FR4 Machine Shield Is A CNC Milling Machine From FR4 PCB

The people behind the PocketNC heard you like CNC PCB mills, so they milled you a PCB mill out of PCB. They announced their surprising new open source hardware product, a pocket sized 3-axis CNC machine entirely made out of FR4 PCB material, aptly named “FR4 Machine Shield”, at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire.

UPDATE: The FR4 Machine Shield is now on Kickstarter

fr4_thumbWe know the concept from quadcopters, little robots, and generally things that are small enough to make use of their PCBs as a structural component. But an entire CNC machine, soldered together from a few dozen PCBs certainly takes it to the next level.

There is no doubt that 2mm thick fiber reinforced epoxy can be surprisingly rigid, although the Achilles heel of this method might be the solder joints. However, it looks like all load bearing, mechanical connections of the machine are supported by tightly interlocking “dovetail” finger-joints, which may help protecting all the solder connections from the strain hardening effects of continuous stress and spindle vibrations.

As you might expect, most of the wiring is embedded into the FR4 frame construction, and to squeeze the maximum value out of the PCB material, the motor driver boards interface via card edge connectors with the (currently Arduino based) controller board. In addition to the milling head, which features a brushless DC motor and a tool coupler, the team wants to develop heads for circuit printing, microscopy, pneumatic pick and place, hot air reflow, and 3D printing.

With all those cost-driven design choices, from the one-step manufacturing process of the frame and wiring to the dismissal of screws and nuts from the frame assembly, the “FR4 Machine Shield” could indeed become one of the cheapest CNC machine kits on the market. The team targets an introduction price of $400 during a Kickstarter campaign in June 2016. Can they deliver? [Gerrit] checked Pocket NC out at the Faire and ended up raving about how they run their business.

Enjoy their teaser video below!

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3D Printing Pen and CNC Machine Yields Cheap 3D Printer

3D printers are ubiquitous now, but they’re still prohibitively expensive for some people. Some printers cost thousands, but even more inexpensive options aren’t exactly cheap. [Daniel] decided that this was unacceptable, and set out to make a basic 3D printer for under $100 by including only the bare essentials needed for creating anything out of melted plastic.

3D printers are essentially four parts: a bed, filament, and a hot end and extruder. In a previous project, [Daniel] used parts from old CD drives to create a three-axis CNC machine which he uses for the bed. To take care of the hot end and extruder, he is using a 3D printing pen which he mounts to the CNC machine and voila: a 3D printer!

It’s not quite as simple as just strapping a 3D printing pen to a CNC machine, though. The pen and the CNC machine have to communicate with each other so that the pen knows when to place filament and the CNC machine knows when to move. For that, [Daniel] went with a trusty Arduino in order to switch the pen on and off. Once it’s working, it’s time to start printing!

[Daniel] does note that this is a design that’s relatively limited in terms of print size and resolution, but for the price it can’t be beat. If you’re interested in getting started with 3D printing, a setup like this would be perfect. 3D pens are a pretty new idea too, and it’s interesting to see them used in different ways like this.

Frank Makes A CNC Table

[Frank Howarth] is one of the big guns when it comes to woodworking on YouTube, and now he’s doing something completely unlike his other builds. He’s building a gigantic CNC machine. Yes, we’ve seen dozens of CNC router builds, but this one adds a few nifty features we’ve never seen before.

The plans for [Frank]’s CNC machine call for a 4 foot by 8 foot table, over which a router on a gantry gnaws away at wood. This is the standard size for shop-sized CNC router, but [Frank] is adding in his own twist: he’s building a 12 foot long table, by way of a four foot extension. This one small addition allows [Frank] to put tenons in tree trunks, engravings on the side of furniture, or just to make one part of a very large piece flat.

Right now, the build is just about the base, constructed out of 2″ square steel tube. While the welding is by all accounts an amateur job, everything is square, straight, and true. Now, with a metal base scooting around on hockey puck feet, [Frank] is ready to start on the robotic part of the build, something we’re all interested to see.

It’s going to be really big, but still not the biggest.

DIY MDF CNC Machine Is Small And Solid

In the world of hobby-level CNC cost and simplicity are usually the name of the game. Using inexpensive and easily found materials makes a big difference in the feasibility of a project. [FreeRider] had built a CNC router before but it was big, flexible and not as accurate as he wanted. He set off to design his own table top router, influenced from other designs found on the ‘net, but also keeping the costs down and ease of build up.

The machine frame is made from 3/4″ MDF and was cut on [FreeRider’s] first router, the JGRO. Notice how all the holes are counterbored for the many bolt heads. It is clear that much attention to detail went into the design of this machine. Aluminum angle act as linear rails on which v-wheel bearings travel. Skate bearings support 5/16″ threaded rod used as lead screws. Lead nuts are tapped HDPE blocks and seem to be doing a satisfactory job with minimal backlash.

[FreeRider] says his new machine is capable of 60 inches per minute travel, double that of his old machine. Since the new machine is stiffer, he’s able to route aluminum and has successfully made some brackets out of 1/8″ plate. He reports the dimensional accurate to be about 0.002-0.003 inches. For more inexpensive MDF-based CNC machines, check out this drawer slide bearing one or this one that uses a drill for a spindle.

