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Make It Yourself



"Everything the name implies," says Klaus, "and considerably less."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nanofax AG offers a technology that digitally reproduces objects, physically, at a distance. Within certain rather large limitations, of course. A child's doll, placed in a Lucky Dragon Nanofax unit in London, will be reproduced in the Lucky Dragon Nanofax unit in New York…"

(William Gibson, All Tomorrow's Parties. New York: Ace Books. 1999, p.195).


Ever since we saw replicators on the science fiction TV show ‘Star Trek’ rearranging subatomic particles to make edible food on the Starship Enterprise, it has been anticipated that we will be able to fabricate downloaded products at home.  This is the logical 3D evolution of desktop publishing which allows us to create or download and print brochures and documents today.  Desktop manufacturing is the ability to manufacture physical items directly from your computer desktop.


The growth in ownership of relatively powerful, cheap, personal computers and the parallel upsurge in use of and access to the Internet (at least in the industrialised world) has transformed the means by which we communicate, carry out work and entertain ourselves.  This has also brought about greatly enhanced functionality for traditional design techniques, helping practitioners from many areas to bring their ideas to fruition with increased speed and productivity.  Over the past decade we have witnessed an unprecedented development and increased accessibility of CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Manufacture) technologies.  With the adoption of 3D CAD software; use of CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines; and RP&M (Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing) technologies, practitioners have unprecedented opportunities to design objects and structures, realised through the application of new materials and building techniques which circumvent traditional haptic, craft-based skill sets.


The expanded access to these technologies has come about by the availability of software applications that compile the necessary programming code from a virtual representation of the designed object.  This capability has essentially made programming the necessary instructions to fabricate a complex geometric entity into a visual activity.  Through the adoption of these technologies, the processes of design and production have been brought closer together and designs that were previously too expensive or too experimental to be realised in lesser numbers are now more practical propositions.  The tools to support 'On-Demand' production are becoming accessible to small enterprises and individual practitioners.


Part cost of an object produced via these technologies per unit is more expensive than a mass-produced part.  However, since there is no need for the prohibitive tooling costs or substantial lead-times involved in injection moulding this is offset in cases where unique or short runs of objects are required.  It is expected that part costs will decrease as the use of the technologies increases and there is more competition in the industry.  In general when dealing with digital technologies there is a high cost of maintaining computing systems.


The range of materials currently available for use in conjunction with RP technologies is limited (e.g. epoxies, waxes, ABS, Nylon, steel, gypsum, etc.) and at present multiple materials are not possible (differentials in cooling rates tend to pull materials apart).  Also, long-term degradation of materials is a problem.  Many materials are UV sensitive (e.g. SLA epoxies, SLS Nylon) and as they degrade and change colour.  Other materials are fragile (e.g. SLA epoxies, FDM ABS parts, most types of 3D print) or have unstable structural properties (e.g. SLA epoxies tend to warp over time).  All of these processes are digital and there is not yet a means of eradicating the interpolation of curves that occurs as stair-stepping on produced parts.  The texture of these parts is rough compared to injection-moulded parts and extensive hand-working is necessary to remove this.  The build envelope of many of these technologies is relatively small.  Therefore large parts must be constructed as components and assembled later.


Software developments are ceaseless - this results in a consistent need for continuous training.  A multitude of software packages are often necessary in order to accomplish complex results (e.g. a 3D modelling application, Pre-processing application for file preparation and a third application to control the equipment), adding to not only the financial burden and learning curve.  However, there are increasing numbers of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) applications available.




RP Industry and 3D CAD links


The usual suspects.


DIY Machines




The goals of The CandyFab Project are to reduce the costs associated with three-dimensional solid freeform fabrication, and to promote the use of fabrication technologies for culinary, educational, and artistic purposes.


DAVID-Laserscanner Low-Cost 3D Laser Range Scanning for Everyone


DAVID-Laserscanner is a freeware software for 3d laser range scanning. All you need to build a 3d scanner is a PC, a camera (e.g. a webcam), a background corner, and a laser that projects a line onto the object you want to scan. So everyone can use it to scan objects without high costs; this is the big advantage over commercial solutions which are rather expensive.


