The Othermill Is Something Else

I’ll admit. When I saw the Othermill for the first time I thought it was just another mill with cheap Chinese hardware inside sold as a premium. I’m ashamed to say that I even trash talked it a little bit. It gave me another chance to relearn that I should always do my research before being a jerk, check my assumptions thoroughly, and even then it’s not recommended. Other Machine Company was kind enough to let me swing by the office in Berkeley California. [Danielle], the CEO, led me through the design of the mill as well as the challenges in running the operation.

The Othermill is a serious machine, and with the recent release of the Othermill Pro, it’s only getting better. The components are not bargain basement. This is something that could be more obvious, but it’s almost entirely made from US sourced parts, including the custom stepper motors. There aren’t any ball bearings that will start to make strange noises in a year. It can now cut 6mil traces in a PCB all day long. To put it into perspective. The Othermill Pro costs a third of the price of an equivalent machine from LPKF and has the same capabilities.

History:

IMG_0347The Othermill started as a DARPA grant researched at Otherlab. They wanted a cheap, long-lasting, and easy to understand CNC for every classroom, something with the same capabilities as a laser cutter but none of the toxic gasses or fire hazard. It resulted in a rather odd-looking machine. The machine worked exactly like a vinyl cutter with a spindle rather than a blade. Sheet stock was fed into the rollers and it moved the material back and forth until it was finished. I have some doubts about the design but, [Danielle], assured me it ran pretty well. Since she has a PhD and is the CEO of a CNC machine company, I was inclined to believe her.

However, this machine is not the machine we see today. The government, capricious as always, saw a newer, shinier button on the floor and waddled over, dropping the Othermill research project from its sticky fingers as it ran. With nearly all their funding gone, Other Machine Co should have given up, instead they restructured, took on some jobs just to keep the lights on, and worked towards a Kickstarter.

The first version of the othermill was fastenerless.
The first version of the Othermill was fastenerless.

The next iteration of their machine, and the one that was shown in the Kickstarter video, began its transformation into the Othermill we see today. Interestingly, the machine was fastenerless at the start. This was a cool design choice, and had some advantages, but not enough over the use of fasteners. The machining was more expensive and the machine was harder to service.

Throughout the development to final Kickstarter release the machine got a lot of upgrades. It grew handles. It got an enclosed build volume. The wires were nicely managed. On top of that they added a really nice software stack. The level of polish is impressive.

In the end, this worked. Other Machine Co didn’t go under. It worked its way to enough financial independence to split off from Otherlab and get its own facility in Berkeley.

What’s The Difference? Low-End vs. High-End?

To the hobbyist  stumbling onto the Othermill it’s hard to get a grip on why it costs what it does. Ebay is flush with those 3020 CNC mills from China for one-third of the price. Why should someone drop the extra cash on a machine with very similar on-paper specifications? Those specifications are nice, but all specs are written when the stars are all aligned, the head engineer has just spent three days tweaking the device, marketing is a little drunk, and the CEO is irritable.

Paper specs will give you an indication of what to expect, but evaluating the real world performance will give you the truth. Even top-of-the-line CNC machines with exactly the same specifications can be behave differently in cutting, noise, vibration, surface finish, speed, and more. If this wasn’t the case they wouldn’t spend endless hours pestering companies with salesman. They’d just post the lowest price and people would buy.

Vibration:

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:277394
http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:277394

Vibration is a subtle thing in CNC machines. By its nature, the machine makes a lot of noise, flings chips around, and generally makes a mess. If you put a good CNC beside an equivalent bad one and run them side by side with the same settings, you’d often be hard put to spot a truly obvious difference right off the bat. However, when it’s time to fit two parts together or inspect the surface finish of the part the truth becomes obvious. Vibration matters.

It’s really easy to see the effect of vibration in a 3D printer, a sister machine, as the picture to the right shows.  The dynamic forces on the frame all add up to a repeatable ringing in the plastic. You can actually see the nodes and antinodes in the wall of the print. By changing the speed and acceleration settings the user can reduce these forces on a printer until the print comes out smooth.

Now, add in a spinning endmill seeing an intermittent load of varying magnitudes depending on a whole bucket of variables, from material type to the phase of the moon, and the problem with vibration in a CNC mill becomes easier to see.

Mentioning the 3020 mill again, here’s a great slow motion video of the spindle occasionally deflecting and vibrating back to zero. It would be very difficult to spot this behavior with an unaided eye. Keep in mind, this device is promising practically the same positional accuracy as the Othermill, however, it is often deflecting by more than .01 inches from the loads on the spindle.

The spindle on the 3020 is a cast and lightly machined bearing housing press-fit into the front of a brushless motor housing. Any vibration incurred inside the motor goes right to the part. Also, the rolled sheet metal housing does not have enough metal to provide an adequate hold against the forces. This video explains how some serious design flaws in these spindles can lead to a large run-out. It also mentions that it’s possible to ruin these spindles in about 4 hours with cuts that should be expected for a milling machine. There is a reason most, but not all, of the sellers market these are CNC engravers instead of mills.

The Othermill has a custom machined spindle housing with a top-of-the line collet holding the bit. The spindle has a properly matched set of precision ball bearings which are properly pre-loaded.

The motor is decoupled from the action of the endmill by using a belt drive instead of a direct one. These belts have to be carefully selected and will eventually wear out from the heat and mechanical stress of everyday operation. This small trade-off (the belts are cheap and easy to replace) is worth it. The Othermill also recently got a custom spindle motor manufactured for them, offering higher and quieter performance than the R/C motor they were using before. I’ve been told that their new motor meets the same dynamic balance standard as a hard disk drive.

