New Fab@Home Machine “Model 2”


Fab@Home has announced it’s new 3D printer designs. They don’t sell 3D printers, they do research and developent and then they set them free for all to benefit from and build on their own. How awesome is that? The Fab@Home project is out of Cornell University and I’ve been a big fan of their work since I first got into 3D printing. The fab@home machine is a bit different than the MakerBot in that it focuses on a syringe based toolhead instead of plastic extruder.

I asked Jeffrey Lipton some questions about the new machine to get the full scoop!

Can you give a short history of Fab@Home?

Fab@Home was started in 2006 by Professor Hod Lipson and Evan Malone of the Cornell Computational Synthesis Lab. Hod Lipson did not set out to revolutionize fabbing. Rather, while attempting to design a robot that could “evolve” by reprogramming itself and producing its own hardware, he realized that he needed a rapid-prototyping fabrication machine, or “fabber”. Although, this technology had existed for about two decades, they were extremely expensive, could only print one material, and were restricted to high-tech labs. Therefore, Lipson, with then PhD student Evan Malone, decided to encourage experimentation and develop a low cost open source fabbing system. Within a year the project was award the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough award and hundreds of kits were built. Model 1 fabbers were used on 6 continents in research labs, fablabs, and private homes. For more information see out history page on the Fab@Home wiki.

What’s exciting about Model 2?

Model 2 is a complete redesign of the fabber system. Model 1 was revolutionary, and we learned a lot about the needs of the communities who use the Fab@Home system. When used for organ printing research in bio labs, or in high school, wiring and assembly time was a major barrier for users. While hackers and other of technical backgrounds could bang out a unit in a weekend, others struggled. Additionally the positioning and speed of the system was insufficient for many long large prints.

Now the Model 2 unit uses closed loop positioning to make more accurate and higher speed prints. All wiring is done with Cat5 and usb cables, and the system has been designed to reduce the price to approximately $1600 in material. The system can be build using only a hex wrench set, a small hand file and a soldering iron for thermoplastic inserts.

The Model 2 can use interchangeable tool heads, allowing the machine to be used for printing plastics, milling with a Dremel attachment, and multi material prints, giving it new versatility. Multi material ability on the model 1 allowed us to printer batteries, actuators, sensors and countless other active objects, and the model 2’s design makes these tasks even easier.

One more thing, the Model 2 was designed entirely by undergraduate students, members of the Cornell University Fab@Home student project team. The new software we are designing is being made by Cornell students working with members of the NextFab Organization and the Centro de Tecnologia da Informação Renato Archer (CTI) in Campinas Brazil

Please explain your BSD license. Why did you choose that one?

When Fab@Home first debuted, intellectual property was a major stumbling block for the field of Solid Freeform Fabrication research. All machines were expensive, making you afraid to experiment. No one would try to stick chocolate in an Objet machine! As soon as someone had a good working idea, it was patented, and innovation was halted while it was capitalized. This lead to SFF being uses exclusively in niche markets, creating a low demand for systems, which in turn led to high cost proprietary systems. Making a BSD licensed kit allowed everyone to have a common platform for innovation, which industry and individuals could use alike. Its much easier for industry to innovate if there is no IP strings attached.

With Open-source hardware, licensing comes down to method of production. Fab@Home uses off the self parts to create a system and relies on existing infrastructure. RepRap bootstraps its way towards its own method of manufacturing, and Makerbot relies mostly on centralized production. BSD makes sense if you don’t have a centralized means of production and you want to push innovation on all fronts. Since Fab@Home uses off-the-shelf components, people must profit off the design. Additionally it’s useful to have community members bundle the kits or make units for profit. There is nothing patentable in the design of the Fab@Home units, so there is no real need to protect it.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

My hope for personal fabrication is that it will grow into a horizontal industry. In the days of the mainframe computer each company made the chips, OS and programs. Today we have companies that specialize on a single part of the machine. Now companies make large 3d printers and control all aspect from materials to software. Fab@Home, RepRap, and Makerbot are like the early kits that started the personal computer revolution. Eventually, as demand and markets grow, we will have distinct companies and projects to make materials, deposition tools, control electronics, chassis and software. The first step was opening up the SFF systems to any material with the Model 1; Kraftmark already makes several materials for the Fab@Home. Next we will need to develop community wide standards to enable project to specialize.

I dream of making our new Fab@School Project a reality. We are working with the Glen Bull at the Curry School of Education in the University of Virginia on reimagining science and math education. Researchers have proven that the reason Americans hate science and math is because we tend to have bad science and math classes. We have learned to hate math and science as a society. We have not however learned to hate engineering! By putting digital fabrication into the classroom, we hope to enable a new type of hands on building oriented curriculum for schools which will provide students with motivation to learn about science and math in the k-6 age range.

My personal hope is to get my PhD. I started on this project as an undergraduate, and am now a PhD candidate in Professor Lipson’s CCSL. Professor Lipson’s goal is to 3d print a robot, and Evan Malone made the first great leaps in that direction but we still have a lot of work. I’ve been assigned to finishing the task. At some point in the not too distant future, a robot will crawl out of a Fab@Home and I will be allowed to walk out of Cornell with a PhD.

Thanks Jeffry! Great to see this design hit the internet! Go open source 3D printing!