Open Source Digital Fabrication

Blog / Engineering / Renewable Energy

A few weeks ago a project was started here at CAT to research and develop open source digital fabrication methods.   Digital fabrication tools allow us to build precise parts for everyday useful objects; and have been used for rapid prototyping in industry for many years.  The focus of this project is to make such tools accessible at a community level, a bit like having access to a master craftsman in your local town or village, but in digital form.

A key aspect of this project is that all software source code and hardware designs are available freely under the GNU General Public License.  Open sourcing allows a horizontal transfer of technology, gives greater autonomy for local communities to build the technology they need, and enables them to tap into a global knowledge base. It often gives rise to greater modularity in design (easier to fix, maintain and integrate), and thus in many cases better re-use of materials and components: leading to a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle.

Our initial focus is the RepRap 3D printer: a fabricator that can self replicate many of its component parts, thus the technology can be easily passed on to other communities. Documentation can be found at www.reprap.org .  A RepRap can print using a variety of plastics (such as starch based biodegradable PLA).  Other materials will also be investigated, such as ceramic extrusion and wood milling. An analogy for this project is like the symbiotic relationship between bees and flowers. In the same way bees pollinate flowers in return for nectar, humans will assemble machines in return for useful objects. In this way, both parties mutually benefit and human creativity and innovation can still evolve.

Local manufacturing itself should give rise to ‘just in time’ ‘pull-type’ production as opposed to a centralised ‘push’ approach with its associated inefficiencies of storing and distributing goods (naturally there will always be energy/ecological/social trade offs between the two methods).  Digital fabrication is just one of many tools for localised production and living; other aspects are still to be explored within the open source eco-system, such as energy production, material extraction, transportation and agriculture.

At CAT one focus will be the application of these tools for building parts for our displays and renewable energy systems such as molds for wind turbine aerofoils, pelton wheels, mechanical cogs, connectors, jigs and fixings. The project is open to discussion on what the best approaches might be for given situations, and also to explore the infinite realm of ideas on what we can build!

To follow progress of this work, please visit the blog www.digitalfabcat.blogspot.com and feel free to share your findings, links, experiences and thoughts for applications in this collaborative project.


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  • nick

    sounds great, especially the spuds ! back at cat in july will try and find you. great project. good luck.

    • Anonymous

      Sure, get in touch when you’re coming. See you soon. 

  • http://twitter.com/wishart3D Wish

    Hi, i just found this link from the i.materialize article 3D printing vs Mass production Part I: The Power of Unique. Keep up the good work my friend, your doing the same thing i wanna try get off the ground here in Scotland. Mondo is in the mail :D

    • Anonymous

      Thanks :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/gavindjharper Gavin D. J. Harper

    A massive CNC router that could deal with 10×5 jumbo sheets of plywood would be a boon to CAT for making signs and displays and structures :o )

    • Anonymous

      Any idea where we can get one of those for cheap?

  • Suneil Tagore

    thanks for everyones comments.  Please feel free to visit when you are at CAT.  Indeed, a CNC router would be an excellent piece of hardware to have, particularly as it will be able to work with tough materials such as wood and metals.  100k garages are focusing on this approach:
    http://www.100kgarages.com/

    Fab lab project at MIT has a variety of fabricators:
    http://fab.cba.mit.edu/

    some more links listed on:
    http://www.digitalfabcat.blogspot.com

    look forward to further discussion and building!

  • Bmkennedy

    Hi Suneil, 
    We met about a month ago myself and another artist Mair Hughes were down at CAT doing some research for an art project we are undertaking called Utopian Realism. We were really taken by the RepRap system. What do you think is the likelyhood of the RepRap community being interested in working with visual artists? We will be back at CAT in a couple of weeks time, perhaps we can chat more about this then. In the meantime check out our project blog on http://www.utopianrealismproject.blogspot.comCheersBridget Kennedy

  • Ian

    Hey Suneil,  just looked on facebook where an old friend from Edinburgh has made an Emaker Huxley 3D Printer.  Will put you in touch if you like…