This all adds up to a spindle that is quiet, precise, long-lasting, and can take a surprising amount of load for such a small machine. The real-world run-out for this spindle is significantly lower than that of the Chinese spindle.

Othermill Spindle Up-Close
The bottom of the Othermill’s spindle assembly showing quite a bit more metal than the chinese spindle uses as well as the first of its paired and properly pre-loaded bearings.

Frame

Alright, but the Chinese mill is aluminum and the Othermill is just some crappy plastic. Surely aluminum is a superior material for a mill. This is not true.

The frame Othermill is constructed from machined HDPE. Depending on the aluminum alloy it is compared against, HDPE can be stronger than aluminum while providing many distinct advantages.

HDPE dampens more than aluminum. All these tiny vibrations add up in the machine. HDPE is able to convert some of those vibrations to heat. Aluminum, instead, transfers  most of those vibrations rigidly, acting like a spring. This means that the forces and oscillations of the cutting and movement of the machine have to go somewhere. Typically this is into the joints of the machine; that is the end mill and the bearings. This can cause anything from poor surface finish to premature failure of the machine if not handled properly. For the Othermill this results in a quieter and more accurate operation.

A section of the precision milled HDPE frame for the othermill.
A section of the precision milled HDPE frame for the othermill.

They also use the greater flexibility of the plastic cleverly by using a compliant joint to align the smooth rods. One rod is held fixed in the frame and the other is allowed to move left-to-right, but not up and down on the other end. This is actually a very stiff construction when compared with the loads the machine will see and prevents any of the out-of-alignment stiction issues or premature wear that can happen with a linear guide bearing set-up

HDPE is much lighter than aluminum. For the spindle carriage and other moving components in the mill as well as for the mills portability, this is a good thing. The heavier the carriages the stronger the dynamic forces will be on the frame. The gantry design of the chinese mill is moving quite an enormous weight for such a small machine. This will cause a lot of vibration, noise, and more deflection when the machine is traversing quickly.

Of course, as seen in the spindle assembly above, where the more rigid properties of aluminum is needed, Other Machine Co has chosen it as the material. HDPE would make a terrible spindle housing. It expands too much when hot. It deflects too much hold a bearing accurately.

HDPE is cheaper than an equivalent aluminum alloy. This brings the cost of the machine down. Since the plastic is cheaper they can just use more of it. In volume alone the othermill uses significantly more material in its frame than the 3020 mill. This results in a very strong, light, and enclosed frame for the machine.

A ton of complex cuts, including the flexural alignment joint, are visible in this photo. This would be prohibitively expensive to do in a metal.
A ton of complex cuts, including the flexural alignment joint, are visible in this photo. This would be prohibitively expensive to do in a metal.

Not only is HDPE cheaper, it cuts like butter on a properly set-up machine. This allows them to do very complex cuts that would simply be too expensive to do in metals. As we’ll see later. They can even afford to cut slots into the walls of the machine for very neat wire routing.

Linear Movement:

With a solid frame and spindle the only significantly contributing mechanical element left to compare are the linear movement mechanisms of the respective CNC machines. The 3020 mill is somewhat famous for occasionally offering ballscrews and linear guides at its price range. However, a ballscrew is a famously difficult object to manufacture and as many have experienced, not worth much if it won’t turn.

Othermill's linear movements from http://mikeshouts.com/othermill-pro-desktop-cnc-milling-machine/
Othermill’s linear movements from http://mikeshouts.com/othermill-pro-desktop-cnc-milling-machine/

The 3020 mills vary between sellers. Some offer ACME leadscrews, others offer, typically, C7 precision rolled or ground ballscrews. This added complexity of the ballscrew on such a small mill is not necessarily a selling point. One of the advantages for the ballscrews, especially in larger machines, is the lower friction under load. However these larger machines have drives so large and are moving weights so substantial that things like the inertia of the screw and the vibration and noise from them become negligible.  Typically ballscrews are also more shielded from the particulates generated by milling than they are in the 3020 mills.

The Othermill uses teflon coated precision rolled lead screws from a USA company, Koco motion. Paired with a properly matched anti backlash lead nut, these can match the performance of a C7 ballscrew without any of the complexity drawbacks of the ballscrew. The teflon coating eliminates most of the driving force difference between the two.

While both the Othermill and the 3020 use round linear guides the 3020 typically employs roller bearings while the Othermill uses the more expensive teflon impregnated acetal bushings. Not only are these bushing just as or more precise when properly preloaded. They, again, have considerably less noise issues, wear issues, maintenance, and vibration issues than the roller elements. This is visible in a comparison video below.

Electronics:

It can be easily assumed that a $ 600 dollar mill is going to have very cheap electronics. The electronics for all of these mills are designed to run on a parallel port computer. So along with your purchase you’ll have to find a suitably old computer to actually run the software, Mach 3, for this mill. (LinuxCNC is possible as well. )

Aside from the higher power draw, higher noise from a lower PWM frequency, neither Mach 3 nor Linux CNC currently support S Curve acceleration without some serious hacking. As this video shows, this can make quite a difference for a machine in motion. Not only will the load on the tool be more uniform, but the machine will vibrate less.

An othermill on its side. It's electronics is being assembled. Not the properly terminated wires. Also the torroids for noise. Not standard on cheaper mills.
An Othermill on its side. It’s electronics is being assembled. Note the properly terminated wires. Also the toroids for noise. Not standard on cheaper mills.

TinyG is also a well proven board with a lot of support. The Chinese mill will come with electronics which have gone through the heaviest of bean counting with only the most cursory of tests. It is likely that they will break under normal use.  We’ve covered one user’s experience with the 3020 mill  electronics. One of the first things he had to do was completely replace the power supply. It also took some digging and hacking to enable features, like spindle rpm control, which should have come enabled.

