5-Axis 3D Printing For The Rest Of Us

By now we’re all used to the idea of three dimensional printing, as over the last fifteen years or so it’s become an indispensable tool for anyone with an interest in making things without an industrial scale budget. There are still a few limitations to the techniques used in a common 3D printer though, in particular being tied to layers in a single orientation. It’s something that can be addressed by adding tilt and rotational axes to the printer to deliver a five-axis device, but this has not been available in an affordable form. [Freddie Hong] and colleagues have tackled the production of an affordable printer, and his solution fits neatly on the bed of a Prusa i3 to convert it to five-axis machine without breaking the bank.

The quantity and quality of the work is certainly impressive, with suitable slicing software being developed alongside the 3D printed parts to fit the two extra axes. For now all we can do is look at the pictures and the video below the break, but once the work has been presented the promise that all the necessary files will be made public. We can see versions of the hardware finding their way onto printers other  than the Prusa, and we can see this becoming yet another piece of the regular armory available to those of us who make things.

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3D Printer Cuts Metal

Every now and then we’ll see a 3D printer that can print an entire house out of concrete or print an entire rocket out of metal. But usually, for our budget-friendly hobbyist needs, most of our 3D printers will be printing small plastic parts. If you have patience and a little bit of salt water, though, take a look at this 3D printer which has been modified to cut parts out of any type of metal, built by [Morlock] who has turned a printer into a 5-axis CNC machine.

Of course, this modification isn’t 3D printing metal. It convers a 3D printer’s CNC capabilities to turn it into a machining tool that uses electrochemical machining (ECM). This process removes metal from a work piece by passing an electrode over the metal in the presence of salt water to corrode the metal away rapidly. This is a remarkably precise way to cut metal without needing expensive or heavy machining tools which uses parts that can easily be 3D printed or are otherwise easy to obtain. By using the 3D printer axes and modifying the print bed to be saltwater-resistant, metal parts of up to 3 mm can be cut, regardless of the type of metal used. [Morlock] also added two extra axes to the cutting tool, allowing it to make cuts in the metal at odd angles.

Using a 3D printer to perform CNC machining like this is an excellent way to get the performance of a machine tool without needing to incur the expense of one. Of course, it takes some significant modification of a 3D printer but it doesn’t need the strength and ridigity that you would otherwise need for a standard CNC machine in order to get parts out of it with acceptable tolerances. If you’re interested in bootstraping one like that using more traditional means, though, we recently featured a CNC machine that can be made from common materials and put together for a minimum of cost.

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Vacuum-Powered Rotary Tool Redux, This Time Machined

We love to see projects revisited, especially when new materials or methods make it worth giving the first design another go around. This twin-turbine vacuum-powered Dremel tool is a perfect example of what better tools can do for a build.

You may recall [JohnnyQ90]’s first attempt at a vacuum powered rotary tool. That incarnation, very similar in design to the current work, was entirely 3D-printed, and caused no little controversy in the comments about the wisdom of spinning anything made on an FDM printer at 43,000 RPM. Despite the naysaying, [Johnny] appears to have survived his own creation. But the turbo-tool did have its limitations, including somewhat anemic torque. This version, machined rather than printed and made almost completely from aluminum, seems to have solved that problem, perhaps thanks to the increased mass of the rotating parts. The twin rotors and the stator were milled with a 5-axis CNC machine, which has been a great addition to [JohnnyQ90]’s shop. The turbine shaft, looking like something from a miniature jet engine, was meticulously balanced using magnets mounted in the headstock and tailstock of a lathe. The video below shows the build and a few tests; we’re not big fans of the ergonomics of holding the tool on the end of that bulky hose, but it sure seems to work well. And that sound!

We first noticed [JohnnyQ90] when he machined aluminum from soda cans to make a mini Tesla turbine. His builds have come a long way since then, and we look forward to what he’ll come up with next.

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How Did Pocket NC Survive And Thrive?

We had a chance to talk to Matthew Hertel of PocketNC at the Bay Area Maker Faire this year. During the conversation, he answered some questions I’d had about the project since I saw it on Kickstarter, and told a cool story while he was at it.

When the Pocket NC 5-axis Tabletop CNC Mill KickStarter came out, I immediately chocked it up as a failure out of the gate. I figured that there would never be a single delivered unit. It just seemed too impossible. The price was too low for a machine with that many large machined aluminum pieces. It had real linear guides. It had a real spindle and housed a beagle bone black running linuxCNC. It just couldn’t be that cheap. Ends up, I’m quite happy to be wrong. Pocket NC is doing well, delivering their first units, and taking new orders.

The CNC equivalent of a brag track on a hip-hop record.
The CNC equivalent of a brag track on a hip-hop record.

It’s easy to get jaded with the Kickstarter and IndieGoGo scams that are out there. Or even the disappointing behavior of projects that could be legitimate. People often do failure analysis of companies, but it is also worth investigating what people did right when they are successful.

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