3D printer. Source: Babich Alexander/Shutterstock.com
3D printer. Source: Babich Alexander/Shutterstock.com

In February of 2004, the RepRap blog was born, beginning one of the most powerful and influential movements in modern manufacturing.

Short for “replicating rapid prototyper”, the RepRap 3D printer has literally evolved since its official release in 2005 to 8 official versions, each with many variations. It is both an open source 3D printer and a project. Some refer to the ideals of the project as “The RepRap Movement”.  Its design is completely free and open source (download here ) and encourages users to create their own modifications as well as print out parts for those who wish to build their own.

Both the printer and project were created by Adrian Bowyer in 2005. The University of Bath in England helped to fund Bowyer’s research in 3D printing. At the time, he was the Senior Lecturer of Mechanical Engineering at the school and was involving students in developing the RepRap.

On a grand scale, it is about disrupting the global capitalist community based on scarcity and control. It does this on a small scale by evolving and distributing “portable factories” in the form of desktop 3D printers that can print many of their own parts, are affordable and can be assembled by people with little skill.

According to the RepRap site, the aim of the project is to create a desktop manufacturing device that can reproduce copies of itself for a minimal investment in other parts and time (roughly $400 for motor, nuts and bolts, etc.). This would allow an individual to 1) manufacture objects at-will and 2) disseminate the printer to others, thereby spreading the design and manufacturing of objects to others as well.

For a comparison, the average RepRap can be created for about $730—about half what a Cube, Afinia or MakerBot costs). The 3D printing technology of a RepRap is competitive in quality to other desktop 3D printers. Many commercial 3D printers are derived or influenced by RepRap design and technology, MakerBot and Ulitmaker being two of the most popular.

RepRap’s official website says that these printers “will change the lives of many and introduction of low-cost DIY 3-D printers will herald a new era of personal manufacturing.” Although impossible to know for certain, estimates are that about 30,000 RepRap printers exist in the world.

$400 for motor, nuts and bolts, etc.). This would allow an individual to 1) manufacture objects at-will and 2) disseminate the printer to others, thereby spreading the design and manufacturing

To this end, the RepRap printer is also 100% open source material under the GNU license. It has undergone several major revisions, as recently as summer, 2013. Each version is made available for free to the public and has the ability to duplicate most of its own parts.

 Because each printer can create as many copies of itself as the user wishes, theoretically, no one needs to buy a 3D printer that uses plastic filament. And once a RepRap is made, it can print a steadily increasing number of items for the price of materials. This kind of revolutionary thinking has the possibility of disrupting many of today’s economic norms by putting un-patented products into circulation among a population that has access to its creation and distribution. This also shortens the time for design improvements to move back up the pipeline to the original creator.

RepRap is understood to be the first open source 3D printer. According to a study in 2012 by SSPP, RepRap is still the most popular open source printer in the “Maker” community. The RepRap movement is interested in a radical shift in the consumer model we currently live in: One that puts more power into the hands of the product user.