I’ve been doing some further research on my Ph.D., and I’ve been looking into the realm of personal fabrication and its potential impact in homes in the future. There are several researchers that believe personal fabrication equipment would be of great benefit in homes, schools and at work alike (Kurman and Lipson 2010; Döring et al 2011). So what is personal fabrication, and why might its continual development benefit us?

Personal fabrication is the process of manufacturing personal products at home (Kurman and Lipson 2010). The fabrication process is completed through the use of personal manufacturing devices (fabbers) such as 3D printers and laser cutters. These devices can be considered as smaller, easy-to-use versions of industry manufacturing machines. Many of the current fabbers are open source, meaning the instructions on how to build the devices are freely available (take a look at RepRap: http://www.reprap.org/wiki/RepRap). They work by following a blueprint created by the designer on a computer (Kurman and Lipson 2010). The blueprint holds digital information about the product to be manufactured. With the right materials, the fabber device can replicate the finished product cheaply.

Yes, fabbers devices may be used by designers trying to create art or even customers trying to purchase products online (on sites such as http://www.shapeways.com). It really interests me to find out what kind of impact this technology will have in education. Although many fabber devices currently only support limited types of materials (such as melted plastic) (Döring et al 2011), it is expected that they will develop to support even more. Imagine being able to print off all the books you need for school at school for a low price; or, in history class, be able to create a model of an ancient setting very quickly and cheaply for the class to see. Indirectly, these devices may even change the way we learn.

References:

Kurman, M., Lipson, H. (2010) “Factory @ Home : The Emerging Economy of Personal Fabrication”,  Science and Technology Policy, December 2010.

Döring, T., Schmidt, A., Sylvester, A. (2011) “Changing How We Make and Deliver Smart Devices: When Can I Print Out My New Phone?, Pervasive Computing, IEEE ,10(4), pp.6-9.

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