A 3D printed laser cutter, aerosol solar cells, and reversing neural networks.

3D printers are great for making things, including more of themselves. The first really accessible 3D printer, the RepRap was designed to be buildable from locally sourceable components - metal rods, bolds, screws, and wires, and the rest can be run off on another 3D printer. There is even a variant called the JunkStrap which, as the name implies, involves repurposing electromechanical junk for basic components. There are other useful shop tools which don't necessarily have open source equivalents, though, like laser cutters for precisely cutting, carving, and etching solid materials. Lasers are finicky beasts - they require lots of power, they …

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Fabbing tools in orbit and with memory materials, and new structural configurations of DNA.

A couple of weeks ago before Windbringer's untimely hardware failure I did an article about NASA installing a 3D printer on board the International Space Station and running some test prints on it to see how well additive manufacturing, or stacking successive layers of feedstock atop one another to build up a more complex structure would work in a microgravity environment. The answer is "quite well," incidentally. Well enough, in fact, to solve the problem of not having the right tools on hand. Let me explain.

In low earth orbit if you don't have the right equipment - a hard drive …

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The first successful 3D print job took place aboard the ISS!

There's a funny thing about space exploration: If something goes wrong aboard ship the consequences could easily be terminal. Outer space is one of the most inhospitable environments imaginable, and meat bodies are remarkably resilient as long as you don't remove them from their native environment (which is to say dry land, about one atmosphere of pressure, and a remarkably fiddly chemical composition). Space travel inherently removes meat bodies from their usual environment and puts them into a complex, fragile replica made of alloys, plastics, and engineering; as we all know, the more complex something is, the more things can …

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Steps toward an open source microfacture shop and what could be the first recorded nanoparticle injury.

A common criticism of 3D printers is that they're not a panacea. They can't do it all - a limitation shared by every tool, when you think about it - and because of that some vocal people claim they're worthless. You can't really convince anyone who's dead-set against being convinced, so let's move on to more interesting things. A problem being worked on right now is developing a set of technologies and workflow for microfacture - extremely small scale automated manufacture, on the scale of a hackerspace or a home workshop. Most of the components exist right now, from 3D printers to lathes …

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3D printing circuitry.

Arguably, even more important than bringing the price of 3D printers down to affordable levels is making them more practical. A commonly cited limitation of 3D printing right now is that they can only fab with one or two materials and can't really reproduce their own circuitry. They're both fair points, I can't argue with them. I can, however, point doubters in the direction of the Rabbit Pronto, a new print head for RepRap-derived 3D printers that is capable of fabbing functional electronic circuitry in addition to structural plastic. The Rabbit Pronto incorporates a 10cc syringe that can be …

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From printing to milling - the Othermill.

Regular readers of my blog (when I post... I'll write about what's been going on soon, promise) know that I keep a sensor net focused on the field of microfacture - personal manufacturing and rapid prototyping. Most of the time I natter on about 3D printing, but depositing layers of material to make something isn't the end-all-be-all of small scale manufacture. The other end of the spectrum - milling, or carving feedstock - is just as useful, and for many applications it's a preferable technique for making things. The thing about automills is that they're not yet as common as 3D printers. People …

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