Technology | DOI: 10.1145/1831407.1831414
Open source 3D printers could herald
the start of a new industrial revolution.
While AttenDinG A health and beauty trade show in the fall of 2009, Nick Starno watched as countless exhibitors
struggled with cosmetic tubes, vainly attempting to squeeze the last few drops
out of them. Starno, however, is a mechanical design engineer, and familiar
with 3D printers. When he got home,
he designed a tube squeezer and posted
his prototype on a community Web site
for 3D printer designs. Within hours,
several 3D printer enthusiasts in Europe
had downloaded his design and manufactured the tube squeezer. Since then,
Starno’s design has been downloaded
more than 500 times and people around
the world have produced his tube
squeezer at a cost about 30 cents each.
“I knew that as long as I could model
it on the computer, it could be made,”
says Starno, who now works with Mak-
erbot, a 3D printer company. “No worry-
ing about tooling costs, post processing,
surface finishes, packaging, shipping
quantities, or advertising. Anyone with
a 3D printer could search for my design,
download it, and make one on demand
without ever leaving their house.”
Printing simple devices such as tube
squeezers might not seem very excit-
ing or sexy, but it heralds the begin-
ning of a technological revolution in-
volving thousands of hobbyists around
the world who are using 3D printers to
fabricate wine glasses, toy cars, cooling
fans, mechanical arms, and countless
types of nuts, bolts, and gears.
To many observers, this revolution
mirrors the personal computer revolution, with its kits for hobbyists, of
the 1970s. “There are many parallels
between personal computing and personal fabrication,” says Hod Lipson, an
associate professor of mechanical and
aerospace engineering and computing
and information science at Cornell University. “I think you can look at the history of computers and how they changed
our world, and you can anticipate many
nick Starno, a mechanical design engineer, in the process of building a 3D printer.
aspects of 3D printing and how they will
interface with every aspect of our lives.”
open Source Printers
While large-scale, commercial 3D printers have existed for years, personal 3D
printers are a recent, fast-spreading phenomenon. Dozens of startup companies
are developing and marketing 3D printers, but two of the most widely used 3D
printers are open source projects.
Based at the University of Bath, RepRap is the brainchild of Adrian Bowyer, a
senior lecturer in the department of mechanical engineering. The other project
is Fab@Home, which is led by Lipson.
To design a printable object, a user
needs a computer equipped with a com-
puter-assisted design (CAD) program.
The different RepRap and Fab@Home
3D printers are the size of a standard
office photocopier, and feature off-the-
shelf components including a chas-
sis, tool heads, and electronics. The
3D printers work almost the same as a
standard printer, but instead of using
multi-colored inks, a printer’s mobile
arm includes a syringe that ejects melt-
ed plastic, slowly building up the “im-
age,” layer after layer, into a real object.
Simple objects like a gear, for instance,
can be completed in less than an hour.