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PopFab: The portable 3D printer that fits in a briefcase

A pair of MIT mechanical engineering students has developed the first truly portable 3D printer, which fits neatly into a metal briefcase.

PopFab — designed by MIT CADLab’s Ilan Moyer and Nadya Peek of MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms — can impressively be set up in just a few moments. In the embedded video you can see the students pull out a retractable arm, fix it in place, then connect up a laptop along with the printing head and attached material source. The pair then sit back and watch the device spring into action, etching out the fish design being fed to it by the laptop.

The detachable printer head not only makes the machine compact in design, but means it can also be used in a variety of different ways. By swapping in different toolheads it can be turned into a vinyl cutting, milling or programmable drawing machine.

Moyer has been working toward the creation of PopFab for some time. In 2009 he completed a challenge to build a basic 3D printer for under £60 with widely available materials. The idea was to see whether someone without engineering training and with standard supplies could create a 3D printer over just one weekend.

Though his medium was chocolate pudding and ketchup, Moyer did succeed in creating something that could be described as a 3D printer. The neat and compact device that became PopFab is actually an incarnation of the low-cost “personal fabrication machine” project Moyer began working on the same year. Though, just how cost-effective the current model is remains to be seen — it has no price tag as yet, and the MIT students have not spoken about whether they plan on making it commercially available.

If it does indeed appear on the market, the possibilities for at-home-printing should be interesting. Though we wouldn’t recommend attempting to compete with Japanese firm Fasotec’s 3D foetus models, we’d be interested to hear what your first project would be.

SOURCE: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-08/03/portable-3d-printer

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