From May until August, 2014, I made, unmade, and remade my first home-built 3D printer. It's based on the open-source RepRap project, derived specifically from the popular "Prusa i3" plan. Ultimately though, I redesigned nearly all the parts, even if much of my redesigning was subtle (rounding a blocky shape for example). The whole experience has been tremendously rewarding, despite the almost absurd amount of time committed.
I suspect I'll build more. And I will post my design files someplace for others to re-use them or iterate them further if they choose. I had hoped one printer would be enough to satisfy my curiosity, but the project mostly ignited a desire to build many variations: a printer for clay objects, a printer for large objects, a printer for detailed objects, and on and on.
Maybe more exciting than building the thing though, was becoming more familiar with the wonderfully deep resources and enthusiasm to be found within the expanding constellation which is the Open Source Hardware community. There is much more I could write on that subject, but maybe I'll just mention that I thoroughly enjoyed trying to comprehend the remarkable work of open source pioneers like Adrian Bowyer, Massimo Banzi, Casey Reas & Ben Fry, Limor Fried, Marcin Jakubowski, and many more. Within the specific context of 3D printers I've been fascinated by the huge range of designs proposed, built, iterated, and shared by people like Richard Horne, Nicholas Seward, Jonathan Keep, Joseph Prusa, and Alessandro Ranellucci. I know none of these people personally, but I am inspired by the remarkable things they have created. I'm even more affected by their commitment to Open Source as an ethos, exemplified by this excerpt from the Open Source Hardware Manifesto:
Similarly, I enjoyed reading about the conceptual and philosophical underpinnings of the RepRap project as outlined by Adrian Bowyer's essay "Wealth Without Money", as it is loaded with insights along these lines:
Closer to home, many many thanks to Sidney Church and David St. John of Penn State School of Visual Arts and Engineering respectively. Both Sidney and David helped me feel capable of building a complicated machine despite a deep lack of experience with electronics, micro-controllers, etc.
At present, I'm attempting to apply all of these ideas to a new course I'm teaching titled: "D.I.Y. Digital Fabrication". The goal of the course is to empower artists, designers, and craftspeople to construct custom, low-cost, open-source Digital Fabrication tools which can perform at a very high level despite being home-made and composed of generic bits and pieces. At the same time, it is my hope that our group will consider all the moral, economic, and cultural implications of these technologies while considering how a D.I.Y. approach fits within the larger picture. Oh, and likely we'll make some Art too, because it is an Art class of course.
It is a fascinating time to be getting involved in this technology as it shifts from institutions and corporations to individuals. Is this the 3rd Industrial Revolution? Maybe so. A lot of hype? Perhaps. At any rate, it all reminds me of the feeling of turning on a personal computer in the 1980's. Confronting a pretty basic and awkward technology with astonishing, revolutionary potential.