2010 saw the emergence of what promised to be a fun new machine industry – the 3D printer. It took a while for 3D printing to iron out the creases and become a verifiable household device, but now, thanks to companies like MakerBot and Formlabs, you can pick up a 3D printer for home use at the same price as a top-end regular printer.
Given the success of that industry, it’s natural that companies would begin to expand on not just the original 3D printer, but also similar desktop machines. However, like the first wave of commercial 3D printers, these need a little help getting moving, so here are three different machines all in the crowdfunding phase that could soon help you get making!
The MicroMill – Desktop CNC Milling Machine
A milling machine utilises a rotating shaft that operates in a similar fashion to a regular drill. However, the purpose of a milling machine is to work away at a block of material and create a shape. Mills are defined by how many axes they have – a single axis mill can only move up-and-down, a three-axis mill can move up-and-down and side-to-side, whilst a five-axis mill can move the drill bit as well as the material itself (on two-axes), for added accessibility.
The MicroMill is a three-axis mill and, for most makers, this is plenty. Generally, a mill is a large and cumbersome machine, with some 5-axis mills weighing more than a family car. However MicroMill is small enough to fit on your desk and still perform to a high-enough degree of quality. What this means is that makers can easily pick up a milling machine and keep it in their house, office, or pretty much anywhere.
The MicroMill allows users to make things like injection moulds or toys, cut keys or perform any number of other tasks. Though some may argue that $849 is a lot of money, and it is, the doors this kind of device will open for makers are numerous and well worth the price tag to anyone serious about making.
Kniterate – Digital Knitting Machine
Knitting and sewing often get a bad rep in the mainly male-dominated maker community for being too effeminate. However, two things are for sure – firstly, women are making huge marks in the maker industry; the change is happening and it’s great! Secondly, if you want to make anything that involves fabric, you really should learn the necessary skills, regardless of any preconceptions.
If you are not up for learning how to knit, though, but still want access to the materials it can create, you are in luck. The basic possibilities of knitting are well known as it’s a skill that has been around for over 500 years, and what Kniterate brings (quite literally) to the table is the ability to create elaborate, complex and imaginative designs without the need to spend decades perfecting the traditionally hand-operated technique.
Knitting works on the principle of a few simple movements being performed repetitively, and in the correct order. Because this is a relatively simple procedure for the right computer, the device is small compared to its industrial counterparts, but not lacking in ability. You are able to adjust the colours by simply inserting whatever yarn colour you want to use, and you can also select the density of the weave.
Snapmaker: modular 3D printer, laser engraver, and CNC mill
Snapmaker have designed a device which allows the user to pick the functions they want to allow them to construct (and pay for) their desired projects accordingly. What this means is that you can pick what you want for the jobs you have in mind, and not overpay for features you neither want nor need. But, if in the future you want to use that other module, it can be added on.
The Snapmaker works on one basic 3-axis model. The base and head move in two-axes, with the head also able to move in the z-axis (up-and-down). The head itself is the interchangeable part, with the three different modules of laser engraver, mill and, of course, 3D printer available.
The whole Snapmaker is made of metal, which is a big selling point of theirs. Competitors’ 3D printer models often try to save costs by making certain parts out of plastic, which can jeopardise the tolerances of the making, as well as its longevity. However, the all-metal design of the Snapmaker promises to combat those issues.
Obviously, to operate any of these machines you will need to be competent with the relevant computer design software, but you can be certain these machines are set to take over and become more and more accessible to the making public. Here’s hoping that all three of these projects meet their funding goals and go on to make great strides in a promising and intriguing industry!