer [...]

  22. Giffy Says:

    But does it do cold fusion?

  23. Richard Says:

    How do you expect it to replicate its non-plastic parts? Such as copper, and silicon, just to name a few? Besides, I bet the ink (or in this case, the plastic), wouldn’t be very cost-effective.

  24. Guidewire Says:

    Look into Bruce Sterling’s book “Shaping Things”

  25. KiTA Says:

    Actually, it doesn’t matter at all if self-replication takes, you know, days to work on this machine.

    Once this machine is self-replicating, EVERYONE will have one. I know the second I can get one that self-replicates, I’ll make one for myself and give copies out to as many friends that want one. Who cares if it takes a week to make the parts? I’ll just make 6 copies of the printer and run them in parallel. Or 13 copies. Or 20. I’m sure you see the point — if you can increase your own construction capability, who cares what one individual unit runs at?

    Eventually someone far smarter than I will take one of these self-replicating ones and make it a little bit better. You know, faster, using less goo or cheaper materials, a device that recycles unused material, a second “print head” able to drill or cut the material after creating it, etc etc. And those improvements will find their way out to the community as well. The general idea is that the whole thing will snowball, and after not an unreasonable amount of time we’ll have a rather high class 3D Printer that anyone can get in their home for chump change.

    Think Moore’s Law, only for this tech, instead of Computers.

    My major question is what will happen to Intellectual Property after this sort of tech becomes commonplace. Once a person can just print a Transformers toy rather than buying it, will companies start, er, “renting” official Transformers 3d models? What about replacement parts for say, an iPod case? Will Apple make those 3d models available, or will people just pirate them?

  26. Finally! Says:

    I, for one, welcome our new 3D printer overlords!

  27. Amazing Things Only Happen "Metaphorically" » Blog Archive » Self-Replicating Machine Says:

    [...] 3D printers create 3D objects, and sometime this year, there will be one that can create a copy of itself. [...]

  28. Archimboldo Says:

    “Actually, it doesn’t matter at all if self-replication takes, you know, days to work on this machine.”

    It probably does matter. If it takes days, that means it takes lots of energy and hence, lots of money.

  29. Yorkali Says:

    These machines are not printers!!! For crying out loud. It sounds so incredibly backward and ignorant. They are 3d prototypers. Yes it may not express the portability and “smallness” of these lil machines but 3d printer is just WRONG!

  30. bill Says:

    philip k. dick – ‘autofac’

  31. Bob Says:

    Printing out every part needed to replicate the machine is not the same as replicating the machine, the machine still has to be put together. Awesome though!

  32. Constructictism… | links for 2008-01-09 Says:

    [...] The Pirate’s Dilemma A 3D Printer that can print a 3D Printer………what is that all about! (tags: future 3d opensource robotics singularity Technology printer ITGS) [...]

  33. Reece Says:

    As someone who is currently building a Reprap (I hope to have it built in a month working weekends on it) I thought I’d chime in with a couple of things.

    My total costs (including one off purchases for various tools such as soldering iron etc.) will be approx. $NZ2000. This is far more than I am estimating it will cost me to build the 2nd one(probably no more than $NZ700) since I will be able to cheaply make a large percentage of the parts myself rather than get them shipped from half way round the world.

    The total time taken to print out the current set of parts is estimated to be 5 days (thats running 24 hrs a day). And, now that I know what I’m doing and where to get parts locally, I’m sure I could make one in a 40 hr work week (the current one has taken shape piecemeal over the last 6 months).

    My current issue is finding feedstock. There are a number of different options, including one guy who is experimenting with a plastic made primarily from milk so I’ll just wait and see.

    As for software, its all open source and multi-platform (the and I have even produced a Ubuntu based LiveCD that you can get if you can’t be bothered with setting up the software yourself. Currently it has just the basic software but the next version will also have a lot of the developer tools.

  34. Web Design and Development Discussion Forum Says:

    I can see that being unreliable. Also, it only produces parts. What would be really good in the future is if a machine can analyse the material, produce the part and assemble and test itself. That will probably happen one day, but we may not be around to see it.

  35. jimer Says:

    i’ve been waiting so long for this one…

  36. Jason E. Shao » Blog Archive » Pop!Casts: Adrian Bowyer Says:

    [...] (Via The Pirates Dilemma.) [...]

  37. Scari Says:

    What’s the point? so a printer replicates itself wowee you end up with a warehouse full of printers you can’t sell or whatever because everyone is has ‘em too.

  38. Øjnemunde, bling, 3D printere, hygiejne og gadgets | Webmercial.dk Says:

    [...] Dilemma: Hvad sker der den dag en 3D printer kan printer en 3D printer ud? [...]

  39. Patrick H Says:

    It makes more than parts for itself…there are no comparable prototypers for this amount of money either. The cheapest real rapid prototypers is one that goes for around $5,000. But it’s working area is much less than that of the RepRap device.

    #8 (other Patrick) Where did you get that arbitrary 30 day number, in the video he says one day. So many of these comments are just straight slander…ha

  40. towlie Says:

    Ah this is one of two inventions we NEED now !
    The 3d printer or replicator and a flying car !

  41. HappyPanda Says:

    people enthousiatic about 3D printers are either people who get funded for talking about it or people that never even seen one (YouTube not included). They are pieces of crap that produce no real-life practical solutions. The day it makes a car that doesn’t break into pieces at the first start, I’ll be interested.

    And they will certainly NOT end capitalism or whatever. That is just BS from people who have nothing better to do then keep each other busy with filling each other’s blogs.

    All this rerap stuff easily turns into a discussion about OpenSource… I wonder why that is.

  42. friss Says:

    We can’t get away from them – computers are everywhere, from the washing machine to the car it seems everything is now run by a computer and with the exponential rate they are advancing there is probably more computing power in the average mobile phone than NASA used to put a man on the moon.

  43. tn Says:

    Please post a link to the 3D printers on instructables that you are talking about. I only found one when searching for it, and in the instructions they thanked reprap for their help.

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