Open Source Pushes 3D Printers To Success

Eric Brown | | February 1, 2013

Whether or not desktop 3D printing is the forerunner of the "third industrial revolution," as Jeremy Rifkin and Chris Anderson have suggested, it's definitely one of the hottest tech trends around. Open source DIY hacker engineers, artists, and craft designers have led the surge on the low end while higher-end models are already being used in rapid prototyping and short-run, custom manufacturing.

The market has been fueled by open source hardware communities, primarily the RepRap project and the MakerBot community. RepRap released its first open 3D printer kit design in 2007, inviting hackers and manufacturers to tinker with hardware and software. A RepRap-based industry has emerged almost as magically as the plastic objets that grow layer by layer in a 3D printer.

There are now over a dozen open source spinoffs of RepRap's Darwin, Mendel, Prusa Mendel, and Huxley designs. The naming scheme reflects RepRap's evolutionary model: A RepRap printer can fabricate its own plastic parts, fulfilling much of the project's goal to be entirely self-replicating...