The RepRap: A Printer That Can Almost Print Itself

by Matthew Wellington on March 29, 2014

RepRap Self Printed PartsEver since the 3D printing technology was developed, we’ve seen it achieve all sorts of amazing things.

Additive manufacturing has been used to make Body Parts, Prosthetics, Clothes, Guns and amazingly; even food (PizzaChocolate and Sugar).

Have you ever found yourself wondering what else the technology can do?

Well with the recent advancements of the RepRap project, we are about to witness yet another astonishing function of 3D printing. That is, the self replicating ability of the RepRap printer. Imagine being able to print 3D printers with another 3D printer!

And just to ensure you get this right, it’s not like you will be creating mere models of 3D printers but you will in fact be printing real, usable and just as complex whole 3D printers. How do you like that?

All this is possible if you have a RepRap printer. RepRap is one of the greatest self replicating projects, whose main goal is to be able to create a printer (RepRap printer) that can fully replicate itself. RepRap, which is short form of ‘Replicating Rapid Prototype’, is still an ongoing open source project that started back in 2005 through advent by Adrian Bowyer; a British engineer.

Tremendous improvements have been made over the years through the help of all the RepRappers who joined the open source community which is supporting the project. The RepRap 0.2 Prototype was developed shortly after the onset of the project and it could print a number of it’s own parts.

Now many ideas have been incorporated in the project with a number of modifications put in place that have enabled current RepRap 3D printers to easily replicate most of the parts that can be used to assemble another identical printer. Also because most RepRap printers print parts in plastic form (ABS filaments), it is a lot faster for a single printer to replicate parts of itself.

Various studies have revealed that it may only takes a few hours for a RepRap printer to have replicated the majority of the parts one needs to create a new identical 3D printer.

“Vitamin” Free RepRap Printers

One of the main obstacles that the RepRap project has been facing since its first debut is the fact that the printer cannot print all the parts that it needs to fully replicate itself. While most of its parts can be printed, normally one has to buy the other parts which the printer cannot fabricate. Such non-printable parts usually include electronics, nuts, bolts, screws and some wiring.

However Nicholas Seward, who is the founder of Concept Forge, has been successful in creating a RepRap 3D printer that is almost vitamin free. ‘Vitamin-free’ meaning that it does not need most of those parts, which are usually impossible to be printed by a RepRap 3D printer.

His vitamin-free 3D RepRap printers are famously known as Simpson and Wally. What’s even more exciting about his creations is that they can replicate a full printer without printing bits of it in parts as ordinary RepRap printers do. According to several tests done on his machines; it can take about 60-65 hours for Simpson or Wally to print another whole 3D machine.

His printers are also quite cost effective to use. To replicate a printer using Seward’s machines, you will need about $25 worth of the plastic filament and $150 worth of supporting electronics. You may also spend a few more bucks for bolts and nuts. On average, you can obtain any of the printers for around $450 if you are going to do the assembly yourself or $600 if you want an already assembled machine.

Benefits of the Self-Replicating RepRap Printer

The RepRap project has quickly attracted public interest not only because the thought of a printer printing another printer is frankly intriguing in itself but mostly because the success of the project will bring forth a lot of boons to hobbysts and 3D enthusiasts.

For instance, RepRap printers will play a big role in Making 3D Printing Technology Become Mainstream. Up to now the one thing that has really been lowering the possibilities of Additive Manufacturing ever becoming mainstream is the inaccessibility of 3D printers to common folk. If households cannot afford the cost of purchasing a printer, how is the technology ever going to become mainstream?

So how is the RepRap project the solution? To start with, buying a single RepRap printer currently costs around $500-$600 which is not as expensive as the price of most 3D printers in the market that cost over $1500. Therefore with some little savings, you can easily own a RepRap printer.

That is not all! Once you have bought your own printer, the best part is you can use it to assemble a new RepRap printer for your friend or business colleague. And when you are using this DIY Approach, the costs will be a lot less than $500 making it highly frugal for households to acquire 3D printers.

Even if you would not necessarily want to print another 3D printer for a friend, the RepRap printer still gives you the rare opportunity of owning more than one printer cheaply.

Not to mention that since it is an open source project, meaning you can find all the assemble instructions online, it is not distressing to setup your own printer. This and the low costs involved are among the reasons why RepRap printers are the most widely used printers across the world.

A Few Steps to Perfection

With the numbers of RepRappers supporting this open source project increasing by the day, the project is only a few steps to perfection. Nevertheless, there is still quite a little bit of work that needs to be done.

First of all, the project is still open to any brighter or more practical ideas on how RepRap printers can become entirely vitamin free. If all the parts of the printer are printable, it not only reduces the costs of replication but also the time it takes to copy the printer into a new one.

Additionally, RepRap printers can only print parts using ABS plastic materials. However RepRaps will really revolutionize manufacturing if they can be designed with the capability to print parts using various materials and not only plastic.

These are the two key things that the open source community backing this project is working on because once better remedies are found for these issues; RepRap printers will greatly turn things around in the manufacturing field.

Let’s not forget too, that creating your own printers at home is far more Environmentally Friendly than shipping them around the world.

Please leave a comment below, or share this article with your colleagues. Also, if you’re new to 3D printing then feel free to download our FREE Beginners Guide to 3D Printing at Home eBook.

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