Bow to the Bowyer

Professor Adrian Bowyer is a 3D printing guru. This is not an exaggeration. Adrian invented the RepRap, a low cost open source rapid prototyping system that is capable of producing its own parts.We had the privilege to meet him to take his portrait and interview him for our Festival of Britain exhibition. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:Adrian Bowyer RepRap for Black Country Atelier

Who is using the RepRap?

The vast majority of people using RepRaps are in individual homes, though some companies have them as well. It’s moving the whole idea of manufacturing into the home in the way we have already done, for example, with music production and photographs. It used to be the case that we would put rolls of film and send them off in yellow envelopes. Now we have an entire photographic laboratory in our houses. If people have the ability to make things in their own homes, then people can almost divorce themselves from the conventional industrial route and start making their own manufactured goods.

Do you think that cheap 3D printers and 3D scanners herald a new industrial revolution?

We are supposed to have had two industrial revolutions already. One that people noticed and one that people didn’t. The one that people did was the one that happened at the end of the 18th/ beginning of the 19th century but in the 1950s computer control of industrial production was introduced and from the engineers perspective, that was as radical a change as the introduction of the steam engine.  I suspect that if 3D printers lead to a radical change in the way that things are made, possibly leading to people making their own items rather than buying from factories, the change will be experienced as an acceleration rather than a bolt like in the 19th century revolution.

Is anyone from the wider community making anything wacky with the RepRap?

More far-fetched than having a machine print itself which was the initial idea for the project? There is a one guy in the United States who made a model of an entire gothic cathedral! No practical application but it’s beautiful. Lots of people make puzzles and devices that operate in non-obvious ways. Things with 3D gears. Anyone can make up puzzles and cubes themselves.  People share what they are creating on the web. We have a website called thingyburst where anybody can upload designs.  It’s like music sharing for real objects.

What are the next steps for RepRap?

As it’s an open project, people are taking in lots of different directions. Some people are trying to make smaller, more precise machines. We are trying to make a process where we are working with metal in the same way as plastic. The difficulty is that when you work with plastic and melt it, it’s still fairly syrupy and sticky. If you melt a metal, it is like mercury and will flow anyway. So what we are trying to do is to allow for that fact and make the system so that it can work with metals as well as plastics. I have a research student who is working on that right now.

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