Lastly the electrical connections are just more reliable in the Othermill. The 3020 mills usually lengths of wire that need to be routed and terminated in the cheapest possible DIN connector they could find. These are hardly reliable connections for a milling machine.

Inset wire routing with the proper bend radius for the wire ensures the long life of the Othermill's electrical connections.
Inset wire routing with the proper bend radius for the wire ensures the long life of the Othermill’s electrical connections.

With the Othermill’s goal of being a portable machine a lot of work has gone into having the correct cabling properly routed and terminated. There’s a lot of work that can go into this. For example, if you just attempted to use standard Belkin Telecom cable or ribbon cable for a CNC machine you’d quickly find the wires breaking connection intermittently (Looking at you Makerbot!) wherever they are moved. Cabling has to be designed for flex applications or they’ll break. This costs money, companies do everything from special plastic formations and complicated wire braids to putting teflon powder between the conductors to achieve a flex cable.

Final Touches:

The final difference is one of QC. The import mill will definitely need some work by the end user to come anywhere near the specifications promised. We’ve seen users do anything from replacing all the electronics to replacing the spindle with a more expensive one. The machine is likely to be out of square, and adjusting one of these machines can be quite difficult.

As with most higher-end/domestically manufactured products, the Othermill goes through significantly more testing and calibration before leaving the factory. The mill is trammed and the bed is milled to be exactly square with the travel of the machine. The electronics are all checked and everything is tracked. Other Machine Co offers another level of support than can be had from a Chinese maker.

Software:

Othermill does deserve a final mention for its software stack, especially for PCBs. It’s one of the selling points they tout the most. Having seen it in action. It definitely works as advertises and will especially make someone’s life easier if they are making circuit boards.

However, in the case of regular machine work, LinuxCNC or Mach3 isn’t that hard to master. At the end of the day, owning a CNC of any sort still requires a bit of technical know-how and the ability to read documentation. Once it’s all set-up, it’s basically click-go for both.

What it all means:

A circle diamond square test piece off the Othermill. It is 1cm x 1cm.
A tiny circle diamond square test piece in aluminum off the Othermill. It is 1cm x 1cm.

At the end of the day all this adds up to a machine that will cut the same way every time. As an added bonus, it will also be significantly quieter than other options. I was able to sit next to one while performing a circuit board routing operation without hearing protection. A properly built machine is a durable one; so far I’ve seen four Othermills in the wild and they’ve all been in heavy use. They can mill a wide variety of materials precisely, with occasional maintenance they should last a long time before a significant failure

The import mills, on the other hand, can theoretically be brought into the same specifications as the Othermill (thereby matching the specs they promise). However it will come at a significant time and money investment.

Othermills completely covered in dust at Maker Faire. They ran the whole time.
Othermills completely covered in dust at Maker Faire. They ran non-stop the whole show.

Mechanical engineering is a whole different beast. It was interesting, while performing the research for this article, to see how even some assumptions I had before writing it were less correct than I imagined. I thought that a ball screw of any class would outshine an ACME thread, for example. I’m sure there are many of you out there with experience and education that exceed mine.  Looking forward to the comments.


Disclaimer: In a search for something to write I asked Other Machine Co. if I could visit their offices. I do not at this moment own an Othermill nor has Othermill given me any sort of boon for writing this article. All the views, subjective and objective, in this article are my own as a working engineer who happens to write for Hackaday. Hackaday does sell the Othermill in its store and has one in the Supply Frame design lab, but that is not related to my writing.  I do think it’s quite rude that no one has ever thought to at least offer me a comically sized bag of cash (to turn down, of course) for a positive review. It’s just polite.

81 thoughts on “The Othermill Is Something Else

    1. Every country has it’s share of idiots.

      We had small Taig CNC mills in school, and know why carbon steel is better than Aluminium/Plastic/Wood/Dog-crap construction techniques.

    2. Yeah, all that’s missing is a giant american flag in the background of the page.

      Same old story of the great american entrepreneur building some reputation on “quality”, before they lay off everyone, outsource to China and get extra fat margins for just long enough to retire. But why stop when “hackers” like being fooled by every new startup preying on their nationalism.

      1. I don’t know about that. If the machine is as reliable and repeatable as the article makes it out to be, this will become a prototyping tool for every other company who is either a startup or a company that has established engineers. 3300bux is a very very small price to pay to have something reliable in a commercial environment, this can be more than made up for in favor of this machine vs a 400$ 3020 machine in a real world where the cost of labor far outweighs the cost of a machine like this. Hell the typical hacker will buy the chinese one even if this was 400$ and the lower quality one was 350$. I doubt this is something that the hacker on a shoestring budged would buy, hell most hackers wont even buy the $400 one, they still develop pcb’s or use through hole breadboard and solder their lives away. I know I cant make a case for owning a dedicated PCB mill. Can you?

      2. Totally agree. This CNC sells for 10 times the price of the Chinese one. If we were comparing 1 dollar against 10 the whole discussion would be pointless but at the scale of 100s to 1000s of dollars things are different. Is it REALLY worth paying 10 times the price? What is the credibility of the Western arrogance? We keep repeating the mantra that our crap is more expensive than the Chinese because the Chinese make crap.

