The Linux OS was an unparalleled event in technology. A computer operating system that didn’t crash, was virus proof and could run anything. Started by Linus Torvalds as a student and following the freeware approach of GNU development tools for processors, Linux was an idealistic approach to solving industry wide problems that individual companies were not able to address.
Linux attracted thousands of participants developing code for all sorts of applications simply because there were opportunities to improve poorly performing applications and make the computing more successful. There was even a development group making a Linux based software programmable controller. What a concept!
Not only was Linux a huge success in transforming complex and fragile operating systems, the most innovative aspect was the idea of development communities. An idealistic approach to the cost of developing complex applications. Commercialization and profitability took a back seat to solving important problems.
The “freeware” community has made its way into the motion world. The Arduino development community has created a new processor and code platform that has among its many freeware applications, stepping motor drive circuits.
There are an emerging number of part making systems such as 3D printers and low cost 3 axis machining systems that make prototype parts directly from solid model programs. Machining systems are sometimes referred to as subtractive processes, so I suppose that extruding or jet printing wax would be additive processing. Anyway, part fabrication has really taken off.
Surprisingly, even the part makers are creating their own development community. Check out makerbot and fabathome on the web. The effort is focused on developing part fabrication technology that is inexpensive, almost free. Free plans, kits, parts, drivers, low cost motor drive circuits, everything you need to start making stuff. Some amazing solutions.
Which raises a really interesting question; Is this the future of manufacturing? How many new products could be produced using low cost tools? What kinds of production capacities can be reached with this approach?
Interesting area to speculate on. If a desktop part maker can be made for less than $1500, how many parts can be made without major problems with the machinery? This suggests some really interesting possibilities.
Additive part fabrication can take a while, so part throughput is very slow. So what? If it takes 15 minutes to generate a part, get 10 of them. Then your down to a part every 1.5 minutes. At $15,000 how many parts could be generated in a year? 4 parts an hour in a 2000 hour year would be 8000 parts amortized at .19 cents per part. That means you can throw the part printer out after a year. Wow, that’s a deal. So if the part makers can hold up for a year, you can throw them out and get new production equipment at the .19 amortization rate.
Seems to me that mechatronic innovation is solving some tough manufacturing problems at levels that may ultimately change how we do manufacturing.