CNC & Machining
First Look: Carvera Desktop CNC Prototyping Station

I had a chance to check out this interesting mill from Makera, called the Carvera. It’s a desktop CNC mill with a bunch of features that seem to make it perfect for PCB prototyping.

Let’s start with the acknowledgement that this is a kickstarter, so do your due diligence in research. There’s no guarantees from kickstarter that you’ll get a product when you pay. That being said, they do have functional units, as you can see in this video.

With the features, size, and power present in this package, the Carvera seems to be targeted at light duty milling. You would use a machine like this to produce PCBs as well as the enclosures that hold them. You probably aren’t going to pick up a machine like this for doing tons of work in metal, though it is capable of doing non-ferrous items like aluminum and brass.

Form Factor

This mill is a desktop system with an enclosure. It still fits on a workbench or a desk though. The work area is 14.2″x9.4″x5.5″. There is also an optional 4th axis that can be bolted onto the table, allowing for rotary milling. I didn’t get a chance to really play with that feature though.

The housing is very solidly built, with solid metal frame and sides and a pretty rigid clear covering. It felt great actually, from a construction standpoint. Some similar machines that I’ve played with can have flimsy enclosures or creaky plastics, but this felt super solid.

Feature set

The feature set on this machine really pushes it apart from some of the competitors in similar form factors.

-automatic probing of raw stock, even non conductive things, to ensure an even engrave across the surface
-built in dust collection
-auto tool changer
-built in diode laser
-built in air-assist

I experimented a bit with the different features, finding them all to be functional. The least impressive would be the dust collection, which felt a bit underpowered. Then again, when I was doing fine engraving it did pretty well with the smaller particles, so maybe I was focusing on the wrong targeted use. They also mentioned that the dust collection system was still being revised for production units.

The tool changing was fantastic and didn’t give me any problems at all for the duration of the tests. I could see a real time savings here if I were running multiples of a part that required a few different tools.

The laser was functional, but really slow. This isn’t going to replace your desktop laser engraver. Then again, the fact that you could etch your PCB right there in the machine is pretty great.

software

This is the area that I could see the most potential for improvement. I don’t blame Makera, as I find almost all CNC machine software feels a bit like it is stuck in the past. We’re so spoiled with 3d printing slicer software that going back to the cnc world is always jarring.

That being said, the software was better than some I’ve used. The interface is clean and easy to read, and can be run from an android device over wifi.

price

The final price and kickstarter price have not been announced yet. In emails and comments I’ve seen estimates around $5,000. This puts it in line with things like the Bantam Mill, and the Tormach desktop mill. Other machines, like the Nomad3 come in much cheaper. None of those machines have the same feature lineup though.

Invariably people on the internet feel the need to point out that they can buy something like a sainsmart gemnitsu for 1/10th the cost. However I don’t feel that the two are really that comparable. You can almost always find ways to go cheap and buy individual components and invest your time to get similar results, and if that’s the type of person you are, you should! However, for many people the time and knowledge involved to build a tool changing, fully enclosed, multi functional mill with custom software, isn’t worth it. They’d rather just buy a functional package and start producing.

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Senior Editor for Make: I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity of the masses! My favorite thing in the world is sharing the hard work of a maker.

I'd always love to hear about what you're making, so send me an email any time at caleb@make.co

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