RepRap 3D printers
Should I buy a RepRap 3D printer?
RepRap 3D printers (Replicating Rapid Prototyper)
A RepRap is essentially a machine that can replicate itself, although in the case of The RepRap project the 3D printer will be able to reproduce all its own plastic parts; the remaining parts including the electronics, metal parts etc, must however be easily available in any part of the world (which is one of the principals to accessibility of the project).
Therefore, a machine that can produce itself will require the plans to be able to do that, which means the various software files and parts lists must be available to anyone. The continuous improvement of the design is achieved with these modifications also being made available to the community, so that they can in essence upgrade their machines by printing new parts and modifying their existing machine.
To understand the RepRap community one can equate it to the “open source” software community, which was founded on the premise that software can be developed faster by a community of interested and passionate people if the source code of the software was made freely available. Members of the community would then work together to continually improve the software by fixing bugs and building in new features. There would be a central depository for all the changes which would be vetted by a small group who control the project to decide on not only the integrity of the changes but also the suitability, and if it is in line with the goals of the project. In some instances you may have break away groups forming if they disagreed with the direction, which could take the project onto a different course. This is very visible within the Linux community with multiple versions available, but are still true to the main core of the project.
The alternative to the Open Source product is the closed source systems, which would be like Microsoft Windows, or in the case of 3D printers those that are currently sold at much higher price points to industrial customers. These printers generally come pre-assembled and in a fully functioning and calibrated state that can literally be switched on and started printing once the software is installed and the access codes are available.
In the case of the Open source RepRap printers, these will generally come in a kit form with all the parts and instructions on how to assemble and configure them. This in itself can be a big task depending on your technical ability and the type of RepRap printer you have bought; as assembly times can vary from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Furthermore, as these printers are constantly evolving you would need to become involved in relevant online forums to get support for troubleshooting problems and to keep informed on issues and modifications that may be required to get optimal prints. You will need to have a passion for “messing” around and tinkering , to try out new things and a level of patience with trial and error to get the printer to work.
When buying a RepRap printer you will be embarking on a journey towards your first 3D print, and that journey can be filled with lots of frustration, but also lots of discovery. This might not be for everyone but for many an engineer or enthusiast this is a great task and they love spending the time learning about their printer and getting it to print their first 3D components. That being said, the satisfaction of completing the journey will be worth it.
If you are not into the journey, and just want to start printing your own components or get your own prototypes going, then maybe a RepRap is not for you, and you should look for a commercially available closed source printer that is ready with a bit of power and a quick software installation process. Check out RSOnline for further information and to see the various 3D printers on offer.
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