Fab@Home, the first multi-material 3D printer made available to the public, was also one of the first two open-source do-it-yourself 3D printers. The other printer was the RepRap. The goal of the Fab@Home project was to change the high cost and closed nature of the 3D printing industry by creating a low-cost, versatile, open printer. Since the Fab@Home release in 2006, there had been hundreds of Fab@Home 3D printers built across the world. The design elements of Fab@Home could be found in many do-it-yourself printers, more often in the MakerBot Replicator. The Fab@Home project was closed in 2012 once the project’s goal was achieved and distribution of do-it-yourself printers were outpaced by the sales of industrial printers for the first time.
Creating a Fabrication System with Low Costs
Fab@Home was started in 2006 by Professor Hod Lipson and Evan Malone of the Cornell Computational Synthesis Lab. While attempting to design a robot that could reprogram itself and produce its own hardware, Lipson discovered the need for a rapid-prototyping fabrication machine. The technology for the rapid-prototyping, while already in existence, was expensive and was restricted to high-tech labs. With the technology being expensive, Lipson and PhD student, Evan Malone, decided to experiment low costs of creating a fabrication system. Within a year, the fabrication system was awarded the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough award, as well as the Rapid Prototyping Journal Best Paper of the Year Award, leading to hundreds of kits being built.
The Home Computer Revolution
The Fab@Home project was led by students at Cornell University’s department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. The goal of the project was inspired by the Altair 8800, one of the first DIY home computer kits, which was released in 1975. The Altair 8800 has largely been credited with jump starting the home computer revolution and the transition from industrial mainframes to the desktop. One version of the Fab@Home was the Fab@School project. This project explored the use of 3D printers more suited for use in elementary grades. Fab@School printers could print with materials such as Play-Doh and included safety enclosures.
The Fab@Home Project, did not sell 3D printers, they researched, developed, and then allowed the consumers to build their own. The project was one of the first larger scale cases that applied the open source development model to physical devices, a process that would later become known as Open Source Hardware. The project bought 3D printing from an unknown technology to the attention of a broader consumer base.