There’s a great photojourney of a visit through Aachen’s FabLab at lekernel’s scrapbook, including images of their 3D printer, laser cutter and milling machine. What exactly is a “FabLab”? Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
A Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop with an array of computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make “almost anything”. This includes technology-enabled products generally perceived as limited to mass production.
However, during the FabLab tour, some controversy is observed:
The 3D printer produces object of outstanding quality. It uses regular plastic wire (the same as in Reprap), however, the manufacturer is trying to make sure that only their wire (that they sell with a large profit margin) is being used in the machine. The wire cartridges come with a chip that prevents them from being refilled with inexpensive plastic wire. Unfortunately, the fablab people did not even try to hack the system for fear of breaking the machine. Come on!
That just might be the price to be paid to receive quality prints, at least until RepRap/MakerBot/BFB raise their products’ capabilities.