Fab @ Home


Fab @ Home is a website dedicated to making and using fabbers - machines that can make almost anything, right on your desktop. This website provides an open source kit that lets you make your own simple fabber, and use it to print three dimensional objects. You can download and print various items, try out new materials, or upload and share your own projects. Advanced users can modify and improve the fabber itself.




Printers are a common everyday machine. They use ink and technology to make things in 2 dimensions. Imagine if instead of printing on bits of paper, you had a printer that works in 3 dimensions. You would have to use a solid ink, but you would be able to print real, robust, mechanical parts. To give you an idea of how robust these parts could be think of Lego bricks and you're in the right ballpark. You could make lots of useful stuff. Interestingly, you could also make most of the parts to make another 3D printer, but not all of them. That would be a machine which could make itself.




Desktop Factory


Until now, 3D printers have been large, expensive machines confined to the shops and design departments of major corporations and elite design firms. With the introduction of the Desktop Factory 3D printer, priced disruptively lower than the nearest competitive offering, Desktop Factory becomes the leader in high performance low-cost 3D printing technologies.


Roland Milling Machines


Roland ASD milling machines let engineers and designers mill 3D prototypes quickly and inexpensively. They are also used for creating wax models for jewelry design. 




Universal Laser Systems, Inc. is the pioneer and highest volume manufacturer of unique computer peripherals used for laser engraving, marking and cutting. Universal has worldwide distribution and services thousands of customers in hundreds of different industries.




Priced at $9,900, the V-Flash™ Desktop Modeler allows you to affordably build 3-D models whenever you need them.






Intelligent Modeling and Generative design technologies will soon allow customers to design.




OGLE (OpenGLExtractor) is an open source software package by the Eyebeam OpenLab that allows for the capture and re-use of 3D geometry data from 3D graphics applications running on Microsoft Windows.




MeshLab is an open source, portable, and extendible system for the processing and editing of unstructured 3D triangular meshes. The system is aimed to help the processing of the typical not-so-small unstructured models arising in 3D scanning, providing a set of tools for editing, cleaning, healing, inspecting, rendering and converting this kind of meshes.


Moment of Inspiration


MoI is also a fantastic complementary tool for a polygon-based artist since its CAD toolset and advanced boolean functions enable extremely rapid creation of mechanical or man-made type “hard surface” models. The icing on the cake is MoI’s unique polygon mesh export that generates exceptionally clean and crisp N-Gon polygon meshes from CAD NURBS models.


Pepakura Designer


Pepakura Designer allows you to create paper craft models from 3D data. Pepakura Designer does not contain software to create the original 3D models, but instead translates them to a 2D printable format.




Viewstl is an open source way to view STL files as shaded on-screen images.


RP Service Bureaus (UK)


Materialise (Belgium)


Materialise was founded in 1990 as a joint venture with the University of Leuven-Belgium. It has since grown into a European supplier of plastic prototype solutions, and is today a worldwide leader in the RP industry.




3T RPD Ltd was established in 1999 and named after the 3 disciplines in which it operates; Technology, Techniques and Training; and the market it supports; Rapid Product Development.




Inition aims to be the leading centre of quality 3D expertise and products in the world, through constant innovation and service levels exceeding customers' expectations.


Metropolitan Works


Metropolitan Works is London's leading Creative Industries Centre, helping designers, artists and manufacturers develop ideas and bring new products to the market place through access to digital manufacturing, workshops, knowledge transfer, advice, courses and exhibitions. The centre is part of London Metropolitan University's Sir John Cass Dept of Art, Media and Design.


Amalgam Modelmaking Ltd


Amalgam specialises in combining Stereolithography, Resin vacuum casting, laser cutting and traditional modelmaking to provide a one-stop solution for designers, product developers and the manufacturing industry generally.


AME Prototype Solutions


AME Prototype Solutions has been in operation since 1996 and provide a wide range of Rapid Prototyping services. The company now has four in-house Rapid Prototyping machines including SLA 3500 and SLA Viper.


ARRK Product Development Group Limited


ARRK are one of the world's largest Rapid Prototyping (RP), Tooling & Moulding service providers.


