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April 26, 2009

RepRap Financial and Societal Impact

Reprap's goal is to make 3D prototypers with low fabrication costs widely available.

The summary from Wikipedia:
Currently, low-end commercial 3D prototypers cost about US$15K [uPrint Personal 3D Printer] and in 2009 US$5K or less and you still need to buy materials and solidifiers, which cost a further $1.5K. Prototypes made by these low-end commercial machines cost around US$2 per cubic centimeter to fabricate. The RepRap Project is on track to produce a 3D prototyping machine and free and open source accompanying software that costs about US$400 to build and which can fabricate objects at a cost of about US$0.02 per cubic centimeter.

US$49K (from Z Corporation)


Reprap has not achieved the price target or the reliability target.

MIT has allowed artists clay to be used in some 3D prototyping machines.

"Normally these supplies cost $30 to $50 a pound. Our materials cost less than a dollar a pound," said Ganter. He said he wants to distribute the free recipes in order to democratize 3-D printing and expand the range of printable objects. "When powders are $30 a pound, I can't let students try something new or experimental," Ganter said. "But when it's $1 a pound [4 to 8 cents per cubic inch], I don't care. I encourage them to try new things." The lab can go through $4,000 of materials per quarter, he said. In the 15 years of the lab's operation, bills for materials dwarf the roughly $20,000 initial costs for a printer. Using anything but company product may violate the printers' warranties. "We can fix our own printers, so we're not worried," Ganter said. "And most of our materials are so close to what's being used that the risk of damaging the machine is small. In the worst-case scenario, if we can't fix the machine ourselves, we would have to pay for a repair."


Note: It takes a sophisticated use who can fix their own fabrication machine. The lower cost clay would still mean $150+ per quarter for basic fabrication at the same volume as before. Volume increases would still increase material cost. Plus costs of other materials that do what clay cannot are not reduced in price.

This site has indicated that in the near and mid-term there will be more financial and societal impact from more advanced rapid manufacturing systems like the Optomec Aerosol Jet and service bureau or the TechShop model of availability.






What is Reprap Doing Now ?
Throughout May 2008 - Many more useful objects were made by various first-generation RepRaps - including a coathook, a pair of sandals, a door handle and a fly swatter.
29 May 2008 - Within a few minutes of being assembled, the first completed "child" machine made the first part for a "grandchild" at the University of Bath, UK.
As of 23 September 2008, at least 100 copies had been produced in various countries. The exact number of RepRap in circulation at that time was unknown.[4]
30 November 2008, First "in the wild" replication occurring. Replication completed by Wade Bortz, the first user outside of the developers team to produce a complete set for another person. Sale is completed in person after meeting over internet.
20 April, 2009 - Announcement of first electronic circuit boards produced automatically with a RepRap. Using an automated control system and a swappable head system capable of printing both plastic and conductive solder. Part is later integrated into the RepRap that made it

A short production run (~1 km) of 3 mm polycaprolactone (PCL) filament suitable for use in the Mk II extruders used in several operational and near-operational reprap prototypes has been produced for the project. With 1 km of polycaprolactone filament, the project has been able to produce larger artifacts and also test the candidate systems for days instead of for hours, as was the case with hand-produced filament.

Vik Olliver's Zaphod prototype has replicated a parts set for the Mk II extruder. Vik assembled the parts into a working Mk II and has successfully employed it as a second extruder on Zaphod. The use of polycaprolactone for the parts set instead of ABS required that several minor changes be made when assembling them into a working Mk II.

PCL also has many applications in the hobbyist market. Some brand names used in selling it to this market are Shapelock in the US, and Polymorph in the UK. Its physical properties -- a very tough, nylon-like plastic that melts to a putty-like consistency at only 60°C. PCL's specific heat and conductivity are low enough that it isn't hard to handle at this temperature.This makes it ideal for small-scale modeling, part fabrication, repair of plastic objects, and rapid prototyping where heat resistance isn't needed. Though molten PCL readily sticks to many other plastics, if the surface is cooled, the stickiness can be minimized while still leaving the mass pliable.

PCL has been known to become brittle, lose its tensile strength and fall apart after several months so is not suitable for permanent or critical applications.


Therefore, the latest materials used by Reprap for electronics have inferior performance, durability and quality than basic commercial electronic devices. Optomec Aerosol Jet is in the process of volumizing and developing 5 gigahertz carbon nanotube electronics. Even the $50,000 to $500,000 rapid manufacturing machines are only for prototyping and short customized production runs. Standard factories dominate high volume.

Market if CAD Software training is Needed

This site has analyzed the higher volume rapid manufacturing future up to 2015.

