Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New machines could turn homes into small factories


A revolutionary machine which can make everything from a cup to a clarinet quickly and cheaply could be in all our homes in the next few years.

Research by engineers at the University of Bath could transform the manufacture of almost all everyday household objects by allowing people to produce them in their own homes at the cost of a few pounds.

The new system is based upon rapid prototype machines, which are now used to produce plastic components for industry such as vehicle parts. The method they use, in which plastic is laid down in designs produced in 3D on computers, could be adapted to make many household items.

However, conventional rapid prototype machines cost around £25,000 to buy. But the latest idea, by Dr Adrian Bowyer, of the University’s Centre for Biomimetics, is that these machines should begin making copies of themselves. These can be used to make further copies of themselves until there are so many machines that they become cheap enough for people to buy and use in their homes.

Dr Bowyer is working on creating the 3D models needed for a rapid prototype machine to make a copy of itself. When this is complete, he will put these on a website so that all owners of an existing conventional machine can download them for free and begin making copies of his machine. The new copies can then be sold to other people, who can in turn copy the machine and sell on.

As the number of the self-replicating machines – there are now thousands of conventional rapid prototype machines – grows rapidly, so the price will fall from £25,000 to a few hundred pounds.

“People have been talking for years about the cost of these machines dropping to be about the same as a computer printer,” said Dr Bowyer. “But it hasn’t happened. Maybe my idea will allow this to occur.”

A machine could, for instance, make a complete set of plates, dishes and bowls out of plastic, coloured and decorated to a design. It could also make metal objects out of a special alloy that melts at low temperatures, making it suitable for use in printed circuit boards for electronics.

The machines would not be able to produce glass items or complex parts such as microchips, or objects that would work under intense heat, such as toasters. But a digital camera could be made for a few pounds, and a lens and computer chip bought separately and added later. The rapid prototype machines would be useful for producing items that are now expensive, such as small musical instruments.

The items produced could be from a few millimetres (0.25 inches) to 300 millimetres (12 inches) in length, width and height. Larger items could be made simply by clipping together parts of this size.

Dr Bowyer said all that would be needed for a machine owner would be to buy the plastic and low-temperature alloy for a few pounds, and items could then be created in a few minutes or a few hours depending on their size. Designs for items could be bought – or downloaded free – from the web. Alternatively, people could create them for themselves on their own PCs.

He said that he would publish the 3D designs and computer code for the machine to replicate itself on the web over the next four years as they are developed, until the entire machine could be copied.

He said that he has not taken out a patent and will not charge for creating the design for the machine. “The most interesting part of this is that we’re going to give it away,” he said.

“At the moment an industrial company consists of hundreds of people building and making things. If these machines take off, it will give individual people the chance to do this themselves, and we are talking about making a lot of our consumer goods – the effect this has on industry and society could be dramatic.”

The machines would be about the size of a refrigerator, and would self-reproduce by making a copy of themselves, part by part. These parts would then have to be assembled manually by their owners.

Dr Bowyer said the machines were a form of Universal Constructor, first proposed theoretically by the mathematician John von Neumann in the 1950s. He also said their progress would be similar to that of a species in nature – as the machines replicated, so their users would vary them to suit their needs, some making larger objects, some more accurate devices and some making devices more quickly.

Dr Bowyer, and his colleague Ed Sells, have already created a demonstration robot with an electrical circuit built in using this technology and funding from the Nuffield Foundation. They hope to get new funding soon to begin work on the other stages of development.

| alfa
Further information:

More articles from Innovative Products:

nachricht New Video Camera Released Featuring Ultra-High-Speed CMOS Image Sensor Developed At Tohoku University
11.08.2015 | Tohoku University

nachricht Safe motorcycle helmets – made of carrot fibers?
06.08.2015 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

All articles from Innovative Products >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>