I make CG animated movies by day and electro-mechanical contraptions by night. I split my time between the virtual and real worlds of 3D. So I’m really excited about the collision of these two worlds happening in the realm of 3D printing and fabrication. But it’s not just me, there’s a rapidly growing number of makers turning their digital creations into tangible objects via 3D printing, CNC milling, laser cutting, and related technologies. Check out some of the more exciting gifts for the home fabricator.
NextEngine 3D Laser Scanner HD, $2,995, NextEngine
This 3D scanner can turn real objects into highly accurate 3D models in under 90 seconds. It houses lasers, cameras, and diffuse light sources, all in a tiny desktop package, and captures the model geometry and color texture detail in a single pass. These are used for CAD, CAM, CG, science, preservation, art, and more. I’d love to have my own, just so I could quickly scan models that could take days to create by hand on the computer.
LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0, $279, Lego
Lego is a no-brainer for home fabrication; most of us started our lifelong love of making with a fistful of Lego bricks. Add to that the programmable microcontroller brains, sensors, and motors of the Mindstorms NXT 2.0, and you’re probably nodding your head. Then, check out the Mindstorms-based 3D printer – MakerLegoBot – that prints objects out of more LEGO bricks and you’ll probably want to run out and build your own.
micRo v3 CNC robot, $1294 assembled, $599 kit, Lumenlab
I’ve been thinking about taking the dive into desktop subtractive CNC milling, and this machine may push me over the edge. With a working area of 10-1/2″ x 12-1/2″ x 2-3/4″, this small, solid machine can mill wood, aluminum, plastic, and more. Plus, Lumenlab is constantly tinkering and improving it. Rumor has it they are currently developing a rotary axis as well as a controllable BLDC spindle. MAKE contributor Steve Lodefink got one and this is what he had to say:
The micRo is a 3-axis CNC robot being offered by Lumenlab, the same folks who made DIY video projection accessible to the world. Grayson Sigler, the Brainchild behind Lumenlab (brainchild is also his handle on the inter-tubes) describes micRo as a desktop manufacturing workstation.
As the name implies, micRo is has a small footprint, but make no mistake, it is not a toy or just a platform for learning about machine control (although it will do that) , but a solid base to which you can attach a tool to do whatever it is that you want to do. This is not your typical “MDF and all-thread” type DIY CNC, but a tough, high-tolerance machine.
UP! Personal Portable 3D Printer, $2690 to $2890, PP3DP
The UP! 3D printer is an intriguing offering in the low-end of the 3D printer market. The UP! has an automated ABS filament feeder and can print with 0.2mm accuracy. RepRap really started this thing, and the $1225 Thing-o-Matic from MakerBot (pictured at the top of this guide) is a fine example of the commercialization of the open source 3D printer. But the elegance and sturdiness of this little UP! 3D printer got my attention. Maybe it’s just the snappy colors they offer. Or perhaps I just like to see more competition in the marketplace. But whatever it is, I hope more of these catch on, until we all can have affordable, higher resolution 3D printers without compromise. If I had to choose, I’d still prefer the extensibility and community support of an open source MakerBot printer, but it’s great to see this field grow.
ShopBot Buddy 32″, $7195, ShopBot Tools
Have CNC needs that are a bigger than the average desktop system will allow? Then, take a look at the ShopBot Buddy. It has a nominal cutting area of 24″ x 32″ x 5″, can pack on a 3.5HP router, and even has an iPhone app for remote operation!
Rhino 3D NURBS modeler, $995, Robert McNeel & Associates
There are plenty of choices out there when it comes to 3D modeling software. From the excellent, free Blender project, to industry-standard SolidWorks. From animation giant Maya, to Google Sketch-Up. But the one I always come back to for precision object modeling and drafting 2D cuts for the laser cutter is Rhino. Originally a Windows-only application, it is in beta right now for an OSX version. I’m interested in trying out the generative shape algorithms found in the free Grasshopper add-on. There is also a community of digital fabricators rallying around Rhino at RhinoFabLab.
Epilog Zing 16 Laser Cutter, $7995, Epilog Laser
It’s no secret I love my laser cutter (I named her Betty). I’ve used her to build an Arduino-controlled telegraph train, Absinthe spoons, Mystery Boxes, robot wheels, signs for my kids’ doors, and other fun objects. I started a small business with mine (which may help you convince your spouse that you need one, too). Barring that, membership in your local hackerspace is another good way to get your hands on a laser cutter. The 3D angle: you can build box-like objects, but even better, make topological slices to reform into 3D shapes, such as these cross-section sculptures.
Kitchen Floor Vacuum Former plans, $4.99, Maker Shed
Want to go low-tech with your 3D part fabrication? How about a machine that can “scan” and replicate objects in a single pass? That’s what a vacuum former does. You can buy a ready-made machine like this one for $130 or build your own using these PDF plans. From the description:
Large, commercial machines have built-in vacuum pumps, adjustable plastic-holding frames, overhead radiant heaters, and pneumatic platens. The Guerrilla Vacuum Former is much simpler. It uses your oven to melt the plastic, and a household vacuum cleaner to supply the suction. All you have to build is a simple wooden frame and a hollow box. Knetzger shows you how to do it, and then use the device to create a tiki mask that also makes a great Jell-O mold.
Shapeways 3D printing service, prices vary, Shapeways
Some materials are pretty difficult to print at home, such as bronze-infused stainless steel, glass, alumide, and fully textured, colored sandstone. That’s where Shapeways comes in. You can access their big, fancy, expensive 3D printers (or selective laser sinterers, in some cases) from the comfort of your own home. Simply build your 3D model, uploaded it to Shapeways, and wait for the mail carrier to deliver the model. The resolution of the models they can print is outstanding, as seen in the sample above.
Egg-Bot kit, $195, Evil Mad Science
We usually think of 3D printing as a process that creates an object where there once was empty space. Well, Lenore and Windell of Evil Mad Science Labs frequently see things differently. They’ve brought to market a 3D printer that prints on spherical-ish 3D objects. Eggs specifically. Their Egg-Bot art robot kit lets you create beautiful patterns on other objects, as well, such as ping pong balls, ornaments, and light bulbs, to name a few. Looks like a fun, inexpensive way to get into ornamental CAD/CAM.
In the Maker Shed:
Want more? Stop by the Make Shed. We’ve got all sorts of great holiday gift ideas: Arduino & Arduino accessories, electronic kits, science kits, smart stuff for kids, back issues of MAKE & CRAFT, box sets, books, robots, kits from Japan and more.
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