Rapid Prototyping Comes of Age with This Solid Freeform Fabrication Kit
We've been waiting a long time for a product like this and now it has arrived. For the home user and those who don't have $15,000-$90,000 to drop on a high end rapid prototype unit, the Fabber gives the tools to build your own home manufacturing system that can build just about anything as long as you can design it. Designed by a guy who got tired of losing Lego pieces, the Fabber lets anybody have a desktop Rapid Prototype unit that can manufacture pretty much anything - let's have a look at this dynamic hobby tool.
Solid Freeform Fabrication or Rapid Prototyping has been around for quite a long time now. Many commercial companies offer various type of machines that can manufacture high precision parts out of both plastic or metal to exating tolerances. The downside, they cost anywhere between $15,000 and upwards of $90,000. Some machines can even run up to $500,000.
The Fabber is a joint project started in the Computational Synthesis Lab at Cornell by Dr. Hod Lipson. He initially visualized the Fabber as a tool to reproduce lost Lego pieces. It is a low cost reasonable detail sold freeform modelling or fabrication tool with a build volume of about 512 cubic inches. or an 8' cube.
What the Fabber really represents is a grass-roots approach to what has been a niche product for more than 20 years. As they explain, they are comparing the Fabber to the Altair 8000, one of the first microcomputers and one of the things that triggered the home computer boom back in the mid 1970's. The Fabber even costs about the same with inflation, at about $2300 for parts, whereas the old Altair would have cost about $2000 in today's dollars.
The real beauty of the tool is that it is all made from off-the-shelf components. For a little over $2,000 you can buy the complete kit and put it together, or buy a fully assembled unit from a company called Koba Industries, which has partnered with Fab @ Home to build and sell the product at only a little bit above assembly prices.
The Fabber will take a standard STL file format used by any of the 3D design applications and produce an actual model based on that file. They have used the Fabber to produce a watch with embedded electronics, a working flashlight with circuitry injected, as well as some other really cool things.
This is a brand new technology and certainly not as refined as the high end production machines that can be bought for multi-thousands of dollars. But as a concept, it's something that can be developed and evolved. All it takes is ingenuity and a desire to see how far you can go.
What the Fabber is specifically, is a Solid Free Form Fabrication tool. It uses a lifting table combined with a XY axis stepper motor that guides a print head or engine that contains a number of syringes. Each syringe can hold a different fluid material, and depending on the size of the nozzle, you can potentially use the Fabber to build very small and detailed objects.