THERE'S NO DOUBT that 3D printing technology is becoming more widely recognised by the day, gaining a much more prominent position in industry.
Though it's not widely known yet, one factor contributing to this upsurge is the open source nature of 3D printing technology and its community of enthusiasts. These are designers, developers and followers who are assisting in making this technology more ubiquitous by taking advantage of 3D printer design blueprints, which are available online for download, enabling the construction of homemade 3D printing machines.
We visited New York last week, where it was apparent that such a community has been active for some time. We met with one of its members, full-time architect Gordon Laplante. Laplante not only used online 3D printer designs shared by an open source group online to build a 3D printer from raw materials, but once that was built he then used that machine to print out parts to build his own much bigger version, all in the comfort of his living room.
Laplante told The INQUIRER that his fascination with 3D printing began when he discovered Reprap, an open source foundation that stands for "replicating rapid prototype" and allows people to develop a 3D printer from scratch, because the designs produced by the project are released under a free software license.
Laplante is part of a growing network of people like himself in New York and regularly attends a meet-up group called "Make-it NYC", where 3D printer enthusiasts talk through their progress, findings and improvements in building their own machines.
"About seven or eight years ago when it started, Reprap created this big printer, released it to the public and from then on everyone stated going crazy making their own printers," Laplante said, telling us that he was one of these people and built his own printer from Reprap's open source designs, naming it G-Reprap.
"You go to Home Depot and you pick up threaded rod and bolts. It's really neat, someone actually made an instruction manual to show you how to piece it together," he added.
Taking Laplante around eight months of rebuilding and improving to get to its current state, his custom build 3D printer, named G-Max, runs on an Arduino micro-controller along with a system board that controls how the 3D printer operates, guided by CAD software. The board is also an example of 3D printing kit released by one of the community members as open source material.
"The open source for this was fantastic. You can go to the site and buy the boards and everything and wire it yourself. When I finished [the G-Reprap printer], being an architect I wanted to print bigger things, as the bed was pretty small.
"I wanted to print my own design because I wanted to print bigger," Laplante added, pointing to the larger 3D printer on display named the G-Max, "That's when I built this guy."