DIY CNC: The Kickstarter Way

English: Fireworks on the Fourth of July

English: Fireworks on the Fourth of July (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fourth of July has come and gone, though for many of us the celebrations continue throughout the weekend.  What a wonderful time of year to celebrate our independence and the innovative American spirit!  When I think of what makes America great much comes to mind: our indomitable work ethic, our spirit of innovation, American Manufacturing (…hat tip to our CNC machine operators and machinists out there!…), the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces (a hearty salute to those American warriors!)…the list is endless.

Kickstarting CNC

 

Speaking of innovation I came across a few items this past week that the DIY CNC crowd may find interesting.  Heck us “regular” CNC metal heads may find it of interest as well.  Kickstarter is an interesting idea/funding generator.  It speaks to that ingenuity and innovation I mentioned above: a truly American spirit.  When I was pondering our great American heritage and what it meant to be a CNC machinist in America, I got to thinking about our inventiveness and curiosity.  One thing led to another and I came across these Kickstarter projects (see below).  In hindsight, it seems an obvious extension of the CNC machinists inventiveness and curiosity to find a place among the innumerable Kickstarter projects seeking funding everyday.

The Handibot:   From the site: “Handibot is a robotic, multi-purpose tool for makers that’s controlled by smart phones and computers via programmable apps.  Think of it as a portable CNC that’s capable of cutting, drilling, carving, and many other machining operations.”  

Now this is obviously a limited-capability machine, ideal for the DIY individual, tinker-er, garage workshop environment.  When I first saw this little CNC machine I thought it was made out of plastic, but viewing some of the sites video’s leads me to believe it may be a bit more durable.  Also, while I understand the video’s are intended to demonstrate the Handibot’s versatility and variety of applications, some of these demonstrations seem a bit contrived.  Example: as someone who has done a fair share of his own home construction it’s much easier to use a handheld router to cut a utility box hole in some drywall.  You’d be finished with a room by the time you set this thing up.  The same goes for cutting out stair risers: much quicker for the reasonably seasoned person to line out their steps with a square and knock it out with a skill-saw.

What I do like about this is the fact that it’s open source.  To me that means that that innovative and curious spirit we harbor is going to find ingenious uses and expressions with this little guy.  I can only begin to imagine the various apps and programs the DIY Maker crowd will come up with.  I also think it’s a great introduction for the younger set out there.

The Othermill:  From the site: “The Othermill is a portable, computer controlled, 3-axis mill that is specifically designed for use at home or in a small workspace. Our objective is to build a mill that is compact, clean, and quiet enough for use at home, yet is precise enough for high level electrical and mechanical prototyping work. The Othermill will be at home on your desk, in your workshop, or on your kitchen table.”

Another DIY-centric machine, though specializing in custom circuit creation.  This just “sparks” my imagination.  Now only if I were more electrically inclined.  Once again, an open source project with quite a bit of versatility.  Ideal for those with limited space but large imaginations.  It will be interesting to see in the day’s ahead what interesting and varied creations people come up with!

 

Your Turn:

Know of any innovative CNC related Kickstarter project’s out there that need some attention?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to share!

 

 

 

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CNC Machine Manufacturing: The News Just Keeps Getting Better

plasma cutting with a cnc machine

plasma cutting with a cnc machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a number of occasions I’ve pointed to specific articles highlighting the potential growth of US and specifically, CNC machine,  manufacturing  in the near future.  You may recall this article about GE and the in-sourcing boom, this article about manufacturing in the Silicon Valley, and this Wall Street Journal article centered around advanced manufacturing.

Never fearful of good, heartening news, I came across another optimistic juicer that I’d like to share today as well.

Comeback: Why the US Sits at the Brink of a New Boom

Your CNC Machine Future

 

Between the growth in newer technologies like 3d printing, the energy boom, and signs pointing to companies bringing their manufacturing  back to America, it seems we’re sizing up for a manufacturing rebirth here in the US.  That is good news for those of us in the CNC machining industry.  Whether you own your own shop outfitted with a rag-tag mix of new or used CNC machines, or you’re managing a crew for a large manufacturer, the time to prepare is now.

Don’t get left behind and find yourself scrambling to update those used CNC machines: take an inventory of needed repairs, upgrades, and replacements, and get those replacement parts ordered.

Shop in disarray?  No better time than now to take a look at your shop layout and workflow.  Can things be better organized?  Are you wasting valuable time in your process due to poor layout?  Streamline your workflow now.

What type of work are you equipped to do?  Do you have the ability to branch out, take on new clients and expand your production?  What are these articles pointing to?  Is it plausible to branch out into 3d printing?  Do you have the skills and expertise on hand to make these types of transitions?

These are just a few of the questions I’ve been asking my own self as I keep my sight on the future of CNC manufacturing and what I can do to continue to expand and grow.

