RepRap 3D Printers are among the most popular printers in the Maker community, designed to be self-replicating and open sourced. When you visit the RepRap site, there are all of the iterations of the RepRap laid out before your eyes: the Mendels, the Wallace, and the Huxley. It becomes clear that the RepRaps are truly following the organic progress that the concept’s founder, Adrian Bowyer, originally envisioned: through a symbiotic relationship between person and machine, we’d see an improvement in the printer’s design that would improve the quality of life for humans while simultaneously allowing for the reproduction of the printer. In the latest incarnation of the RepRap project comes a 3D printer that has three extruders, rather than the conventional one or two, proof that the printer is evolving.
RepRaps and other fused filament fabricators, which bond layers of plastic (or other materials) together as they’re laid onto the printing platform, have, at best, been able to print up to two different plastics, yielding only two colors simultaneously. The Tricolor Mendel, as opposed to its predecessors, has moved one step forward.
While this may not seem too exciting when compared to the full-color prints of a powder bed and inkjet ZCorp printer or the Mcor full colour paper 3D printer, the ability to print with three extruders on a RepRap not only allows users to print in three colors, but also three materials as well. In the future, the makers of the Tricolor Mendel are hoping to develop filaments made up of different materials, including: “electrically-conducting plastics, magnetic plastics and soluble support materials.” By printing with multiple materials, it may be possible to print complex objects that offer much more utility than a colorful traffic cone or die. Multiple extruders will open up printing possibilities to include more complex foods, pharmaceuticals and biological matter by giving users the option of combining multiple materials into one print. And, as the price of such materials drop, it may be possible to, one day, reach the height of RepRap evolutionary progress by producing a fully self-replicating printer.
The Tricolor Mendel currently sells for around $1000, which is comparable to many dual-extruding and single-extruding RepRap-style printers and can be purchased at RepRapPro.com. With help from the RepRap community, maybe you can help the Mendel reach its next level of development!