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Cheap 3D Fab Could Start an Innovation Renaissance 258

blackbearnh writes "An article over on O'Reilly Radar makes the argument that, just as inexpensive or free software development environments have led to a cornucopia of amazing Web and mobile applications, the plummeting cost of 3D fabrication equipment could enable myriad new physical inventions. The article was prompted by a new Kickstarter project, which if funded will attempt to produce a DIY CNC milling system for under $400. Quoting: 'We're already seeing the cool things that people have started doing with 3D fab at the higher-entry-level cost. Many of them are ending up on Kickstarter themselves, such as an iPhone 4 camera mount that was first prototyped using a 3D printer. Now I'm dying to see what we'll get when anyone can create the ideas stuck in their heads.'"
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Cheap 3D Fab Could Start an Innovation Renaissance

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  • Re:That, or... (Score:3, Informative)

    by th0mas.sixbit.org ( 780570 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:21PM (#34516770)

    If you posted on the reprap forums very likely you could find someone in your area with the means to print objects in 3D.

  • Desktop CNC (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheKidWho ( 705796 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:26PM (#34516810)

    As someone who works with CNC machinery on a daily basis as a manufacturing/mechanical engineer, having a cheap low cost DIY desktop CNC would be incredibly useful for home usage. However, this will be limited in it's capabilities. Cutting metals like aluminum usually requires coolant or else the material will melt and jam up inside of the flutes of the tooling. Steels can be air cut with the right carbide tooling, but I don't think this machine will have the structural rigidity required to cut steel. Generally the rule of thumb in machine design is to make your machine as heavy and rigid as possible. There is a good reason why these machines aren't cheap.

    Something like this will probably be useful for cutting plastics, wood, and maybe aluminum if your willing to mount a cooling and reclamation system. Also this system will be SLOW most undoubtedly. However it will have it's uses. Cutting HDPE to make molds for silicon casting would be one, great for modelers. Precisely making printed circuit boards would also be another useful feature. Drilling wouldn't be too bad as long as the machine has enough torque. I think something like this would work well with one of the homemade 3D printers such as the MakerBot or Reprap.

    I'm very curious on my end, might end up building one if I can get my boss to let me utitlize company machinery to make one.

  • Crap CNC machines (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:44PM (#34517124) Homepage

    It's easy enough to build a crap CNC mill, but not very useful. This one is made of wood, and the bridge isn't even cross-braced. It's not going to be stiff enough to do decent work. Just because the cutting tool is a Dremel tool doesn't mean you can skip on rigidity. Dremel used to make a drill-press rig for their tools, and it wobbled so much it was useless. And that was just drilling. In milling, you have side loads.

    Little CNC mills have been around for years. Roland [rolanddga.com] makes a nice little one. The usual little mill is a Sherline, and those can be equipped for CNC, although it's a retrofit. A Sherline can mill aluminum and mild steel. The MicroLux [micromark.com], at $499, is about as low as it gets in milling machines that can cut metal. That's not a CNC machine, but retrofits are possible.

    These guys aren't the first to propose building a toy CNC mill. The Art Institute of Chicago [diylilcnc.org] has a little wooden CNC mill. And unlike these guys, who are peddling vaporware, the Art Institute machine exists. The Art Institute machine can be made from flat stock with a laser cutter. It can't mill hard materials, but if you're just making models of designs to look at, you can use various easy-to-mill foams, plastics, and waxes. A slightly bigger wood CNC machine is at Build Your CNC [buildyourcnc.com]. Those are all proven designs.

    Hype about CNC milling seems to be highest among people who've never used a milling machine. CNC mills are great devices, but they're not magic. The smaller machines don't cut very fast, the cutting tools are expensive, the process is messy (if you're cutting metal, you're constantly pouring coolant on the cutter, and in high-speed machines, the coolant flow is garden-hose sized), and for complex objects, clamping the work out of the way of the cutter is a hassle.

    If you want to play with CNC on line, download the demo version of VCarve [vectric.com], which is a CAD/CAM design tool for 3-axis milling machines. VCarve will give you a sense of what you can and can't do with a 3-axis mill. VCarve can simulate the cutting process in 3D and show you what the finished part will look like. There's a really impressive solid modeling engine inside that program. VCarve (the pay version) will output the files to drive a CNC mill to make the part.

    At the high end of CNC, there are 5-axis machines with tool changers, and software that can use all those features to full advantage. Watch this demo of Hypermill driving a Daishin 5-axis mill [youtube.com]. The software package alone for that costs $20,000. The software figures out which tools to use in what order, and how much clearance is required to get the cutting head near the work. That's approaching the "replicator" level of CNC.

    Now what would be interesting is to put a Dremel tool on a multi-axis robot arm, with force feedback from servomotors and Hypermill-like smarts. That would allow real 3D work, not just top-down 3-axis work. Most of the dumb 3-axis machines use steppers, so they don't know how much load is on the structure, and can't compensate for deflections under load. With servomotors, the software could compensate for some lack of rigidity.

  • by th0mas.sixbit.org ( 780570 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:45PM (#34517152)

    You have it wrong.

    You pledge to support X dollars. Depending on your pledge, if the funding reaches it's goal, you get the CNC. If the funding doesn't reach it's goal, you pay nothing.

    So you decide what you want (just the plans, the electronics, the entire kit, or a preassembled unit), pledge the right number of $ and select your reward.

    You aren't giving them money for nothing. Consider it a preorder system where you don't have to pay unless they get enough orders.

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