This event brought together a with views on the increasing availability of 3D printers and other small scale manufacturing technology.
Adrian Bowyer, senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath is inventor of the RepRap, a self-replicating open-source 3D printer on which the MakerBot Thing-o-matic, recently shown at CES, is based. Haydn A. Insley, is Manager at Fab Lab Manchester, the UK’s first Fabrication Laboratory where you can turn up and use their equipment, software and expertise to prototype your ideas. Alice Taylor, previously Commissioning Editor for Education at Channel 4, is now the founder of start-up Makieworld, which aims to make customisable dolls.
Watch the event video here
Click the thumbnails to scroll through the speakers
A new wave of entrepreneurs
The event considered how 3D printing is changing the industry and the impact it is having on entrepreneurs. With the costs of prototyping coming down, what does this mean for start-up companies who have a product to manufacture? Will this lead to a wave of ‘digital manufacturers’?
Adrian Bowyer is responsible for the RepRap project, the replicating rapid prototyper that is designed to be able to print a significant fraction of its own parts. At the moment that’s about 50%, but the other parts are easy to obtain from a hardware shop or online. There is also a website, Thingiverse, where you can download designs that others have created to print on your printer. His analogy for this is that it is like MP3 sharing, but for solid things. Many other analogies were used during the course of the event, including the early internet, home computing, camcorders and film-making, and paper printing.
At FabLab in Manchester, they have the five elements you need for personal manufacturing. These are the prototyping equipment; the design software and IT to control and design for these machines; the people who can teach you how to use it all; the facility, which provides a nucleus for a community which learns and improves; and accessibility – anyone can use a FabLab and Fridays and Saturdays are free. The future vision is to bring many more FabLabs to the UK through the UK Fab Lab foundation, and to see accelerated innovation from the open innovation and rapid prototyping that this technology and these locations make possible.
Alice Taylor 'gave up her cushy job', as she described it, to create a start-up. Toys are an area that is very short of innovation, and while there are many ways to customise your online avatar or game character, you can’t do the same with dolls. She is looking for smooth, pre-coloured printed dolls that are also biodegradable (“so you can feed them to the dog when you’re done with them”). The existing technology isn’t quite able to do all these things together yet, but she is betting that it will get there in the next year and a half.