    3. I don’t hate China. Read the article. Look, these kits ARE sold for a minimum with no long term support. That’s the goal of their manufacturing process and they expect the consumer to understand where the costs were cut. Now, other companies like Up!, Wanhao, Rong-Fu, Xiaomi, and Rigol to name a few are fantastic. No problem. When I argued in http://hackaday.com/2016/01/18/whats-in-a-tool-a-case-for-made-in-usa/ I didn’t actually argue against China. I argued against separating your manufacturing from the part of your company that understands your product.
      In the case of the Othermill, since they have such a low volume, but make a precision bit of equipment It makes absolute sense for them to make close partnerships with domestic suppliers. They can do smaller orders, more closely interact with their outsourcing engineers, and generally maintain a higher level of control over their product.

  1. “I have some doubts about the design but, [Danielle], assured me it ran pretty well. Since she has a PhD and is the CEO of a CNC machine company, I was inclined to believe her.”

    Logic Fail. Appeal to Authority

    can’t remember how to post pics…

    Mod Edit, I gotchu fam

    1. I wasn’t to surprised when I read that line then looked at the author. That’s Gerrit Coetzee’s writing style for you. If a PhD is all it takes, I’ve got a cool bridge I’m crowd sourcing on kickstarter. I’ve got a PhD In bullshit.

      if (!logic)
      {
      printf(“Article”);
      exit(“hackaday front page”);
      }

          1. Whoever the engineering team is doesn’t really matter. I think the whole issue with this is there’s a bias and an up sell of something that shouldn’t even be considered a hack. This really shouldn’t be an article, i would have preferred to have had this as an add.

            I’m more annoyed that there;s been a complete decrease in content of actual good hacks/mods/novel ideas on this site and more ads for products or ripped 2 week old reddit posts. New toys are one thing but they don’t solve problems or offer anything for people to learn from. If I go back a few pages I see mostly articles about new boards, shotty products and lame redesigns of things designed for “hackers” (‘Makers’ for the marketing cartels).

            This is another one of those “it’s cool to be nerdy” type things that someone will buy, play with for an hour or two, then throw it on their resume to say they’re a ” Experienced CNC Machines”. Thanks Gerrit for another wonderfully biased product placed article that does nothing to educate anyone.

            Seriously if you guys want to have “new” or “upcoming” products, have a separate ticker on the frontpage for that.
            Call it “Upcomming toys”. That way you’ll still get whatever revenues and stuff they’ll be paying you but that content will be filtered from the actual “hacks”, then link it to related products coming out so people can SEE the entire playing field. New 3D printer? Put it in the New Toys section with 3D printing. That way people can compare it to other printers past, and upcoming with REAL specs and numbers not what some PhD says for hype and marketing. That way, you guys can get real specs, do a real review and not clog up the rest of the article feeds with ad based garbage being passed off as a “hack”. I understand you guys need to run a website, and it’s a business, but you’re seriously KILLING your bottom line here.

            You’re sitting on a bloody goldmine for both yourself’s and the entire community here in terms of knowledge and insight and you’re panning for gold in the river a mile away. I think i speak for most people here that we would LOVE to support a site that had hacks but also had an organized way to see products with REAL data before we bought it. If you could do that EVERYBODY wins. You’ve already got the platform and community, and heck even a storefront. What else do you really need?

          2. I dunno where you all get this vitriol but whatever. Personally I’d buy a Taig cause I’m a mechanical guy and I’d like a fly cutter,but that will still set ya back a few grand. Though carbide is cheap these days so one of my first hacks would be to swing one of those 300 dollar watercooled high speed chinese spindle and vfd combos on it for funsies. The difference is if you wanna cost optimize for days and get the same thing: get a chinese mill. If you want to pull it out of the box and do work, buy a Othermill, used lpkf, or roland or something.

            Hackaday didn’t get a “cut” for this article and neither did I. We don’t do that. I originally planned to write a much shorter article, but then I got into the technical comparison because I’m a huge nerd I guess, and got carried away.

          3. @Theo – wish I didn’t agree with you but I really do. It is frustrating to have to skim the article in question first to try to determine if it’s a blatant advertisement before I invest the time to actually read and absorb the content. I’m not one to typically complain; I appreciate the site and (the majority of) the community members but it feels like some administrative perspective has been lost in the rush to get volumes of content on the treadmill and out the door. I don’t have a solution but for now can someone please at least edit these posts for grammar and typos before they go live? Be excellent at the easy stuff!

          1. I’m replying here because there’s seemingly no reply button on the other reply.

            When you say technical comparison, i don’t see any sort of quantified evidence based numbers to compare by. There is not a review done of a “chinese made” CNC vs this one. There isn’t any analysis but again with your hand waving statements of “This looks cool” styled responses.

            “Hackaday didn’t get a “cut” for this article and neither did I. We don’t do that. I originally planned to write a much shorter article, but then I got into the technical comparison because I’m a huge nerd I guess, and got carried away.”

            I’m an Electrical guy and I don’t know what part of the engineering world you’re from but there isn’t and wasn’t any analysis done in that article. It makes you guys look like you’re a shill when “you’re a huge nerd and get carried away”.

            I’m not saying this stuff to put anyone down. I’m saying this because whats being written completely devalues what this site is about . Somebody who doesn’t know enough will swing by here, buy one of the many products that “You got carried away about” and find out it’s crap compared to better out there then never come back to this site. Worse off you look like a shill and anyone who’s got a technical background will get pissed for the ad-based content being presented as articles. Not only that, but you can’t consider what you wrote fair analysis, when you’re not even objectively comparing things in a technical article. Unless the goal is to turn Hackaday into the next Buzzfeed, or TechCrunch nobody will care and just leave.

            “Thank you for your feedback. We will look into it.”
            Maybe that’s why the reply button is gone. Then again, you really just have to scroll down and take a look at everyone who’s been reading stuff daily for years who’s pretty annoyed at this point.

