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Rep-rap: The invention of an open source 3D printer

The free software movement is one examples of how users can be involved in the learning processes of new technological practices. Within this subculture, a new branch is trying to apply the same ideas and methods on the development of so-called "open hardware". The term refers to hardware being developed collectively and where the results are published under a free license. Several such projects have been started up in recent years. Following this trend this pilot study explores the development of a home-built 3D printer. The project, known as the "Rep-rap", provides a flexible manufacturing process adapted for home use. The technology has long been used in industry for making prototypes, but such a machine can cost several hundred thousands dollars. In comparison, the price of the parts for a Rep-rap is a few hundred dollars. One factor that has brought down the cost of Rep-rap is that over half of the parts can be printed on a second 3D printer. The ambition is to design the machine in such a way that as many components as possible are "printable". Enthusiasts who are scattered all over the world drive the development. They document the results of their experiments and describe the modifications on blogs and discussion forums. Four questions are raised in this study: 

 Firstly how is the boundary between experts and lay people being reinvented in a context without any pre-existing organizational divisions?

Secondly, how are the different levels of technical expertise negotiated in the design of the technology? In other words, what are the practical limitations in terms of pre-given user knowledge and in what ways as the Rep-rap project forced to relate to these limitations in the development and diffusion of the technology? 

Thirdly, how is this negotiation process influenced by the involvement of firms? In what way will the firms contribute to the re-establishment of a clearer division between producers and users, experts and laymen? What is the role of businesses in involving new groups beyond the hobbyists, such as artists, architects and school children? 

Fourthly, what learning processes are required from the users? How do we create the conditions for such processes, for example when users join together to learn from each other how to build a Rep-rap? Particularly interesting will be to highlight the contrast between these knowledge practices and the dream behind the Rep-rap project, namely the idea of an automaton just a mouse click from replicating itself.

More about the project

For more information contact:

Mark Elam, The Department of Sociology, University of Gothenburg, E-mail

Johan Söderberg, The Department of Sociology, University of Gothenburg, E-mail

Page Manager: Elin Johansson|Last update: 12/20/2011

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