At the start of the Industrial Revolution, England had more machines per capita than anyplace else on the planet. That is what earned it the nickname “The Workshop of the World.” Today, the winds of change are blowing more strongly than ever before, and we are on the verge of a new kind of Industrial Revolution.
The Fabrication Laboratory (Fab-Lab, for short) is an MIT invention. The premise is both simple and thrilling. That you can take a networked collection of half a dozen machines, occupying no more space than a typical garage, and from that handful of computer controlled machines, create nearly every product imaginable. In fact, the MIT course about Fab-Labs is called “How to make almost anything,” and is booked solid at least two years in advance.
As to those machines, you can spend as much or as little as you like to create your tool set. It’s possible to build a fully functional Fab-Lab for as little as $1500, with the understanding that the more you skimp on your tools, the less precise and robust they will be. At the other end of the spectrum, if you outfit your Fab-Lab in accordance with the latest equipment list on the MIT website, you’ll find yourself spending in excess of a hundred thousand dollars, so this technology literally caters to every taste, price range, and demographic.
At the heart of any Fab-Lab, from the most humble to the most high tech, is the 3d printer, and really, this is where the magic is. The other machines in the set have been around for decades, but what makes the Fab-Lab more than a simple collection of machines is the 3d printer. Put simply, it is poised to change everything in ways that stagger the imagination.
There’s a website called RepRap.org that you owe it to yourself to visit. On the RepRap site, they talk about a lot of different things, including their range of open source 3d printers. These are printers whose construction plans are made available for free (you could download them right after reading this article if you wanted to). The plans come complete with a parts list, and most of the parts you can pick up at your local Radio Shack or similar store. For as little as $400 as of the writing of this article, you can buy all the needed parts and assemble your own 3d printer. One of the (eventual) goals of the RepRap project is to create an open source printer that is capable of completely replicating itself. That is to say, you build your first RepRap printer, and then use it to “print” all the parts needed to build a second, and so forth.
Think about the implications of that statement for just a moment. Self replicating machines. And it isn’t some distant dream, or some blue-sky “what if” game. The state of the technology today is that these printers are capable of replicating everything but the power source, which you still need to buy and add separately, but they’re close. They’re actually very close indeed, and there’s no limit to what can be done with the technology. NASA’s building 3d printers that use food as “ink” (3d printed food….who knew!?).
There’s a guy in California who wants to build a really huge 3d printer and use it to build houses in a single day for up to 40% less than conventional construction techniques. There’s a guy in Europe who’s already building lawn furniture out of “ink” made from ground up appliances that would otherwise be sent to the scrap yard. Someone else has made a fully functioning 3d printed bicycle and taken it for a test ride. There are plans to make 3d printed cars. People are printing and test firing guns made with 3d printers right now. Today. It’s really fun to experiment. That’s why I’m glad that there are e-cigarette brands that allow you to change flavors and parts. Please click this link No BS Best Electronic Cigarette for more information.
Just imagine…a collection of half a dozen machines, networked together in a dedicated work space no bigger than your garage, capable of creating almost any product you can imagine. World changing? Oh yes, and then some!