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Interview: Adrian Bowyer

Adrian Bowyer will give a talk about RepRap at FOSDEM 2010.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Adrian Bowyer. I am an academic at Bath University in the UK. I have spent most of my life researching engineering, mathematics, computing, biochemistry, and biology.

What will your talk be about, exactly?

I will talk about the possible social, economic, and biological consequences of the RepRap project. RepRap is a replicating 3D printer that is distributed free under the GPL. The growth of replicator technology has the potential to transform the world of goods in the same way that free instant data transfer has transformed the world of communications, entertainment and information. But replicator technology may go beyond the social and economic: anything that reproduces, however imperfectly, must be subject to Darwin's Law of Evolution...

What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I hope to bring a biological perspective to the heart of technology. I like to approach these things with open expectations...

What's the history of the RepRap project? How did it evolve?

It started in 2004 with a paper I wrote on the web setting out the main idea. Either foolishly or modestly, I didn't at first think of doing it myself - I simply wanted to put the concept out there for anyone to try. But colleagues persuaded me that I might actually run a project based on my own invention. RepRap is now in its second version, and many future improvements are planned.

How much does it cost to construct a RepRap machine?

The materials to make a RepRap cost EUR 350. The cheapest non-open-source 3D printer costs about EUR 15,000.

How much is the production cost to construct objects with RepRap and how does it compare to the production cost with commercial 3D printers?

RepRap probably takes up more of its users' time than commercial systems. But material costs are significantly lower. Commercial charges for plastics for 3D printing can be EUR 400 for a cartridge containing EUR 20 worth of plastic. For RepRap EUR 20 worth of plastic costs EUR 20...

Where can people buy the parts needed to construct a RepRap machine?

At the moment there is no one central place. Though anyone with access to an existing RepRap (or any other commercial 3D printer that makes robust parts) can make a set. But there are a number of businesses setting up right now to supply parts. (I should declare an interest - I hope to found one myself...)

What are the most interesting products that have been manufactured with RepRap?

My favourite is the Sarrus Linkage.

What's the best success story you heard from RepRap users?

The one I enjoyed most was from reprapper Bruce Wattendorf. After we distributed the designs for the first machine, he went away and made one out of wood. It worked perfectly.

How many functional RepRap machines are there in the world?

I have no idea! My guess is that there are about 2,500 RepRaps and RepRap derivatives (that is, including MakerBot and Bits from Bytes). It's rather hard to distinguish between them when gathering statistics...

What new functionality will RepRap 2.0 offer and when will it be released?

It will have an automatic head changer. This will make it much easier to work with multiple materials. It also has a bigger build volume while itself being smaller and lighter than RepRap Version I.

RepRaps tend to flood out rather than being released. That is because all the files are assembled and the documentation is written online over the space of a couple of months. It comes together, and beyond a certain point might be considered to be a 'release'. But that point is only perceptible in retrospect.

Is RepRap 2.0 already capable of printing electric circuitry? Do you know concrete RepRap-manufactured products that make use of it?

Only experimentally so far. But that is top of the to-do list.

What's the purpose of the RepRap Research Foundation and what are their recent accomplishments?

We originally set it up to supply hard-to-get RepRap parts in the absence of commercial companies doing that. But there are now quite a few companies filling that role. We keep it active, as we may well want to fund pro-bono research work through it.

Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

This is my first time. I look forward to it!

Creative Commons License
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.