Powercore Aims To Bring The Power Of EDM To Any 3D Printer

The desktop manufacturing revolution has been incredible, unleashing powerful technologies that once were strictly confined to industrial and institutional users. If you doubt that, just look at 3D printing; with a sub-$200 investment, you can start making parts that have never existed before.

Sadly, though, most of this revolution has been geared toward making stuff from one or another type of plastic. Wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly whip up an aluminum part as easily and as cheaply as you can print something in PLA? That day might be at hand thanks to Powercore, a Kickstarter project that aims to bring the power of electric discharge machining (EDM) to the home gamer. The principle of EDM is simple — electric arcs can easily erode metal from a workpiece. EDM machines put that fact to work by putting a tool under CNC control and moving a precisely controlled electric arc around a workpiece to machine complex shapes quickly and cleanly.

Compared to traditional subtractive manufacturing, EDM is a very gentle affair. That’s what makes EDM attractive to the home lab; where the typical metal-capable CNC mill requires huge castings to provide the stiffness needed to contain cutting forces, EDM can use light-duty structures and still turn out precision parts. In fact, Powercore is designed to replace the extruder of a bog-standard 3D printer, and consists almost entirely of parts printed on the very same machine. The video below shows a lot of detail on Powercore, including the very interesting approach to keeping costs down by creating power resistors from PCBs.

While we tend to shy away from flogging crowdfunded projects, this one really seems like it might make a difference to desktop manufacturing and be a real boon to the home lab. It’s also worth noting that this project has roots in the Hackaday community, being based as it is on [Dominik Meffert]’s sinker EDM machine.

[David] tipped us off to this one. Thanks, [David]!

39 thoughts on “Powercore Aims To Bring The Power Of EDM To Any 3D Printer

  1. Looks promising but I am 0 for 2 on Kickstarter and I won’t test my luck again. It would have gone swimmingly with the $99 Robotic Industries Build One 3D Printer that I ordered five years ago.
    My criteria these days is a dirt cheap reward so I don’t care if the project doesn’t deliver or when kickstarter starts insuring high dollar projects.
    I am so tempted and I wish the PowerCore team great success. I will buy it retail.

    1. And I’m 11 for 12 on hardware campaigns, but I was never tempted to back a 3d printer. Too complex and too hyped to trust that any particular campaign actually had competent people behind it.

      That said, this isn’t a kickstarter for a printer (you supply your own). It’s a kickstarter for a EDM power unit, which has already been designed and demonstrated as working, and the boards are simple enough to be easily manufactured. My personal opinion is that it’s a low risk of not delivering. They’ve also limited delivery to the US only, which sucks for me but shows that they’re actively trying to limit their risks even if it means losing a large number of potential backers.

      1. Limiting risk for ourselves and especially our backers was a big concern. That’s also why we have given a generous lead time to orders. We are pleased to see that people seem excited about the Powercore and will be working tirelessly to get this out to our great backers!

    2. Looking at the log, out of 153 projects back, 16 have failed (or at least have no updates for some time), 13 are solidly updating progress, and the other 124 have delivered. That’s better odds than most startups, commensurate with the lower rewards than investing.
      Treat it as a bet: you bet £x that who you are backing is able to execute successfully – if you win the bet you get a widget, if you lose the bet you lose your money, just like any other bet. Not willing to bet, don’t back in the first place and observe the big red “NOT A STORE” warning at the top of the page when backing.

  2. It seems the power supply design is quite basic – I expect it will work for entry-level EDM purposes, but won’t achieve the same level of performance as e.g. BaxEDM.

    Compared to what is on the board, the $399 kickstarter price seems very high. Of course they need to fund development, but even allowing for that seems like there is a lot of cost optimization that could be done before manufacturing a larger batch. If this proves successful, I expect $50 clones to follow soon enough.

    On the other hand, delivering already proven, even if sub-optimal, design at a large profit margin is a good recipe for kickstarting company finances.

    1. I’m hoping to buy retail after the Kickstarter gets fulfilled. I get not wanting to ship international and deal with customs if you’re not an established company, especially for a device that requires certification of non-interference with communications infrastructure.

  3. Yes limiting delivery is sensible to avoid customs and courier headaches. If the pubs are sourced and populated in usa, it’s even more sensible. I can’t buy as no shipping offered to my country of residence either which is understandable.

  4. only USA backers allowed and no link to the open source stuff (pcb designs, boom nor printer custom firmware if any)…. hope they come with something real on the market, but still i’m a bit disappointed :-(

    1. Statement of Bias: I am a backer of the project and own the mentioned Ben Flemming books.

      I believe the information will come in time. I consider the kickstarter as their way to recoup current expenses and hopefully build up enough funds to at least make the effort worthwhile. Note that they have already published the designs for the 3D printable parts. Even without publishing schematics yet, they have provided enough information to reverse engineer their design. Another commenter mentioned they expected clones to come out in the $50 price point eventually, and based on what I’ve seen so far that sounds about right). For now, as a backer I understand I’m “overpaying” for the privilege of early access to a first-generation product. I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford that premium right now, but if the design has merit lower-cost and DIY versions will be available (I suspect they will be offering kit versions and bare PCBs themselves… the more boards they order the less the cost to produce).

