This is not just an ordinary CNC, plasma-cutting monster of a machine. It can copy itself, too. And on top of being inherently self-replicating, the project is completely open source. Meet Open Source Ecology’s (OSE) newest badass tool: RepTab.
Based on the much-praised RepRap project, RepTab is an open source CNC plasma cutter. It boasts a 4-foot by 8-foot work area, and can cut anything that conducts electricity, from aluminum to steel, up to 1 inch thick.
Made mostly of steel, the RepTab torch table can actually make a copy of itself (minus the motors and controller electronics). The machine was designed on and is run with popular open source software, including Blender (conceptual designs), Inkscape (cut paths for the machine), Linux (laptop OS), and EMC2 (motor controller).
One of the interesting features of RepTab is that the cutting head is interchangeable (router, plasma, oxyacetylene, laser, water jet, etc.), making it versatile and extremely useful.
“Other machines make that difficult without major modifications,” says Marcin Jakubowski, the group’s founder and director. “We can make up to 10-foot-long windmill blades if we modify the table as a router table. That’s pretty useful.”
But RepTab is more than a self-replicating machine. It’s also been a major experiment in developing open source hardware at the group’s Factor e Farm headquarters in rural Missouri.
Lawrence Kincheloe, who created the current RepTab design, says his motivation to contribute to the project was to “answer some serious questions as to how to make a living doing open source work.”
The team hopes that the current prototype will lead to a design that can be successfully marketed to the DIY community as an open source product or kit.
“The hardest part,” Kincheloe says, “is balancing between keeping it as open as possible and still making it viable and worthwhile to distribute and develop.”
RepTab can be built for $1,000, if you don’t count the laptop and plasma cutter. So, it’s not the cheapest tool in your shop, but the team hopes that open source collaboration will help bring the cost down, as well as improve the overall design.
“I believe that’s where community development can really play a big part in making it possible for everyone who wants to get one,” says Kincheloe.
He envisions a time when the RepTab project can incorporate RepRap components to create a completely new concept that could work with many different materials.
“The synergy between the two machines means that each has the possibility to work with materials the other isn’t equipped to handle, and also hints at the possibility of merging the functionality into a table that can work with both metals and plastics,” he enthuses. “At the moment, if you put a plasma cutter onto a RepRap Darwin, it would likely melt or cut through the table!”
RepTab is the latest in OSE’s open source hardware toolbox (see their LifeTrac tractor in MAKE, Volume 18). The group maintains a well-documented website and wiki for every project. Makers are encouraged to join in the development of RepTab at openfarmtech.org/weblog/?cat=214.