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= (Self-) Replicating Rapid-Prototyper



"practical self-copying 3D printer. RepRap will make plastic, ceramic, or metal parts, and is itself made from plastic parts, so it will be able to make copies of itself. It is a three-axis robot that moves several material extruders. These extruders produce fine filaments of their working material with a paste-like consistency."


From the Wikipedia [1]:

"The RepRap Project is an initiative aimed at creating a self-replicating machine which can be used for rapid prototyping and manufacturing. A rapid prototyper is a 3D printer that is able to fabricate three dimensional artifacts from a computer-based model. Project authors describe 'self-replication', understood as the ability to reproduce the components necessary to build another version of itself, as one of the goals for the project.

Due to the potential self-replicating ability of the machine, authors envision the possibility to cheaply distribute RepRap units to people and communities, enabling them to create (or download from the internet) complex products and artifacts without the need for expensive industrial infrastructure. They further speculate that the RepRap will eventually demonstrate evolution in this process as well as being able to increase in number exponentially. This, in theory, would give RepRap the potential to become a powerful disruptive technology, similar to that of other anticipated low-cost personal fabrication technologies.

The stated goal of the RepRap project is not to produce a pure self-replicating device for its own sake but rather to put in the hands of individuals anywhere on the planet, for a minimal outlay of capital, a Desktop Manufacturing system that would enable the individual to manufacture many of the artifacts used in everyday life. The self-replicating nature of RepRap could also facilitate its viral dissemination and may well facilitate a major paradigm shift in the design in manufacture of consumer products from one of factory production of patented products to one of personal production of unpatented products with open specifications." (


Dr Adrian Bowyer, a Senior Lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, initiated RepRap, and leads the project team.The project itself uses rapid prototyping (specifically fused deposition modeling), and will make the results available under the GNU General Public License, a free software license, at no cost, allowing other investigators to work on the same idea and improve it.

Currently, low-end commercial 3D prototypers cost about US$30K (from Z Corporation). Prototypes made by these low-end commercial machines costing around US$2 per cubic centimetre to fabricate. The Reprap Project is on track to produce a 3D prototyping machine and free/open source accompanying software that costs about US$400 to build and which can fabricate objects at a cost of about US$0.02 per cubic centimeter.

Status Report


On 13 September 2006 the RepRap 0.2 prototype successfully printed the first part of itself which was subsequently used to replace an identical part originally created by a commercial 3D printer.

A short production run (~1 km) of 3 mm polycaprolactone filament suitable for use in the Mk II extruders used in several operational and near-operational reprap prototypes has been produced for the project. With 1km of polycaprolactone filament, the project has been able to produce larger artifacts and also test the candidate systems for days instead of for hours, as was the case with hand-produced filament.

Vik Olivier's Zaphod prototype has replicated a parts set for the Mk II extruder. Vik assembled the parts into a working Mk II and has successfully employed it as a second extruder on Zaphod. The use of polycaprolactone for the parts set instead of ABS required that several minor changes be made when assembling them into a working Mk II.


"Short for replicating rapid prototyper, the RepRap is the brainchild of Adrian Bowyer, a mechanical engineer at the University of Bath in England who figured that fabbers would become a lot cheaper and more accessible if they could build their own bodies. Sound familiar? Like a lo-fi version of the [email protected] Model 1, Bowyer designed the first RepRap to be built by combining fabbed parts with motors and other store-bought mechanical components. Unveiled earlier this month, "Darwin" heats a solid polymer and mechanically extrudes it like a glue gun. The next step in Darwin's evolution: printing its own circuitry." (


Two Possible Scenarios

James Cascio:

"What's really interesting, though, is the question of what happens if RepRap works.

Bowyer envisions RepRaps as eventually costing about $500. What happens when such relatively low-cost 3D printers become available? For every "napster fabbing" scenario, there are sober rapid prototyping specialists arguing that large-scale mass production will still be more efficient than individual home factories. The latter will likely be true, at least initially, as long as the intent is to try to reproduce in one's home exactly what one could buy in a store. It's a less compelling argument, however, if RepRaps are used to make objects with a degree of customization and individuation unsupportable within a mass-production model.

There are a couple of ways that scenario could play out. One is akin to free/open source software: the products are so complex that only specialists design them, although quite a few are self-taught; good designers and functional components are well-regarded, and tend to show up in multiple projects; most people who use the designs appreciate the open, collaborative heritage, but end up being simply consumers, not contributors. The other is in a manner closer to website design: the first tools are sufficiently opaque that only the dedicated work with them; the next set make design easy enough for anyone to do, and the vast majority of the results are painfully bad; finally, the tools themselves do so much hand-holding that few really horrible designs result, but there's a level of uniformity approaching that of mass production anyway. Which path is taken depends on the complexity of the process.

Of course, it's possible that the actual path will be more of the first blending into the second, as the technology becomes easier to use and more widely available.

RepRap will likely be crude, clumsy, more expensive than intended, and ultimately a bust -- but, if even marginally successful, it will blaze the trail for better, more efficient, more cost-effective designs which can learn from RepRap's mistakes. Such follow-on designs could even emerge as variations of RepRap itself. Bowyer is making the right decision in putting RepRap's design on the web as open source -- he may not end up with the perfect design, but with enough hands and minds on the problem, someone eventually will." (

More Information

Our entries:

  1. Desktop Manufacturing
  2. FAB, Fab Labs, [email protected] ; Desktop Factory
  3. Personal Fabricators
  4. Rapid Manufacturing

External material:

  1. Andrew Bowyer on the RepRap Project, video
  2. Andrew Bowyer on the RepRap Project and Self-replicating Machines, audio podcast
  3. Profile of Andrew Boyer at

Check out these websites: