Solid freeform fabrication (SFF) has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, even to allow individuals to invent, customize, and manufacture goods cost‐effectively in their own homes. Commercial freeform fabrication systems – while successful in industrial settings – are costly, proprietary, and work with few, expensive, and proprietary materials, limiting the growth and advancement of the technology. The open‐source Fab@Home Project has been created to promote SFF technology by placing it in the hands of hobbyists, inventors, and artists in a form which is simple, cheap, and without restrictions on experimentation. This paper aims to examine this.
A simple, low‐cost, user modifiable freeform fabrication system has been designed, called the Fab@Home Model 1, and the designs, documentation, software, and source code have been published on a user‐editable “wiki” web site under the open‐source BSD License. Six systems have been built, and three of them given away to interested users in return for feedback on the system and contributions to the web site.
The Fab@Home Model 1 can build objects comprising multiple materials, with sub‐millimeter‐scale features, and overall dimensions larger than 20 cm. In its first six months of operation, the project has received more than 13 million web site hits, and media coverage by several international news and technology magazines, web sites, and programs. Model 1s are being used in a university engineering course, a Model 1 will be included in an exhibit on the history of plastics at the Science Museum London, UK, and kits can now be purchased commercially.
The ease of construction and operation of the Model 1 has not been well tested. The materials cost for construction (US$2,300) has prevented some interested people from building systems of their own.
The energetic public response to the Fab@Home project confirms the broad appeal of personal freeform fabrication technology. The diversity of interests and desired applications expressed by the public suggests that the open‐source approach to accelerating the expansion of SFF technology embodied in the Fab@Home project may well be successful.
Fab@Home is unique in its goal of popularizing and advancing SFF technology for its own sake. The RepRap project in the UK predates Fab@Home, but aims to build machines which can make most of their own parts. The two projects are complementary in many respects, and fruitful exchanges of ideas and designs between them are expected.
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited