If 3D printers can do all of the things we say they can do, then certainly they can print themselves, right?
It’s definitely possible to 3D print parts for a 3D printer. But not all parts can be printed yet.
However, projects like RepRap are working to change that.
Creating a Self-Replicating 3D Printer
A commercially-built 3D printer is expensive. Providing an alternative was one of Adrian Bowyer’s goals when he set out to create the open-source 3D printer development project RepRap.
According to the RepRap website, you can make your own RepRap Snappy printer (designed by RevarBat) for approximately $300 (click for instructions and a materials list). This design uses a combination of approximately 70% 3D printed and 30% commercially purchased parts as of the date of this article.
(Another company, Boots Industries, had a similar goal of making 3D printing more accessible and attempted to bring to market their own self-replicating 3D printer. Based on their website, though, it looks like they didn’t make it far.)
Some (A Lot) Assembly Required
The RepRap printers are printed in parts. So once you’ve printed and purchased all of the necessary pieces, you need to put your printer together. But don’t worry – RepRap does have assembly instructions on its website.
How to Make Your Own if You Don’t Have a 3D Printer
What do you do if you want to print a 3D printer for family and friends, but don’t have a 3D printer of your own to start the process on? (And don’t want to go out and buy a 3D printer for thousands of dollars?)
Since RepRap is open-source, companies have begun manufacturing individual parts and even complete kits. You can find a list here.
But all of the files for printing a RepRap design are available on the website. If you have access to a 3D printer, say through a print-on-demand service, your school, or a local library, you can probably get started there.
Want to See More?
One user on the 3DPrintBoard.com forums has been documenting experiments on a thread about the RepRap Dollo printer. Check out what this user has tried (along with pictures) here.
Why Can’t We Just Build a Whole 3D Printer?
3D printing technology may reach that point one day. Right now, the limitations are in the materials needed. They just don’t exist in printable versions.
Also, manufacturing electronics requires an intricacy that most 3D printers aren’t capable of at this time. These parts have very small pieces and consist of multiple materials – another thing 3D printers currently don’t handle well.
Self-Replicating 3D Printers Do More Than Increase Accessibility
There’s a lot we could do in this world if more people had access to 3D printers. But some people are focusing on what we could do outside of this world with them.
Researchers at Ottawa, Canada’s Carleton University are looking into adapting RepRap’s basic design into a 3D printer that is not only self-replicating, but also able to operate in space using lunar materials. Yes, that’s correct – materials from the moon.
The purpose? To be able to build bases for space exploration in space rather than building on Earth and launching into space – something that costs millions of dollars each time we do it.
Maybe One Day Purchasing a 3D Printer Will be as Simple as Asking a Friend for Help
The designs aren’t perfect yet, but just spend some time hanging out in RepRap’s community. You’ll see how far self-replicating 3D printers have come – and how fast developers are working to take them even further.