Re: [rp-ml] Fab@Home

From: steve (
Date: Wed Jan 17 2007 - 03:19:21 EET

Ian Gibson wrote:

> I would probably say that Marshall Burns has been the major champion of
> home fabrication systems, almost from the get-go. Since he has been
> promoting this, we have all waited with bated breath for one of the big
> printer/computer companies to bite the bullet.

Actually, I'm really hoping that one of these 'open' systems is the
first. That would set expectations of machines that could accept any
design downloaded into it and use source materials that are readily
available in bulk.

What we don't want is for this to go the way 2D printers have gone
where the price of a couple of ounces of ink has risen to $60 or more
whilst the cost of the printer has fallen to less than $60!

What we also don't want is the 'iPod' model - a system where you have
to buy your designs from some company that charges you a fortune and
uses DRM to enforce it.

To avoid that becoming 'the norm', we need a few decent 'open' systems
out there to set consumer's expectations.

> Maybe I'm expecting too much from Fab@Home, or maybe I'm interpreting
> too much from the conversation on rp-ml. I'm waiting for the bullet to
> be bitten and I have a feeling it will be soon. I just don't think most
> people would have expected to have to build their own microwave ovens,
> or printers, or automobiles; even though it might be an ultimately more
> rewarding and cheaper option albeit time consuming. I guess what we are
> looking at is the hobby end of the market, when what I hoped to be
> seeing was the consumer end.

I think that most of the things that these machines will make (at
least to start with) will have to be assembled from a bunch of little
parts. If someone has the ability/desire to assemble the end product
in this way, it's not unreasonable to assume that this same person will
be able to assemble the 3D printer itself.

> I think my problem is for additive fabrication to be available in the
> home, it has to be a volume product.

...or a 'viral' product such as the RepRap where the machine can
make parts to make a copy of itself. Scale of production is
then irrelevent because it grows exponentially. The first few
'generations' of machines are built (perhaps with some difficulty)
by relative experts - the next few by enthusiasts who are improving
the design as they go - the last few generations result in millions
of consumer-grade machines that are vastly more evolved and refined
than the first couple of generations.

It looked for a while like the Fab@Home could be that first generation
but it's not designed to be built from parts it could make - and without
some kind of 'overhang' capability, one would have to be quite careful
in building parts for an next generation.

However, I suppose one might consider it "generation (-1)" of the
RepRap scheme (what is often termed the "RepStrap") - a 'bootstrap'
by which the entire process gets started.

I don't know.

> The cost reductions can therefore
> result from the scale of production. To do this properly requires
> significant investment in plant. RP machines are as expensive as they
> are now because none of the companies are geared towards large volume
> production. I am confident that if Stratasys, Objet, or 3DS can be sure
> of selling 100,000+ machines per year, then at least one version of
> their machine would be at least 1/10 the current cost.

I think it's mostly a matter of "What the market can stand". Once there
are cheaper machines, I bet the manufacturers find ways to save a ton
of money.

> In relation to the Fab@Home principle. I don't really think people are
> prepared to compromise on quality, flexibility, etc. now that they have
> seen what existing RP can do.

Well, the people who own existing RP machines might not - but there
are vast untapped markets for RP where anything that costs more than
a thousand dollars is beyond the financial resources of the user. Those
people don't have RP, probably havn't used RP - may not even be aware
of high end RP. I talk to friends about 3D printing and they are
amazed to here that such things exist at all!

> Just look at how printing technology migrated into the home.

Yeah - notice how everyone is happy with 300 dpi colour and 600 dpi
monochrome - when commercial printers use 2000 to 4000 dpi. Notice
how 'home printers' are still stuck at A4/US-letter paper sizes when
commercial ones can print posters. Notice how unbelievably freaking
long it takes to my HP OfficeJet to print one full sized photo -
compared to the honking great colour laser machine we have at work!

This is quite analogous to the 3D printer situation. Sure, you
*CAN* buy a 0.1mm precision machine that has a working volume
of 0.5x0.5x0.5 meter and can deposit however many cc's per
minute. But if those cost $20k, people may be more than happy
with half the amount of precision, a tenth of that amount of
working volume and a deposition rate that's twenty times slower...
...IF they can pick one up for $500.

It's a different market at this stage.

Obviously, there are owners of $20k machines who will say
to themselves "Hey, I could do this with one of those $500
machines" - but there will probably be an equal number of
people who had never heard of 3D printing until they
saw their neighbour's home machine - who will see a use
for 3D printing that nobody had noticed before - but find
that the low end 'hobby' machine isn't good enough and
immediately migrate up to a top-of-the-line system.

I think it's quite likely that initially, the existance
of cheap 3D printers will actually increase sales of the
more capable high end machines - but then as they get
bigger, faster and better every year, they'll start to
erode the high end market from the bottom up.

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