CDG Concurrent Design Group


CDG offer 3D Scanning & 3D Printing products & services. We use high accuracy Breuckmann optical scanners and ZCorp mono & full colour 3D printers.


Cyba Manufacturing Technology Ltd


Cyba-Man-Tech invented an innovative 6 axis robotic manipulation system, for which they were granted the international patents rights.  With the latest developments in hardware, software and application, a unique device for universal CNC positioning in three dimensional space has evolved.  The universal CNC positioning system is known as the Cybaman Replicator.


I K Tilbury Designs Ltd


We specialise in Rapid Prototyping and 'bridge to production' injection moulded parts using production materials.


Laser Prototypes (Europe) Ltd


We manufacture fast, accurate, quality parts. As the longest established RP bureau in the UK & Ireland, Laser Prototypes (Euorpe) Ltd can offer an invaluable breadth of experience in providing many different industries with a very wide and varied range of models.


Martello Limited


Martello Limited produce best quality SLA and SLS rapid prototypes and vacuum castings.


P1 Technology Ltd


P1 Technology specialises in helping customers with engineering solutions, engineering design and all stages of new product development.


protocol.cnc Ltd


Protocol produces cost-effective, production-viable prototypes.


Prototype Parts Ltd


Prototype Parts Ltd are a friendly bureau with the facilities and expertise to assist in all areas of prototyping and short run production.


Online Fabrication


Big Blue Saw


Big Blue Saw  is in Atlanta, Georgia and brings together the Internet and computer-controlled rapid manufacturing. A part file can be uploaded and it will be fabricated and shipped out in 14-21 days.




eMachineShop pioneered online machining. We have made it more convenient and easier than ever for both engineers and non-engineers to make custom parts. You begin by downloading the free eMachineShop software. Then you draw your part in our easy-to-use free 3D CAD software. When you're happy with your design, you simply click for instant pricing and ordering.




Have your electronic characters made into incredibly detailed, full color, real-life statuettes.




Fluidforms offers everyone an individual Design. Our website enables you to design according to your own preferences with but a few clicks of the mouse. Create your own unique forms, an bring to life your own individual Design.




Ponoko is the world's first personal manufacturing platform. It's the online space for a community of creators and consumers to use a global network of digital manufacturing hardware to co-create, make and trade individualized product ideas on demand.


TechShop (ok, so it's not online but we need more of these...)


TechShop is a fully-equipped open-access workshop located in Menlo Park, California that allows users to drop in any time and work on their own projects.






Instructables is a web-based documentation platform where passionate people share what they do and how they do it, and learn from and collaborate with others.




MAKE Magazine brings the do-it-yourself mindset to all the technology in your life. MAKE is loaded with exciting projects that help you make the most of your technology at home and away from home.


Prototype Magazine


Prototype provides independent news coverage, hardware and service provider evaluations and stimulates discussion of the hot topics within the rapid prototyping industry - with reference to both mainstream rapid prototyping technology, and emerging areas such as direct manufacture.


Rapid Prototyping: An Overview


Rapid Prototyping (RP) can be defined as a group of techniques used to quickly fabricate a scale model of a part or assembly using three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) data.


Rapid Prototyping Homepage


This document is updated frequently in an effort to keep up with the latest developments in the fast paced field of Rapid Prototyping (aka Solid Freeform Fabrication, Rapid Manufacturing, Desktop Manufacturing, Direct Manufacturing, or Layered Manufacturing).


TCT Online


TCT Magazine (Time-Compression Technologies) is the longest established title in the Rapid Product Development and Rapid Manufacturing sector.


Wohlers Associates, Inc.


Wohlers Associates, Inc. is a 21-year old consulting firm that provides technical, marketing, and strategic advice on the new developments and trends in product development, rapid prototyping, 3D printing, additive fabrication, tooling, and rapid manufacturing.




Digital Fabrication Flickr Group


This group is for images related to digital fabrication techniques, such as rapid prototyping, laser sintering, stereolithography, laser cutting. Also known as fabbing, these methods enable the production of physical objects directly from digital models, allowing for new forms and aesthetics.


Rapid Prototyping Electronic Mailing List







We do research that explores the use of digital manufacturing technologies in the creative process of designing and making three dimensional objects.