    2. Thanks, Mod.

      Hey Site Editors: I looked around for a link to markup guidelines. Either I’m blind (highly possible) or the link isn’t visible enough.

      Regards,
      Fred

    3. She literally built the thing on the desk. What was I supposed to do? Demand that she turn a five year old machine on and test it? She said it worked, I believed that it worked. See while I had my doubts I didn’t think they were worth calling out her entire career over. Rather I chose to trust another technical expert’s evaluation.

      I understand the logical fallacies, but there are also civil ones.

      1. Pro tip: If you don’t want to be called out on it, don’t write it. I guess it’s not entirely your fault anymore. Editing is a lost art in a great number of publications, both online and in print. A proper editor would’ve simply removed both of those sentences without any loss in content or effectiveness of the article (read: “The hip way writers write these days”). Or loss of credibility to the author.

  2. I can’t avoid feeling that this machine is overpriced. Comparing it to those $500-$1000 dollar chinese routers is kinda unfair. For $3000 dollars you could buy something like a G0704 (a ~350 lb cast iron mill drill) and the parts for a CNC conversion (and I mean decent parts).

    I also don’t get what’s so impressive abgout milling PCBs. 0.006 in is not that small, and you’re removing an insignificant amount of material.

      1. The 6mil spec is not related to the resolution or repeatability of the machine. When you get super fine traces they lift really easily. Remember, you’re using a spinning cutter that is trying to remove copper from a tower of substrate. The physical abuse of that is just too much for very fine traces to take.

        I use this machine almost daily for milling circuit boards. I’ve done toner transfer and hobby-grade lithography, and I’m never going back. I’ve learned the quirks of making boards with this tool, and I just change my designs slightly to accommodate them. I have a finished board in no time with no chemicals. Once prototyping is finished, I’ll have them professionally manufactured. These days, when I get to that stage, they’re right, and I have confidence in them.

        1. Of course, I know that difference. The point is that the 6mil PCB capability was touted as something remarkable – which it isn’t really.

          It is good to see that it works for you, but I will keep to my etching and a board house. Spending an hour or more milling an eurocard sized board, no thanks.

    1. Seriously. I paid under 2k for my shapeoko xxl. I understand that this will likely work better with fine details but there is alot less raw material. For 2K I got 3 1 meter long heavy duty aluminum rails.

      I’m not sure what price it should be but 3k is too much.

        1. 6 mil is not nearly small enough for circuit boards! The traces themselves are often 8 mil or less! Let’s see what we can get for around 3K…

          http://www.ebay.com/itm/Emco-PC-Mill-55-Trainer-Countertop-CNC-Milling-Machine-/191915844175?hash=item2caf13624f:g:lcAAAOSwFNZWxc44

          3.5k for the “real” thing (I know, it’s not a Bridgeport). We should trust the last 200 years of manufacturing knowledge and experience rather than investing in the newest startup. The manufacturing industry have been working on the production vs. cost problem for a long long time.

          Oh, and one last technical nugget, HDPE has an elastic modulus of 0.8 GPA vs aluminum 68 GPA vs cast iron (like the mill in the link) 130 GPA. She must have a PhD in something other than engineering to miss this simple fact. I completely understand if they went with it for business reasons, but just remember, companies sell a lot of junk to make a buck. They clearly don’t have quality as their top priority. In my opinion, this is an overpriced, poorly designed toy.

          – Trust me, I have a PhD (no really, I do!) in engineering.

          1. 6 mils is 8 mils or less (the “6 mils” here refers to the trace width). I think you are confusing trace width and the space between traces with the precision of a milling machine’s X/Y positioning. They are not the same. I have critiques about their design choices as well, but I thought I should help make this point clear.

  3. I bought an othermill at work about 6 months ago. I absolutely love it. I’ve milled many a circuit board, and even quite a bit of aluminum. I successfully burnt through the first crappy motor, but the new one is great! The only thing that kinda sucks is that I wanted to buy one for home, but I can’t. The othermill pro is still in pre-order, and the standard model is sold out. :(

  4. If you haven’t seen it, Danielle’s talk at last year’s Supercon was great–lots of detail about implementing a quality control system using some pretty nifty sofware tools. Seems like an awesome product, 6mil is impressive!

  5. Lol.. $3300..

    if it is ‘as good as the Ultimaker’ which it resembles so much, it will work exactly ‘as well’ as a $400 Chinese machine which has roughly the same parts in it from the same place. China… $3300! LOL . Yeah right.

    As someone who works around PHDs all day – they generally are good at math, but anything else they claim is a brash appeal to authority and must be taken with skepticism, but no skepticism can be shown or the delicate PHDs get all weird and shouty.

  6. O. … K. … and now, where is the hack? This was about proper engineering and elegant product design when you have above individual hobbyist resources wide selection of materials and manufacturing services at your disposal. I welcome it, but there is nothing I can do about it except save more earnings from my daily job and eventually buy me an othermill. Not much challenge in that, huh? If we had money, all hacking would be basically just a waste of time. We’d be Elons Musks, not hackers.

    1. It’s a tool targeted to people who want a small CNC that works well and reliably out of the box, has simple software and is a means to an end for actually making stuff – not a project in itself. I think it’s a worthwhile article for hackaday even though it isn’t covering an actual hacked together project.

    2. The hack was getting tax payer $ to design a small expensive cnc device using mostly offshore components and as much open source starting material as possible!

      A hack to be proud of!

  7. The problem with this article is that it is basically an unlabeled ad.

    It omits some important details and you have to search for them on the website. The article is focusing on justifying some dubious design choices instead. For example, there is a reason why machine tools are not made out of lightweight plastic – the weight of the machine is important for dampening vibrations. I am sure they have the physics with the HDPE construction down pat, but dismissing competitors using aluminium (or cast iron on the real, non-toy machines) without understanding this point is a bit disingenious.

