If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I’m a bit obsessed with answering the “why now?” question regarding 3D printing, particularly framing the current state of the industry in the context of expiring patents (see here, and here). There’s a cool article at ComputerWorld UK today that starts to fill in a part of the story that we haven’t covered here yet – RepRap. Not surprisingly, the UK tie-in is prominently featured:
Although 3D printing technology came of age in the late 1980s (with first experiments in the 1960s) its current expansion phase had to wait impatiently in the wings until 2009 when key patents expired in one of the key 3D printing technologies – FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling), where objects are built up layer by layer with extruded melted plastic.
That unleashed the open source 3D printing movement brilliantly inspired and led by British academic Dr Adrian Bowyer with the open source RepRap (Replicating Rapid Platform) initiative. Based on an open Arduino platform RepRap enabled heavily standardised, open source, self-replicating 3D print ecosystems to drive that step change reduction in entry costs.
Bowyer set up RepRap in 2004 at the University of Bath with a goal of slashing the entry price for 3D printing from the then $40k to just $500. By 2008, and in time for the 2009 FDM patent expiries), RepRap had attracted a global following and was fully off the ground with provenly replicable product poised ready for the open source community.
The article also goes on to discuss what the next SLS patent expirations might mean for 3D printing.