MIT Center for Bits & Atoms


MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms is an ambitious interdisciplinary initiative that is looking beyond the end of the Digital Revolution to ask how a functional description of a system can be embodied in, and abstracted from, a physical form.


Scripted By Purpose


"Explicit and encoded processes within design” - an exhibition at the FUEL Collection in Philadelphia curated by Marc Fornes and Skyllar Tibbits.


Perimeters Boundaries and Borders


This exhibition explored the possibilities afforded to artists, architects, designers, and others for the creation of new types of objects, buildings, and products stemming from the increasing use of and integration between digital technologies for design and fabrication.


Unto This Last


This London design firm/furniture workshop manufacture in-house designed pieces of furniture in the 'Just-in-time/Made-to-Order' process but at mass produced furniture prices.




Future Factories describes the exploration of the potential for direct digital manufacturing, using the latest CAD 3D modelling and rapid prototyping techniques, in which variance is introduced by the computer software.


Geoffrey Mann


Mann works as a product artist, digital consultant and lecturer and his current research focuses on creative ways of 'humanising' the processes of digital production.


Joris Laarman


Laarman's designs are intended to forge an emotional bond between the people who'll use them - and the object itself.


Patrick Jouin


Jouin used to work as a designer at Phillippe Starck's Paris studio and has created a range of rapid prototype furniture.


Freedom of Creation


FOC is a pioneering design and research company specialising in Digital Manufacturing projects for the FOC label, as well as for design labels, manufacturers, research organisations and universities.





MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld talks about his Fab Lab - a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It's a simple idea with powerful results: His Fab Labs, set up in communities around the world, let people build eyeglass frames, toys, computer parts – anything they need and can imagine. As Gershenfeld explains, this kind of empowerment leads to education, to problem-solving, to job creation and then to invention, in a truly creative process.




ATKINSON, P. and DEAN, L., 2003. Teaching techné. 5th European Academy of Design Conference, Barcelona. Available online at: http://www.ub.es/5ead/PDF/10/Atkinson.pdf [Accessed 28 August, 2007].


ATKINSON, P., 2003. FutureFactories: design work by Lionel Theodore Dean. Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield Press. Available online at: http://des-tech.hud.ac.uk/images/PageMainImages/17621_FutureFactores2.pdf [Accessed 28 August, 2007].


BEAMAN, J., 1997. The early roots of rapid mechanical prototyping technology can be traced to at least two technical areas: topography and photosculpture. Available online at: http://www.wtec.org/loyola/rp/03_01.htm [Accessed 30 August, 2007].


CALLICOTT, N., 2001. Computer-aided manufacture in architecture the pursuit of novelty. Oxford: Architectural Press.


DAUERER, V., 2007. Interview with Digitalability curator Atilano González-Pérez. Available online at: http://pingmag.jp/2007/05/11/digitalability/ [Accessed 30 August, 2007].


DEVEREUX, J., 2002. Mass customization: let consumers collaborate on product designs. Available online at: http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_0802/cus/ [Accessed September 28, 2004].


GERSHENFELD, N., 2005. Fab: the coming revolution on your desktop - from personal computers to personal fabrication. New York: Basic Books.


HOPKINSON, N., HAGUE, R.J.M., & DICKENS, P.M., eds. 2005. Rapid manufacturing: an industrial revolution for a digital age. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.


JACOBS, P. F., 1995. Stereolithography and other RP&M technologies: from rapid prototyping to rapid tooling. New York: Society of Manufacturing Engineers.


RHOADES, L.J., 2005. The transformation of manufacturing in the 21st Century. The Bridge. Volume 35, No. 1. Spring. Available online at: http://www.nae.edu/NAE/bridgecom.nsf/BridgePrintView/MKEZ-6AHJL5?OpenDocument [Accessed 30 August, 2007].


STERLING, B., 2004. When blobjects rule the earth. Available online at: http://www.boingboing.net/images/blobjects.htm [Accessed 30 August, 2007].


STERLING, B., 2005. Shaping things. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.


TSENG, M.M., & JIAO, J., 2001. Mass customization. In Handbook of Industrial Engineering, Technology and Operation Management. 3rd. ed. p. 685.

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