There’s only so many ways to squeeze hot plastic out of a nozzle, and eventually witnessing the explosion of 3D printer designs over the past few years gets just a little repetitive. What then, is someone who dreams of a technological utopia, Star Trek replicators, and making a few bucks off a Kickstarter to do?
The answer, of course, is a combo machine. Where the Repraps, Makerbots, and the very high-end Stereolithography machines can only do additive manufacturing by laying down plastic or resin layer by layer, these combo machines can also remove material, be it plastic, wood, or metals such as brass or aluminum.
The first of these machines is called the Microfactory, and is designed around a simple concept: 3D printers can already position a hot end anywhere on its x, y, and z axes, so why not add a simple milling attachment?
In reality, the Microfactory is much more complex than that; it’s designed to be an all-in-one solution with a computer included in the chassis. Just add a monitor and a keyboard, and you have a fairly capable desktop mill and 3D printer. There are even options for a welded steel frame and a pump that sprays coolant all over the sealed build chamber, so these guys might just know what they’re doing.
If it’s features you want, FABtotum might be for you. The idea behind this machine isn’t just, ‘let’s add a spindle to a 3D printer’. No, FABtotum also includes a 4th axis and a 3D scanner, greatly expanding what a desktop machine shop can do. There’s an Indiegogo campaign running for the FABtotum that’s 92% funded with more than a month to go.
These two machines look like they’ll be successful, but it’s hard not to draw parallels between this and other combination machines on the market. Look around any machinist’s forum, and you’ll see cheap combination lathe and milling machines vilified as both terrible lathes and terrible milling machines. Likewise, even the highly regarded Shopsmith, with a 60-year history, is generally seen as inferior to a separate table saw, drill press, and sander.
How successful these combo machines remains to be seen, but it’s likely they’ll only be used for extremely niche cases – the Manhattan apartment workshop, or where portability and size greatly outweigh capabilities.