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The RepRap Saga

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Sometime in June 2008, the superlative blog-to-end-all-blogs BoingBoing posted told me about the RepRap project. A RepRap, for those of you who don’t know, is a self-replicating open-source 3D printer. It creates 3D objects by extruding plastic filament in layers according to instructions derived from a digital model. Its design and software are free to be copied and modified under the GNU GPL. Best of all, once you have one, you can make all the custom parts for another.

This project attracted me for two reasons. First, I had always been awed by the sense of power programming gave me, the potency of this crystallized cognition. 3D printing seemed to have the ability to extend that power into the tangible world: instead of moving bits around, I could tell atoms what to do just by writing something down.

Second, the economic implications of personal manufacturing fit very nicely with my radical streak. This was just around the time I started hearing about “too big to fail” and becoming truly disgusted with the way our society is organized, and I saw in RepRap the possibility of another way of doing things.

In Winter 2008, I built a RepRap at Sarah Lawrence College with my friend James. We just finished it in time for the end of the semester. Though we did it as a project for a Java class, it’s far enough in the past that I am willing to admit that I didn’t learn a whole lot in the process of simply putting the kit together. Oh no, the learning was only beginning.

From the SLC RepRap blog:

In the Fall semester of 2009 I took a Computer Architecture course taught by Michael Siff at Sarah Lawrence College. For my independent project I attempted to design a system of modular mechanical logic gates [inspired by Cory Doctorow’s Makers]. I seriously underestimated the scope of this endeavor. I was trying to simultaneously:

  • learn Blender
  • learn Skeinforge
  • design complex pieces using Blender
  • maintain and troubleshoot Kurzweil [yeah, I named our RepRap after Ray Kurzweil]

Any one of those points could have been worthy of a semester’s work, but I tried to do all of them at once. I learned a little about each of those four things, but mostly I learned about patience, something I’ve been coming back to over and over in my work on RepRap.

After that semester, I didn’t come back to the RepRap until this summer. I only got a couple evenings of work in, and soon the summer was over and I was back in Takoma Park, graduated, never to return to SLC, and RepRap-less.

Enter HacDC. HacDC is a hackerspace in DC, and since the middle of September I’ve been working on printing my own RepRap on the machines there. As with all things RepRap, it’s not been easy, but slow progress is being made, and I’m learning a lot for the guys there along the way.

So that’s the RepRap saga so far. One thing I learned over the summer is that documenting one’s work is absolutely key. You are forced to clearly define the problems you encounter, and you open your work to the community to feedback and support. I haven’t been documenting the work I’ve been doing at HacDC so far, and that is silly. So expect a lot more stuff about 3D printing from here on out.

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Written by xaqrox

November 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Posted in RepRap

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