      Looking at just what the video shows, I think it’s plain that they are not planning on hiding anything:

      – They show the PCB in great detail (I haven’t tried to follow the QR codes, those sites may not be active yet). From that is it clear that it is a relatively simple design. Having recommended the Flemming book, they’ve given the key to understanding the design just based on the PCB appearance.

      – They freely describe the design of the power resistor replacement (a really neat idea… I’d been wondering if water-resistors might be suitable for easily-cooled, low-cost power resistors but the PCB route looks like a much more repeatable and easy to manufacturer approach).

      – Granted, nothing on firmware yet, but basically the pico is acting as a glorified timer (in the Flemming EDM book, the timers are based on 555 circuits, they even mentioned that version as their starting point). The pico also allows them to fold in monitoring and safety functions with enough remaining resources to expand to much more intricate variants later. That firmware would probably not be too difficult to write from scratch.

  5. I guess a lot of aluminium and brass is going to end up in that water.

    As a hobbyist, is there an easy way to safely dispose of it?

    Or does it count as hazardous waste and I need to find someone specialized to hand it off to?

    1. Depends on the wastewater regulations in your area, but likely you can dilute or easily treat the water and be well within permissible limits. Most of the metals will drop out in one form or another, and the resulting sludge should be disposed of properly. Aluminum isn’t really a concern, it will disassociate water to form aluminum hydroxide which is nearly insoluble and will precipitate out. I feel like the zinc would also do the same, although this reaction only occurs under elevated temperatures, likely the EDM arc is sufficient – but it may not totally react. Likewise with the copper. You can probably drop any dissolved ions like zinc or copper chloride (which can form from chlorine in tap water) out with simple addition of sodium carbonate (washing soda). Adding some steel wool and activated charcoal can also help remove these ions either through replacement reactions with the iron or via absorption onto the charcoal. Again, the resulting sludge should be disposed of properly.

    2. The Earth is made of aluminum and its compounds. Aluminum oxides are everywhere. I’m pretty sure you cold drink the water without harm like milk of magnesia. But don’t. AlOH can potentially mess with your electrolytes. Or is it just pulverized aluminum in the water?

  6. This device bears very little resemblance to EDM in an industrial shop.

    EDM is often divided into sinker vs wire EDM. The process in this KS campaign is closer to wire EDM in the sense of cutting 2D profiles in solid material. But even a pretty basic, entry level wire EDM can cut 8″ (400mm) stock, which is a world away from the recommended 1mm stock of this device. A sinker EDM is an entirely different beast, allowing the user to cut complex shapes in metals by machining an electrode that is the negative of the desired hole. This is generally done by cutting graphite electrodes which are much easier to machine than the hardened steel of an injection mold.

    1. Yes, it’s a hobbyist EDM device, so of course it’s not going to resemble a industrial-grade unit. But it still works via exactly the same mechanism.

      Might as well complain about how our desktop printers don’t resemble giant industrial printing presses. Or those people who complain that 3d printers are completely worthless because only a multi-ton XYZ gantry has the rigidity to do anything.

      1. I think you’re missing my point. A desktop printer produces a printed page that has the same functionality as a page from an industrial press (even if it might use different technology). A desktop 3D printer produces the same sorts of artifacts as industrial units, though perhaps with less accuracy or smaller scale. On the other hand, the only thing this device shares with an industrial EDM is the spark erosion process. It doesn’t provide any of the capabilities, even at reduced scale, that make EDM a useful process in industry. It’s akin to those toy “lathes” that can only cut styrofoam. Sure, you can argue they employ the same mechanism, but it doesn’t make them useful.

        1. So you dont think this design could be used with a sinker type electrode that you fashion yourself and use in place of the brass rods they use? I had thought of using it this way to cleanly cut heatspreaders, punch out connector holes in electronics enclosures etc. that was my plan after a quick glance at this unit and seeing they dont ship to Australia anyway. I possess more than adequate PCB design skills to produce this locally for myself and other aussies, should this thing actually go open source like they say it will. If not i’ll just give it a miss, because it isnt very fast and honestly the results posted arent all that cleanly cut, due to the electrode being eroded I guess.

  7. With the shipping limitations and lack of OS code/designs, it might be better to run a KS as a ‘source bounty’ programme than a weird high-margin low-availability production run to recoup development costs. That puts the KS bounty requirement lower (no need to pay for a production run, which will ALWAYS sap more money than expected) and does not preclude a lower margin (because you have defrayed R&D costs already) production run at a later date.

  8. When I used to work in metal Fab we had a wire EDM, not sure what the difference is here but this thing was massive and they used it to cut through 1 in thick tool steel and the cuts were absolutely precision. In fact, they used it to make tools for stamping the dyes and the outer part, so they fit together precise.

  9. Very disappointed to learn this article was not in fact about a new revolution in Electronic Dance Music played by 3d printers

    Tops otherwise, very excited by the prospect of desktop metal manufacturing

  10. Questions I have are…
    How are we to interface standard 3d printer axis with generated g-code?
    Are you doing a 2d design interpreter with cut depth (or passes) pre-set by energy settings?
    As noted by Applied Science, how are you reversing direction in g-code following a short circuit?
    A psu to control the spark gap is one thing, moco of an arbitrary printer is quite another.
    I have a desktop cnc mill running mach-3 and an LPT 4-axis moco driver on winxp. Will it work or are the tool-paths outwith the scope of this project?

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