    The comparison with the Chinese 3020 is also a wee bit off. We are talking a 300x200mm workspace, vs the Othermill’s 140×114mm, furthermore the 3020 exists in larger sizes too, up to 600x400mm workspace. Oh and 3020 is $600 *delivered* from China vs. $3200 preorder sans shipping for the Othermill Pro. More than 5x price difference – with smaller working volume, plastic chassis instead of metal (sorry, but metal is going to keep shape and wear longer than any HDPE), bushings instead of ballscrews (they certainly work, but they are a cheap solution). For that price I am fairly happy to put a RAMPS board or something else there to get rid of the stupid parallel port interface. Upgrade boards for these machines are wildly available. Same story with spindles – there are several available and some aftermarket solutions as well. Even with upgrades it will still be cheaper than the Othermill …

    I honestly don’t care that Othermill has custom made spindle and custom steppers – that is actually more a liability than an advantage. If the machine breaks in the future I won’t be able find spares except from the manufacturer, whereas standard sized NEMA motors are available everywhere.

    For a $3000 you can get a used full size CNC mill on eBay already. And if you are shopping for a smaller CNC and don’t want a Chinese one, then this German Proxxon costs about $1500: http://www.proxxon.com/en/micromot/24340.php

    The Proxxon still sports larger working volume, can have 4th axis installed and it is very robust – that thing can machine steel! Good luck doing that on the Othermill. Moreover, Proxxon is a well established German machine tool brand, not a startup that can disappear tomorrow (and good luck finding spare parts for your machine then …)

    Another option is one of the Shapeokos – even the largest one still costs around half of the Othermill’s price, with much larger workspace.

    BTW, buying a very expensive desktop CNC router to do PCBs (which seems to be their major selling focus) is just silly. Even home-etched toner transfer boards can easily do 8mil resolution and most of the time I would have the board etched, drilled and half-populated already by the time the CNC will be done with it. With less mess (the FR4 dust is a *lovely* carcinogen!) and noise – important if you are working from home. CNC milling PCB’s is *slow*! And if you need smaller tracks/clearances than 8/8 then you are most likely going to need solder mask too – then you have to ship it out to a board house anyway. Milled PCBs are mainly useful for prototyping things like microwave filters and such – but that’s not something an average Joe is going to do.

    This machine is an expensive solution looking for a problem, IMO.

  8. I have watched this machine from the MIT “Machines that Make” project onward. It really is an elegant idea (a fully contained desktop machine with handles that is inexpensive). I just wish that they would cast the housing pieces from epoxy granite, and use Slocum’s design for self compensating hydrostatic (really hydrodynamic) bearings. That would be a neat little machine- that could attack even tool steel with appropriate speeds/feeds.

  9. A chinese kit mill that requires tinkering sounds fun if that’s your thing, but not everyone is interested in dicking around with half baked tools. The nice thing about Othermill is they have a whole ecosystem, you buy the mill and the same company supports the parts, the machine, the software, upgrades, etc. I see the appeal and the value in that, don’t know why everyone is so bent out of shape – of course a company that adds polish to all of those experiences will have to charge more for their machines.

      1. There isn’t much in the category of mills that have full end to end solution to cutting PCBs quickly, same day. Maybe LPKF and that’s about it that I can think of. This machine appears to require minimal training and expertise and is just a no-brain solution to making PCBs quickly. The second the process becomes remotely hard or time consuming, it’s no longer worthwhile – just order boards from a board house. I haven’t used it, but I do a good bit of CNC machining and can tell the software abstracts a lot of the complexities away. From dealing with gerbers to setting tool heights and flipping the board over. It looks super easy for a rank beginner to just cut boards.

        Shapeoko’s are awesome too (I want one for home), but they are bigger, not enclosed, they don’t come with software to turn PCB gerbers into g-code, the trim router spindle is really loud, etc. I suspect milling PCBs on a Shapeoko would be doable, but frustrating.

          1. Haven’t played with the free stuff recently, maybe there is something awesome and easy out there for free, maybe it’s all buggy crap. Wouldn’t mind seeing someone review what’s out there for this right now.

  10. “Depending on the aluminum alloy it is compared against, HDPE can be stronger than aluminum while providing many distinct advantages.”

    For the sake of science how about some units of measurement on this “stronger” claim. A 6000 series Alloy has an ultimate tensile strength of around 256 MPa while extruded HDPE has an average UTS of 25 MPa, just FYI. So I have no idea what you mean by stronger? Stronger how, what property are you talking about ?

    When talking about material properties it would be nice to identify which property your talking about and what its average value is.

    1. You’re right. To be completely honest I was running up against the limit of the time I wanted to concentrate into a single section of a single article. I had begun to do a full comparison of the materials and then decided against it. Since for any load either machine is going to see when operating within spec that both materials would be more or less fine. I decided to leave it at stronger.

      1. What am trying to get at in the most constructive way possible is “Stronger” is qualitative word with no empirical Unit of Measure. Aluminum has a higher Tensile strength then HDPE, we can measure and compare those results. HDPE has higher hysterisis and maybe fracture toughness then Aluminum, also quantifiable. The word “stronger” is just marketing speak and does not mean anything when it comes to material properties. I would have written that line something like:

        “HDPE has certain mechanical properties that favor its use over Aluminum in this type of application.”

        Which would have been a good lead in to your section on dampening.

