Freeform Fabrication Systems

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Freeform Fabrication Systems

From the Fab@Home Project.



Universal manufacturing embodied as todays freeform fabrication systems has like universal computers the potential to transform human society to a degree that few creations ever have. The ability to directly fabricate functional custom objects could transform the way we design, make, deliver and consume products. But not less importantly, rapid prototyping technology has the potential to redefine the designer. By eliminating many of the barriers of resource and skill that currently prevent ordinary inventors from realizing their own ideas, fabbers can democratize innovation Ubiquitous automated manufacturing can thus open the door to a new class of independent designers, a marketplace of printable blueprints, and a new economy of custom products. Just like the Internet and MP3s have freed musical talent from control of big labels, so can widespread RP divorce technological innovation from the control of big corporations.

Despite the formidable potential of rapid prototyping technology, its acceptance over the last two decades has remained disappointingly slow. At present SFF systems remain very expensive and complex, focused on production of mechanical parts, and used primarily by corporate engineers, designers, and architects for prototyping and visualization. These factors are linked in a vicious cycle which slows the development of the technology: Niche applications imply a small demand for machines, while small demand for machines keeps the machines costly and complex, limiting them to niche applications. Alternatively, if one could provide either a large market for SFF machines and products or a simple and cheap SFF machine with which end users could invent products and applications, then this same feedback coupling could instead drive a rapid expansion in SFF technology and applications.