You may have seen in the press this week that Elon Musk has released all of Tesla’s electric car patents into the public domain. In doing this he channeled a classic video game quote titling the release, “All Our Patent Are Belong to You.” Just like it has benefited computer software (WordPress, Firefox, OpenOffice, Audacity, etc.) , it appears “open source” is benefiting 3D printing with low cost and high quality alternatives to commercial 3D printers and traditional CAD software.There have been many a patent lawsuit in 3D printing and they are very necessary to allow companies to recoup significant R&D investments. This investment it passed on to consumers in the form of a price significantly above the cost of metal, plastic and circuits assembled in a device. What open source does is move that R&D responsibility away from a company and moves it to a large public group of volunteers and most importantly allows for continuous improvement. The output of this belongs to the public (free!) and the cost savings on software are obvious while on the hardware side plans can be published allowing you to build (or have built for you) a device at a dramatically reduced cost.
One such 3D printer already in open source is RepRap. RepRap claims to be, “humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine” and is actually the #1 3D printer used in the world.
Will 3D go open source? I predict just like software there will be a mix. For those in a corporate world needing 24×7 support there will be the equivalent of Microsoft Office or Windows and for the low cost home use the equivalent options of OpenOffice and Linux available for those who dare. Either way, choice and innovation are a good thing.