  11. I know some people aren’t going to like this statement, and this isn’t 100% aimed at this thing…or necessarily saying not to get one but…

    When did the hacker mainstream develop? When on earth did we give up on actually hacking shit together, and rely on other people to build dedicated machines for everything we build? When did we become the common market, where everything we buy needs to be turnkey(i know turnkey doesn’t actually apply, im a hacker not english major)? What happened to buying something crappy for cheap and making it better?

    Ok, sorry(not really) that was my ranting thoughts

    1. On the contrary, most people in this thread are agreeing with you, just in less polite words.

      The Othermill started out pretty hacky. I think hearing about unconventional design choices (bushings, HDPE framing, etc) is interesting fodder for the creative process of other hackers.

      1. Agree with your point, cool product, even though a bit expensive, I guess im just disgruntled with the move towards a hacker’s tool box containing unnecessarily high end tools.

    2. Last I checked no one had a monopoly on the word ‘hacker’ or on the level of abstraction that a ‘hacker’ has to work at.

      You want purchase an premade arduino board and incorporate it into your custom wireless thermostat, thats a hack. You want to build a custom arduino board with an AVR Chip flashed with the Arduino bootloader yourself instead, that’s still a hack. You want to run Arduino code on a Softcore AVR CPU running on an FPGA that’s still a hack; regardless of what level of hardware (and definitely software) abstraction you work at.

      If we had to built everything from scratch or using incomplete tools, our ability to build cool things would be limited. MacGyver was a really neat show…..but it was not real.

    3. I think it is a matter of how you choose to spend your time.
      Did you build your own:
      CNC
      Oscilloscope
      soldering iron
      wire drawing machine
      ore smelter
      Some people need a CNC as a tool for that task they want to do and would rather buy it than build it.
      Look up the toaster project some time it is interesting.

  12. Not sure what all the commotion is about. I don’t know much about CNC machines nor the virtues of the Other mill vs Chinese built CNCs. But I have noticed more and more people willing to ‘cheap out’ and buy the cheapest possible arduino clone/breakout board from china without even considering buying slightly more expensive boards locally. A classic example of this is to consider purchasing let’s say a $2 STM32 bluepill instead of the much better supported $18-$20 Teensy3.0 or $11 Nucleo board; the first supports Paul..an amazing engineer who has made many contributions to the maker/Arduino community and the second directly supports a manufacturer (ST) that makes amazingly affordable and accessible boards.

    This is not about nationalism, nor worshipping the flag, the founding fathers nor queen and country. This is primarily about supporting local businesses in order for us to have strong local economies that in the end support us. let’s face it…globalization has failed us. WE DON’T MAKE ANYTHING ANYMORE!!!! NOTHING!!!….except for Weapons, Burgers and Porn….all of which are generally bad for ya….at least in large doses.

    Now I’m not saying that affordability and cost-effectiveness is not an important factor…..but to make it the only factor is stupid and it will only encourage markets flooded with cheap junk. Even the Chinese manufacturers will eventually have to lower the quality of their products further to meet the price that the consumer wants..or thinks is right.

    I think we need to re-examine this ‘cost is the lowest-common denominator’ approach to buying goods whether its for CNC machines, 3D printers, Arduinos or even toilet seats for that matter.

    Some things that we should consider when buying an engineering product include (in no particular order).

    1-Reliability
    2-Vendor/Distributor support
    3-Documentation
    4-Availability of replacements
    5-Cost of Shipping
    6-Vendor proximity
    7-and Affordability

    I think that this is a good strategy no. If you don’t agree feel free to constructively criticize it. Please be gentle.

      1. I never mentioned paying a reseller more for the same product. My point is we need to be willing to pay more for official and innovative products such as the Teensy3.0 or Teensy LC, or nucleo boards as opposed to encouraging the use of the cheap chinese clones that don’t end up helping our economy/community in the long run..

        I can’t stand resellers/distributors that buy arduino clones from China and then upsell them.

  13. “The Othermill Pro costs a third of the price of an equivalent machine from LPKF and has the same capabilities.”

    “To the hobbyist stumbling onto the Othermill it’s hard to get a grip on why it costs what it does. Ebay is flush with those 3020 CNC mills from China for one-third of the price. Why should someone drop the extra cash “

    FYI
    The Othermill’s total price is greater than 3x of the cheap Chineese mills and LPKF’s cheapest model has significantly better capabilities for less than a third of the price. Maybe it’s a little more work, but posting a capability sheet of what you’re comparing would reduce the vitriol in the comment section you claim to hate.

    For those unaware, the LPKF has various features which multiply the machine’s capabilities beyond this tiny mill. Automatic tool changing, via creation using a vacuum and UV to pull a conductive paste through holes, error handling instead of just error messages, etc. Even if some of these features require additional costs, just the fact they are available has value.

    I’ve looked at all PCB creation options for work and I still can’t find the value. Projects with short design cycles are easily satisfied with overnight PCB rates passed onto the customer. The design engineer typically has down-time working on code/packaging/interface/etc while the boards are being made anyways.

    For hobbyists the price is just wayyyy too high. Like the founder said, she realized her market was universities where the people paying were not the people using the product.

  14. Personally I am never going to spend that amount of money on a CNC router just for circuit boards.

    BUT … those made in china 60/40 or whatever machines are crap! You can’t tinker and “fix” them, the plating is too thin and the bearings are too week so the first step to “fixing” it is to through it in the bin!!! Having said that, they *may* be tolerable for PCB’s / plastic only.

    1. Probably depends from where and which one did you get. There are several variants of them floating around, some have even ballscrews and a lathe chuck/extra axis installed. Most people don’t have issues with the mechanics of them (unless the machine arrived beaten up in transport), more with the electronics which is decidedly “old school” and some of the spindles available are crappy.

