The Age of the Self Replicating Machine.

MC Escher - Drawing Hands

There is a saying amongst DIY CNC router builders that goes something like this… “You only need to build your first router good enough to build you second one“.  In my case that turned out to be true.

I built a wood, conduit and skate bearing Solsylva router.  I painstakingly layed out the various pieces using calipers, t-squares and compasses.  I cut them out using hand held tools like jigsaws and drills.  It worked remarkably well, but every time I routed out a perfect CAD drawn piece, I always thought “Gee, I wish I had this thing when I built the router“.

It wasn’t too long before I built my bigger, better, more accurate router.  I was able to use tougher materials, hold tighter tolerances and cut more exotic shapes.  It works much better.  A few months ago I finally pulled off all the good bits and Sawzall’ed the old one apart to get more room in the shop…a bitter sweet day.

Most of today’s designs develop inside a computer.  Resolution and accuracy are infinite in this realm.  We expect our fabrication machines to output similar accuracies, but how does one construct a machine with this accuracy with common (analog) tools.

Today’s open source machine are addressing this head on.  There is a big push towards self replication.  Struggle past the first one and the rest will be easy.  It is not just an accidental bonus it is initial design requirement.  It is a lot more work, but I think it builds the strong communities behind these projects that help insure their success.

Here are three examples of self replicating machines…


RepRap First Replication

The RepRap Project

The RepRap project is probably the most successful example.  The name actually means “replicating rapid prototyper”.  The RepRap project’s first machine was called Darwin and the current more refined iteration is call Mendel.  These are 3D printers that print by selectively extruding molten plastic in thin layers.  Some machines have built dozens of children.

Buildlog.Net Open Source Laser Open Source PrinterSelf Replicating Laser
This is an open source laser project I have been working for nearly a year now.  It started out as personal project, but as a community started growing behind it and people without access to advanced machines wanted to build it, I realized the self replicating method was the way to go.  I decided that all high tolerance parts needed to laser cuttable.  This laser has cut many child machines.  I have not heard of any third generation machines yet.   Hopefully they will be more Mendel than Darwin.

SLS 3D Printer

SLS 3D Printer

This is a new project I am following closely.  This is another 3D printer, but this uses Selective Laser Sintering (SLA).  Peter is spending a commendable amount of time working on the self replicating aspects down.  He is using laser cut parts, rather than SLS parts so it is not truly self replicating yet, but I have a feeling he will start substituting SLS parts as soon as he can.

In Closing…

I guess self replicating has always been true.  I remember many years ago I was talking to a guy who wrote C compilers for a living.  I asked him what progarming language he used.  “C of course”, he said.  At the time my brain kind of got stuck in an infinite loop trying to figure that one out, but now it seems so natural.
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