Why does open source 3D printing matter for engineers?

Louise Smyth

Hob Wubbena reveals why open source 3D printing matters for professionals

Collaboration has played a critical role in additive manufacturing technology developments over the past decade. As a result, on-demand parts via extrusion – known as fused filament fabrication (FFF) – is becoming a commonplace solution for engineers. A key catalyst in the accelerated adoption of this technology into many applications is suppliers that deliver Free Software, Libre Innovation and Open Source Hardware (known as FLO) based solutions.

Open means the right to modify your software and hardware

USA-based Aleph Objects, manufacturer of LulzBot 3D Printers, is founded on the principles of FLO, which enable user freedom. In 2012, the initial LulzBot 3D Printer was the first 3D printer and hardware product to receive the Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification from the Free Software Foundation, and the company continues this dedication to open solutions. Users are free to copy, modify and control Aleph Objects’ hardware and software, and are not confined to proprietary filaments.

As an example, government and educational organisations prefer using FLO because it allows the tool chain to be audited, and allows it to be freely copied and modified for their tailored solutions.

Open means choosing the best material for your requirements

The capacity for user modification and material freedom becomes apparent in applications where customisation and improvisation are a requirement. For instance, various branches of armed forces use LulzBot 3D Printers with hundreds of filaments from dozens of vendors, as well as custom-made compounds. These are handled with user-defined filament profiles within free software Cura or other software. Customers even design their own tool heads for use with these open 3D printers.

NASA case study

In another example, researchers at NASA Langley modified a LulzBot TAZ 3D Printer to reach high hot-end and environmental temperatures needed to successfully 3D print with PEI-based filament, such as PEEK and ULTEM.

The most important aspect of Free Software and Open Source Hardware for engineers is the ability to freely solve the problem at hand (Libre Innovation), not spending unnecessary time and money fitting the solution into one vendor’s constraints.

To facilitate this, Aleph Objects offers a wide spectrum of tool heads for each 3D printer that enables different levels of printing speed and accuracy with several dozen types of filaments. They are easily swapped within minutes. The chart on the left illustrates the range of capability.

Mass customisation

Companies can be profitable offering open solutions. The removal of barriers enables a larger critical mass of people to “pull in the same direction”, focused around solving a particular problem or delivering a specific application. It’s not only the linking of a larger mass of people within one company; it also enables mass customisation of solutions across an entire industry. Are you ready?

Hob Wubbena is with Aleph Objects

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