      On the other hand, those small CNCs are marketed as engravers for a reason. Aluminium at slow feedrates would be the limit of it. I have seen some videos of people trying to machine steel on them, but that was really pushing it. Most buy them for doing plastic and wood and for that the construction is more than good enough.

  15. HDPE has a terrible CTE compared to aluminum. I know these SF hipsters think they’re being clever, but there’s a reason nobody else is building CNC machines with HDPE…

  16. It might be worth noting that their co-founder, CTO, and a central figure behind much of the hardware design left the company last year.

    View story at Medium.com

    From my reading of it: it’s a clever design, but one that likely won’t scale well, and one of the key people that built it is long gone. Desktop CNC is a hard problem to solve, and I think Othermill definitely isn’t the answer. I think they’ve done good things for the industry, though. It’s only a matter of time before others build upon their ideas to release a better product worth buying.

  17. Gerrit, you realize you can purchase parallel port add in cards for PCs, right? It is even a suggested option to avoid blowing out one that might be part of the motherboard. Based on what little I have read on the mailing list, the LinuxCNC crew related to building machines for production really like a small Intel board. I believe it is the D525 with an integrated parallel port.

  18. When I’m done with it, I’ll have pretty close to $0 into my 1990 Acra CNC knee mill with a 10×50 inch table. Bought it for cheap with cannibalized ‘vintage’ electronics. Stripped off and sold all of that.

    It was a factory conversion to CNC so it still had a bunch of useless for CNC parts in the head. While I had the variable speed drive off for rebuilding I stripped the superfluous parts from the head and sold them. The drive rebuild only cost me $100 for belts and bearings. NOT cheap junk, I just shopped amazon, ebay and other sites for the absolute lowest prices on quality name brand parts.

    The motors, drivers and power supplies are where I’m going off-shore cheap. They work, they have more torque and RPM capability than the original, massive, high voltage DC ones. But the controller board is from Mesa. That offset the profit from selling the removed stuff a bit.

    If someone wants to make a *good* benchtop CNC mill, revive the old Light Machines PLM2000 design. (Made by Intelitek for a while after they bought out Light Machines.) It has an epoxy-granite frame and uses round, fully supported rails with linear bearings for the bed and headstock. I paid $2000 to a surplus dealer for mine, and that was cheap compared to what they typically sell for. Since I was able to get someone at Moog Animatics to root around in some old computer backups, I have the technical information on the servo controller to where I should be able to get Linux CNC to run it instead of having to use the old MS-DOS software. There’s Windows software for the stepper motor PLM1000, dunno why they never did for the servo motor PLM2000. What makes the PLM mills good mills and still highly sought after? Mass. The mills weigh nearly 400 pounds. They have a working load of up to 100 pounds. There is no mill on the market of their size with that high of capacity. There are smaller mills with much less capacity. There are a couple of close to the same size but despite being all metal, weigh less and cannot move around a 100lb load. Then the next jump up is to machines too large to be considered benchtop.

    Then there’s all the ones built around Sherline parts. They’re only good for wee little projects, but can be very precise at the small stuff. Some CNC ones have ridiculous prices, more than the average used PLM mill.

    But wait! There’s crazier higher priced. Minitech makes an aluminum framed mill with a base price of $12,000. Then you get to add the CNC system, spindle and other options. However they are very nicely made with lots of 3/4″ aluminum plate and dual THK linear rails with 4 blocks per axis and very high precision ball screws. Still a lot smaller than a PLM, especially in spindle capacity. I know someone with a Minitech Mini-Mill/3. He wants to sell it, too small. Only asking $1800. Has an older Flashcut system which I got going with a computer old enough to run Windows 95. Why that? Because the only software Flashcut has (or will let anyone have) that supports the 401A box is 16bit and would run on Windows 3.1, but 95 runs Win 3.1 software better than Win 3.1.

    Or how about the Emco F1 CNC mill? Smaller table than the PLM, not as high a load capacity. Original equipment steppers are crappy with only 75 steps per turn – but they had a very beefy headstock with a powerful motor and a #30 taper able to use industrial tooling. Most F1 owners give them a stepper motor and electronics upgrade and they have a mill that beats anything comparable in size and capacity that’s in current production.

    Put a #30 taper spindle on a PLM copy, that would be benchtop CNC bed mill nirvana.

  19. “but it’s almost entirely made from US sourced parts” Oh yay, overpriced hardware made from bald eagle beaks and gun parts. Ill take anything from China over anything from the USA any day, just out of principle.

  20. I wonder why the comparison is against CNC3020 ($500), when the price of the othermill ($2000) is more in the CNC6040 ($1500) range. For example, the CNC6040 spindle is much better than CNC3020, and the working area is lot larger than othermill.

    1. Yes, it certainly was. If you go here you can see the evolution (scroll towards the bottom of the page): mtm.cba.mit.edu . The MTM project really gained traction in Neil Gershenfeld’s How To Make Something That Makes Almost Anything class of 2009. Around then Jonathan Ward designed the MTM A-Z, and then with Nadya Peek developed the MTM Snap on which the Othermill was based. To be honest it might be nice if some of this heritage was acknowledged somewhere by the Other Machine Co.

      1. Forgot a “:” in the link… mtm.cba.mit.edu. Also there is in fact a thank you section on the Othermill website, with the names of hundreds of Kickstarter backers who “helped found” the company. Not to diminish the contributions of their backers, but if this is the bar to receive acknowledgement, I think it would be appropriate for them to mention Jonathan Ward and Nadya Peek whose open-source work made such a pivotal contribution to the company.

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