The state of desktop manufacturing

Make magazine dedicates its 21st issue to the state of advancement of the various aspects of desktop manufacturing (3D printing and scanning, personal fabrication, etc..). The articles are not available without subscription, but one article that is available represents the views of sector pioneers. The statements were collected by Gareth Branwyn:

“* Aaron Nielsen, Oomlout,, a distributed design house that makes laser-cut, open source robot and microcontroller kits

What we feel best represents the potential of this burgeoning movement is not a machine, or software, nor is it even immediately identifiable as desktop manufacturing. However, it shows how evolution in all these areas is making previously impossible projects possible. We’re talking about the Maker Beam project (, an effort to produce an open source building system (in the spirit of Lego and Meccano).

In the past, an idea like this would’ve needed to be made attractive to banks or VCs. But in this case, it captured the imagination of enough people on a distributed funding site called Kickstarter (, getting seed funding from 131 backers to the tune of $17,922. The cost of software to do 3D designs would’ve been another stumbling block, but now, freely available open source alternatives exist. The prototypes would have been difficult and expensive to obtain, but now are as easy as pressing Print. Finally, the expense of a marketing campaign would bookend the project, however there are already 131 town criers, and hopefully many more, who will be swayed by the idea and help get the word out. And all that makes us very excited.

* Shawn Wallace, Fab Academy,, a distributed school teaching digital fabrication worldwide

Spend a few hours reading through the complete archives of the RepRap blog ( from 2005 to present. It’s worth it in the same way that it’s worth reading Andy Hertzfeld’s, about the early days of the Mac. It’s an oral history of a watershed moment in technology. The way we usually think of it, a technology passes through a couple of crucial moments when it becomes first industrialized, then commoditized. The Rep Rap project is leapfrogging to the final watershed status of folk technology: accessible to everyone.

* Chris Riley, DIYLILCNC,, project to build a cheap 3-axis CNC for the everymaker

I’m excited by how open source is putting CNC in the hands of artists, hobbyists, and indie designers. There’s a growing trend, among amateur-built CNC/3D printing devices, of using bigger/more precise/commercial CNC machines to build components for these more modest 3D siblings. For example, there are quite a few instruction sets floating around that involve building your own 3D printer with laser-cut parts, or making parts for a small mill on a larger commercial CNC. There are also some really robust open source machine control software packages that take care of potentially difficult machine control problems; after all, you can have the fanciest 3D printer in the world that’s little more than a large paperweight without software to drive it.

This combination – open source control software, alongside CNC devices, built with the aid of other CNC devices, from open source CAD files – really illustrates just how powerful the open source ethos can be and how far it’s taking us.”

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