We thought we would cover a topic not directly related to computers and software, but one that is more about a revolution that is taking place in manufacturing. We are talking about game changing technologies that are now priced so low that almost anyone can start a micro factory in their own home. The new maker tools are now made up of computers, stepper motors, lasers and some neat software that often can be found free of charge.
Some of the greatest and well made objects are those that are made by home hobbyists and industrious end users, from ornate decorative items, to replica film props, to objects and devices to make the lives of ourselves and others easier. With the changing times, more makers are exploring means of creating objects of art and function via new tools, machinery, and skill-sets . Welcome to the the maker revolution (where the only messy bits are left over materials and the occasional sore thumb)!
Gone are the days where precise manufacturing techniques such as CNC milling and 3D printing were solely for factories and the industrious few. Now the means to create intricate and precise objects have become smaller and cheaper – and therefore more accessible for everyone.
For the uninitiated; there is a growing variety of tools and machinery available for makers of many skill levels. Whilst there is a dazzling array of means to build new creations, here are but a few:
CNC Laser Cutting
Tried and true since the mid 60’s, laser cutting has been an effective means of precisely etching or cutting flat sheets of material such as metal, wood, plastic, etc. The ‘CNC’ or ‘Computerised Numerical Control’ aspect of these devices mean that digital plans can be translated into physical designs with pinpoint accuracy. They cut via a system of pulleys on the X and Y axis (‘left/right’ and ‘up/down’ when talking about a 2 dimensional plane) guiding a laser or reflected laser beam across the chosen medium, typically inside a properly ventilated housing. The reason for this is because laser radiation is harmful even when partially reflected. Also cutting into anything generates heat – which can sometimes create dangerous fumes. Laser cutters come in many sizes; often taking up sizable portions of workshops, right up to machines that require a large factory to house them. However in recent years there has been a surge in cutters that can fit on a bench with lasers perfect for etching and making cuts in thin materials. Just remember; like in sci-fi’s, lasers are can be dangerous, so if a laser cutter takes your fancy – make sure you do your research before buying.
CNC Routers & Mills
Another type of machinery that has become cheaper and more accessible in recent years are CNC Routers and CNC Mills. These function in a similar way to the aforementioned Laser Cutters, with similar options to fit on a workbench or a small workshop. Except rather than employing the use of a high powered laser – these machines use a variety of cutting and drilling bits to engrave and cut. CNC Routers are typically designed to cut woods, prototyping foams, also sometimes soft aluminium. This tend to be smaller, lighter, and faster than their Mill counter parts, which tackle denser metals – requiring slower cutting speeds, tighter accuracies, and of course much greater strength. If you would like to check out what you can create with a CNC Router, there are projects such as OpenDesk – where they combine routing with furniture design. Alternatively, software suites such as VCarve by Vectric are available, which allows you to carve objects with a router or a mill.
Possibly the technology that has seen the most growth in the commercial market with hundreds of different commercial and homebrew machines available, with huge online communities and even stores such as Maker Store dedicated to the subject. With such a variety of machines, techniques and variations available, it can be difficult to be concise. However, the basic concept in a nutshell is these rigs create objects layer by layer, typically in a type of plastic.
What makes these machines and equipment especially exciting is the potential applications opened up by them. Now more schools and other educational institutions can create or expand workshops to inspire the next generation of engineers and designers. Small business owners can do more manufacturing in house – rather than having to outsource to other companies – which in some cases can be quite economical. However for the beginner, these machines are still large investments, however there are a variety of community workshops and groups that have much of this equipment available for use, along with qualified professionals who know how to use them and are happy to teach their skills, such as the group Hackerspaces, which is existent in Melbourne.
Here at PC Medic, we’re excited to see how these tools continue to develop, and of course if you have any queries or concerns with the tech in your life – feel free to drop into one of our service centres or give us a call!
Disclaimer: These machines are complex and powerful, and you can get seriously injured or worse if they are mistreated. Please observe all safety precautions and procedures, and wear all required safety equipment. Make sure you a fully trained in any machinery you choose to use. PC Medic cannot be liable for any damages to persons or property from the use of machinery