A revolutionary machine that can copy itself and manufacture everyday objects quickly and cheaply could transform industry in the developing world, according to its creator.The “self-replicating rapid prototyper,” or “RepRap” is the brainchild of Dr. Adrian Bowyer, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath in the UK.


These incredible devices allow you to make the form you need to create almost any part. The scanner can measure about 50,000 points per second at a density of 160,000 dots per inch (dpi) to create a highly detailed digital model. The 3D printer makes an exact copy of a part in plastic, which we then send out to create a mold. Some machines can even make a replacement part in cobalt-chrome with the direct laser sintering process. Just feed a plastic wire–for a steel part you use metal wire–into the appropriate laser cutter.

Inside the printer, the print head goes back and forth, back and forth, putting on layer after layer of plastic to form a 3D part. If there are any irregularities in the originals, you can remove them using software. Once the model is finished, any excess support material between moving parts is dissolved in a water-based solution. Complexity doesn’t matter, but the size of the object does determine the length of the process. Making a little part might take 5 hours. The White’s feedwater heater required 33 hours.

Any antique car part can be reproduced with these machines–pieces of trim, elaborately etched and even scrolled door handles. If you have an original, you can copy it. Or you can design a replacement on the computer, and the 3D printer makes it for you.

3D Printer and Objects created using the Printer

People say, “Why not just give the part to your machinist to make?” Well, if the machinist makes it wrong, you still have to pay for it. The scanner allows you to make an exact copy in plastic, fit it and see that it’s correct. Even when you take plans to a machinist, it can be tricky. Say the part must be 3 mm thick here and 5 mm there. You get it back and then, “Oh no, it doesn’t fit; it’s too thick,” or “It’s too thin.” This setup lets you create the perfect part. And you could press the button again and again–and keep making the part–twice the size, half-size, whatever you need. If you have a part that’s worn away, or has lost a big chunk of metal, you can fill in that missing link on the computer. Then you make the part in plastic and have a machinist make a copy based on that example. Or you can do what we do–input that program into a Fadal CNC machine; it reads the dimensions and replicates an exact metal copy.

Some guys are so used to working in the traditional ways. They’re old-school. So they’ve never seen this new technology in use–in fact, they’re not even aware it exists. When you work on old cars, you tend to work with old machinery like lathes, milling machines or English wheels. When someone tells you that you can take a crescent wrench, for example, scan it, then press a button, copy it, and make a new wrench, these guys say, “Well, that’s not possible. You can’t make the little wheel that moves the claw in and out. You’d have to make it in two sections.”

But they’re wrong. You can duplicate the whole tool.

They stand in front of the machine and watch a wrench being made, and they still don’t believe it. It’s like The Jetsons. George Jetson would say, “I want a steak dinner.” He’d press a button and the meal would come out of the machine, with the roasted potatoes and everything, all on one plate.

If you had a one-off Ferrari engine, you could scan each part and then re-create the entire motor. Right now, we’re scanning a Duesenberg body. It’s a classic example of high tech melding with old tech. There are cars sitting in garages around the country, and they haven’t moved in years for lack of some unobtainable part. Now they can hit the road once more, thanks to this technology.

Let’s say you have an older Cadillac or a Packard, and you can’t get one of those beautifully ornate door handles. You could go to the big swap meet in Hershey, Pa., every day for the rest of your life and never find it. Or you could take the one on the left side of your car, copy it, use the computer to reverse it, and put that new part on the other side.

The NextEngine scanner costs $2995. The Dimension uPrint Personal 3D printer is now under $15,000. That’s not cheap. But this technology used to cost 10 times that amount. And I think the price will come down even more.

These machines are not suited for mass production, but they work well for rapid prototyping. Just as eBay has made many swap meets go away, this machine could eliminate the need to go to eBay for parts. Think about it: What old part do you want to make?

Posted By

Shiva Chaitanya(IIIrd Year MGIT )

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