There are over 5 million licenses in the CAD software environment in 2007 and growth continues at better than 20% per annum. AutoDesk and Solidworks are the leaders in CAD software. Alibre and Rhino make lower cost 3D CAD software. Google’s acquired of SketchUp, a 3D software company.

The projected growth in volume of cheap 3d desktop printers is:
1. Sales of hundreds of desktop units in 2008 to a plan of 3500 in 2009.

Although 3D printing has been around since the early 1990s, the quality has increased dramatically in recent years and the prices are just beginning to drop. Walter Reed uses the ZPrinter 450, made by Z Corp., which retails for about $39,900. But less expensive models are making their way to the market. Z Corp. sells an entry-level model, the ZPrinter 310, for less than $20,000. 3D Systems (TDSC) is developing a sub-$10,000 printer that the company hopedto release by the end of 2008.

The Dimension 3D Printing Group, a business unit of Stratasys, Inc. launched the uPrint Personal 3D Printer (priced at $14,900 USD) at the annual Dimension reseller conference in Anaheim, California in February 2009.
Designed for the desktop, uPrint requires only a 25 x 26 in. footprint and features an 8 x 6 x 6 in. build envelope. Using Dimension’s proven FDM technology, uPrint builds models with Stratasys ABSplus — a material on average 40 percent stronger than the company’s standard ABS material, making it ideally suited for testing the form, fit and function of models and prototypes. uPrint also features a soluble support removal system, allowing for hands-free removal of the model support material.


Desktop Factory hopes to launch a 3D printer for $4,995, which has been delayed.

"Now that the price of these 3D printers has dropped dramatically, almost any enterprise can afford to buy one, so the net result is that companies are using them more and more," says Pete Basiliere, research director at consulting firm Gartner (IT). Because of these price reductions, Basiliere estimates that there will be 300,000 3D printers on the market by 2011. There were 3,651 3D printers sold in 2007, according to Wohlers Associates, a Fort Collins (Colo.)-based consulting firm.


2. In 2010, a price point of roughly $2,000 and somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 units.

3. In 2011, with a price below $1000 and enter the consumer space. They believe they will sell over a 100,000 units a year and have a business with a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue and a product /consumable margin that’s just north of 50%. Consumables will comprise almost 70% of the revenue at that point we will also have a strong EBITDA margin that’s somewhere in the mid 20s. This would be where version 2.0 and 3.0 or Reprap would be competing with and which Reprap could accelerate and expand. This level of penetration would have significant impact on education as Repraps would be in most industrial arts shops in high schools and at universities.

If these targets can be met then perhaps 20% of CAD engineers and hobbyists would own and nearly all would have access to a 3D printer by 2015 and service bureaus (Kinkos) and stores (Walmart, Costco) could provide access to low and some high end machines. The cost of supplies would need to come down a lot as well from $1 per cubic inch. The 2 cents per cubic inch price target for Reprap would enable more developing country possibilities.

There would also need to be some common applications for consumers to need to make something frequently using a 3d printer. Some things that are inefficiently held in a wide range of inventory. Keys would be interesting but having common printers would make physical keys somewhat obsolete.

Broader Impact Requirements: More Ease of Use, Less Training and Better Product Capability
For Reprap and commercial 3D manufacturing and printing to have broader penetration than the 100,000 and 1 million unit level (and even getting up that level) will require a lot of work to simplify the user interation and interfaces. There needs to be files that someone can download as a clickable option beside a catalog of products. The downloadable file would have complete instructions for Reprap's or commercial 3D manufacturing devices that would automate the construction of the product. The system would need to be able interpret the instructions and adapt the construction to the systems capabilities and available materials. There would be some discussion or default parameters where the tradeoffs that need to be implemented are discussed or where higher quality materials are obtained prior to construction if too much functionality, performance or quality would need to be sacrificed.

The societal and business impact will be far larger when the fabrication machines that can work with carbon nanotubes or graphene inks for 5Ghz printable electronics or better have sub-$10,000 prices and have easy to use interfaces that require little training. This appears to be in the 2014-2020 timeframe and it does not appear that the Reprap system would necessarily be the pathway where more advanced systems would be developed.

There were hobbyist kit computers in the early days of personal computers. However, it was Tandy, Commodore, Apply and then IBM that introduced the systems that achieved broad commercial penetration.

RepRap Project goal of a US$400 3d prototyping machine to build and which can fabricate objects at a cost of about US$0.02 per cubic centimeter would compete for and enable a 100,000 to 1 million unit market. A societal fabrication revolution needs more capable systems without production compromises.

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