Hackaday Prize Entry: CNC Mill Lets Kids Engrave On The Fly

The manufacturing revolution has already begun, and there are 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser cutters popping up in garages and workspaces all around the world. The trouble with these machines is that they’re fiddly to use, and you don’t want a kid playing around with them.

[moritz.messerschmidt]’s Hackaday Prize entry is a desktop Badgemaker that engraves acrylic name badges for kids. Under the hood, an Arduino with a custom-built shield with 3 SilentStepStick stepper drivers on it operates the three NEMA-11 motors. Meanwhile, the kids interact with a 7” touchscreen powered by a Raspberry Pi.

Once the kid selects what to engrave, motors move the piece of acrylic against a rotary tool’s milling bit, carving the acrylic as instructed. These cards are then equipped with watch batteries and LEDs to light up.

The touch screen is key. Bummed out by basic CNC machines that were difficult to use — like hobbyist 3D printers with a newbie-befuddling interface — [moritz.messerschmidt] went out of his way to make the interface kid-friendly, with just a simple set of choices necessary for creating one’s own name badge.

Is this a feature-packed CNC machine with all the bells and whistles? No, but that’s not the point. The purpose of the Badgemaker is to introduce a new generation to personal fabrication technology. It’s a toy, but that’s the point: a CNC machine that’s so easy to use, even a child can do it.

17 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: CNC Mill Lets Kids Engrave On The Fly

    1. Thanks! I’m really excited that people seem to like it and want to build it on their own. Please stay tuned! We already have a first hardware prototype of the next version. I will probably make a blog post soon.

      Moritz Messerschmidt

  1. I’m not really too excited about calling an engraver a mill. It would be nice if we could keep some kind of distinction between a machine that is designed to shape things vs. a machine that is designed to cut thin channels in things. I realize that the distinction can be argued but my fear is that if marketers ever find out that they can call their engravers mills then the search waters will be much much muddier.

    The project looks great – anything that gets kids into CNC is all good.

    1. This is a CNC mill that seems limited to shape an object by cutting thin channels in it. Those seeming limitations are imposed upon it by its interface and software. Hardware-wise, it is probably fully capable of carving complete, albeit small, 3d shapes other than engraved lettering.

    2. It’s also about material choice. I can’t think of an engrwver not capable of fully shaping modeling foam for instance.
      The word distinction is irrelevant. I know it can be frustrating cteyong to figure out how much power and ridgedity a machine has just from the China internet site of choice, but CANC engravers are just as much a mill as a CNC mill. And don’t forget: cutting a channel in material is the very essence of the action of milling. Engraving is just milling for decorative purposes.

    3. Thanks for your comment. So you could probably discuss about the definition of a milling machine for a while.. I think the most important thing, to keep in mind, is that the goal was to simplify the user interaction with a milling machine and enable kids to operate one by using a simple application. This, of course, led to some restrictions which are in particular being introduced by the software interface of the front-end. But I can tell you that the interior part is fully capable of milling/drilling diverse materials; although, the workspace is quite limited and it might take some time depending on the material of the workpiece.
      Plexiglass is, of course, a very strong material which would take a lot of time to cut through. This was one criteria leading to the decision to reduce the milling process to an engraving process.

      Also thanks to mre and dynamodan.

      Moritz Messerschmidt

    1. Great, thanks! I had similar experiences during my user study with the kids. Because they couldn’t wait for the engraving process to finish and get their name tags, they sometimes wanted to pull it out earlier. Luckily they were always still too afraid of the inner red light (which is shown during the engraving process) and no one opened the safety door until some green light indicated that the process was finished. :)

      Moritz Messerschmidt

        1. Solenoids for auto locking doors sound interesting (but maybe expensive?!). Safety switches are of course implemented. If the safety door is lifted the rotary tool is stopped and the milling process is paused.

          1. The ones you see in factories, probably. I know even grainger carries solenoids without mounting hardware in the $20 range.
            A switch to kill the operation is probably just fine for your application. I have built things that absolutely have to finish cycling before opening the door, so that was my approach in that case.
            I put a lot of unattended runtime on my CNC, but discussion here on HaD has lately made me think more like a true factory in terms of safety precautions.

    1. I think it probably depends on the size of the fly..
      Another interesting question could be whether the machine would be fast enough to engrave a fly on a fly, coming by by flying, on the fly..
      Questions over questions… Unfortunately, we will never find out as I don’t wanna harm any animal. :-)

      Moritz Messerschmidt

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