Take a Spin on this Voice-Controlled 3D Scanning Rig

[Aldric Negrier] wanted to make 3D-scanning a person streamlined and simple. To that end, he created this voice-controlled 3D-scanning rig.

[Aldric] used a variety of hacking skills to make this project, and his thorough Instructable illustrates this nicely. Everything from CNC milling to Arduino programming to 3D-printing was incorporated into the making of this rig. Plywood was used to construct the base and the large toothed gear. A 12″ Lazy Susan bearing was attached to this gear to allow smooth rotation. In order to automate the rig, a 12V DC geared motor was attached to a smaller 3D-printed gear and positioned on the base. When the motor is on, the smaller gear’s teeth take the larger gear for a spin. He used a custom dual H-bridge motor driver made by a friend, which is connected to an Arduino Nano. The Nano is also connected to a Bluetooth module and an ultrasonic range finder. When an object within 1-35cm is detected on the rig for 3 seconds, the motor starts to spin, stopping when the object is no longer detected. A typical scan takes about 60 seconds.

This alone would have been a great project, but [Aldric] did not stop there. He wanted to be able to step on the rig and issue commands while being scanned. It makes sense if you want to scan yourself – get on the rig, assume the desired position, and then initiate the scan. He used the Windows speech recognition SDK to develop an application that issues commands via Bluetooth to Skanect, a 3D-scanning software. The commands are as simple as saying “Start Skanect.” You can also tell the motor to switch on or off and change its speed or direction without breaking form. [Aldric] used an Asus Xtion for a 3D-scanner, but a Kinect will also work. Afterwards, he smoothed his scans using MeshMixer, a program featured in previous hacks.

Check out the videos of the rig after the break. Voice commands are difficult to hear due to the background music in one of the videos, but if you listen carefully, you can hear them. You can also see more of [Aldric’s] projects here or on this YouTube channel.

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X-Carve, The Logical Upgrade To A Shapeoko

When it comes to small CNC carving machines for hackerspaces and extremely well-equipped garages, the Shapeoko, or something like it, has been the default machine. It’s dead simple – a Dremel attached to linear rails – and is useful for everything from milling PCBs to routing complex woodworking project to plotting designs with a pen. Now, [Bart Dring], the guy behind the lasers and Inventables have teamed up to create the next generation of carving machines. It’s called the X-Carve, and while it’s fully compatible with the Shapeoko 2, it adds a few improvements that make for a much better machine.

The X-Carve does away with the Dremel-based spindle and replaces it with something that can produce torque. There’s a 24VDC spindle in the stock arrangement that will give you speed control through Gcode. There is, of course, adapters to fit the Dewalt and Bosch routers most commonly used in these types of machines.

As far as the gantry goes, the X and Y axes are makerslide; no change there. The Z axis leadscrew has an optional upgrade to Acme threaded rod, an improvement over the M8 threaded rod found in just about every other DIY machine kit. The entire machine is basically all the upgrades a Shapeoko should have, with stronger corners, NEMA 23 motors, and increased rigidity.

There are a few versions of the X-Carve, ranging from an upgrade kit to the Shapeoko 2 to a fully loaded kit with a square meter of machine space. The big, high-end kit ships for around $1250, but a smaller kit with 500mm rails, NEMA 17s, and threaded rod lead screw is available for around $800.

[Bart] and [Zach], the founder of Inventables sat down and shot a video going over all the features of the X-Carve. You can check that out below.

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Cardboard CNC Machine Boxes Up both a Tool and a Framework

Want to build up a desktop CNC machine without breaking your pocketbook? [James Coleman], [Nadya Peek], and [Ilan Moyer] of MIT Media Labs have cooked up a modular cardboard CNC that gives you the backbone from which you can design your own machine.

The CNC build comprises of design instructions for a single axis linear stage and single axis rotary stage with several ideas on how to combine multiple of these axes together to construct a particular machine. Whether your milling wood, laser-engraving your desk, or pipetting your bacteria samples, the designs [Dropbox] and physical components can be adopted for your end-application.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is that, at the high level, it is not just a cnc, but a framework known as Gestalt. This architecture enables users to develop their own machine configuration consisting of multiple software nodes linked together with high-level Python Code. Most of the high level computation is organized by a Python library that calls compiled C-code. This high-level framework processes instructions through the desired machine’s kinematics to output commands to the motor controllers. Finally, the top-level interface does away with the archaic GCode with two alternatives: a Python interface consisting of function calls to procedures and a remote interface to make procedure calls through http requests. While the downside of a motion control language is that commands have no standardization; they are, however, far more human-readable, a benefit that plays into the Gestalt Framework’s aim “to be accessible to individuals for personal use.”


In the paper [PDF], [Ilan] expresses the notion of a tool as an impedance-matching device, an instrument that extends the reach of our creativity to bend and morph a broader range of shapes into forms from our imagination. Where our hands fail in their imprecision and weakness, tools bridge this gap. Gestalt and the Cardboard CNC are first steps to creating a framework so that anyone can design and realize their own impedance-matching device, whether they’re weaving steel cables or carving wood.

The folks at MIT Media Labs a familiar heavy-hitters in this field of low-cost machinery, especially the kind that fit in a suitcase. We’re thrilled to see a build that reaches out directly to the community.

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