Your Turn

While it’s easy to get caught up with buzz words and hype, we certainly need to tread carefully.  The news that continues to come in definitely points to better days ahead.  I’m not one to advocate foolishness, but I also don’t like to be blind-sided either.  Whether the manufacturing news is all hype, or good tidings of things to come, planning and preparation, maintenance and upkeep, will only serve you and your company for the better.  So what do you think:  is now the time to invest in new CNC machines and equipment, to prep our shops for a potential influx of business, or is it best to hold steady for the time being and see how things pan out?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

The CNC Machine Shop: Ownership & Management Issues

Whether you’re the owner of a  small CNC machine shop running a mix of new and used CNC mills and lathes, or the foreman overseeing a crew  for a large manufacturer, ownership and management issues are frequently going to arise.  On a daily basis you are dealing with employees, schedules, customers, workflow, safety issues, timelines, equipment repair and replacement, shipping/receiving…the list goes on.  Owning and/or running a CNC shop is not for the tame of heart.  The demands are many, the schedules are tight.  It’s a juggle of the ulcer inducing variety, and all the worse if you realize you’re eating downtime due to poor planning and easily correctable on-site inefficiencies.

Today I’d like to touch on the issue of managing our shop employees and make some suggestions for maintaining a productive crew.

Managing the CNC Machine Shop: Employees

 

Machining a bar of metal on a lathe.

Machining a bar of metal on a lathe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We CNC machine operators, machinists, programmers, techs, DIY CNC’rs…we’re a different breed.  We tend to be gear heads, persons interested in how things work, passionate about our trade and our skills.  We work hard, we play hard.  Those are only a few of the defining hallmarks of our personalities, and those traits can also make for a complicated creature.

If you’re managing a crew, no matter how big or small, at some point there will be an employee issue: maybe tardiness, attitude, scheduling, or overtime. Something will crop up.  How you manage that is important.  I was over at the Practical Machinist the other day reading a thread about employee issues that got me thinking about this.  Some of the examples cited would make my father blush.

I have a few common-sense thoughts and ideas on managing your crew:

  • Clearly define the workplace guidelines, job descriptions, and expectations.  Don’t fudge on this: the more in-depth and concise the better.  This means all of it: vacation scheduling, absentee/tardiness guidelines, medical coverage, behavior guidelines, overtime expectations, shop security policies (theft, cameras, etc) etc. Present and cover this prior to hire.  Periodically review with your crew.
  • Create an open door policy.  We all have complicated lives.  Working in a CNC manufacturing environment can come with a lot of overtime.  This can get tricky for those of us with family’s and outside demands.  Show your crew you care, listen to them, invite them to come in anytime with concerns, life-issues, you name it.  No, you’re not there to be their personal shrink, but we all have things that come up and can affect our performance.  When you’re in the know, you’re better off.  And, if you do care about your crew, you can find ways to help them out.  That’s trust and loyalty and that goes a long way.
  • Be Fair.  You may have one guy or gal that outshines the rest.  Great!  That doesn’t mean they should be treated like royalty while the others are treated like serfs.  Common sense rules the day.
  • Address the work related concerns of your employees.  If you truly show your crew you care, they’re going to show you that they do as well.  When a crew member comes to you with shop related concerns (safety issues, employee conflicts, needed machine repairs, scheduling, etc.) address those issues.  Do not brush them aside.  Make the time for them.  If it’s a safety issue go out and investigate.  Seek the insight of the other crew members.
  • Sometimes you’re going to have to let an employee go.  Be judicious. Be fair.  Give them every opportunity to learn, grow, and make up for mistakes and lack of experience.  It’s not easy finding the right people, and it sure ain’t cheap training someone.  Though sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  Document the process with the employee, outline a trajectory, and if it comes to having to let them go, you’ve got solid reasoning and documentation behind.  Most likely, they’re going to understand that you gave them a fair shake and they’ll respect you for it.

Your Turn

Have you encountered unique situations with crew members and fellow employees?  How did you address those issues?  Feel free to share your stories and insights in the comments!  Just click that little ole’ comment bubble at the top right of the article.

CNC Machine Training

If you’re like me, you’ve often taken some of your free time pandering around the internet for CNC machine related topics and information.  Maybe you own your own shop and are searching for CNC replacement parts or used CNC machines?  Maybe you’re looking for a quick tip on some g code, or even some help on a troublesome alarm?  No matter what it is you are looking for, if you start Google-ing around you’ll eventually encounter links for CNC crash videos.

About once a week I’ll find myself watching a CNC crash video while getting the sleep out of my eyes and slurping down a couple cups of coffee.  These video’s make it easy for one to sit behind their screen, laugh and shake their head, and mumble to themselves about all the morons in the world.  I’m guilty of it myself.  But I’ve been thinking about these video’s a little different lately.

CNC Crash Video’s: What Are They Really Showing Us?

We’ve all had our bad days, am I right?  Made some rookie mistake and cost ourselves, or the company we work for, time and money.  Replacement parts add up fast, and while it’s a fact of life that things are going to break from time to time, it always hurts when it’s the outcome of a preventable mistake.   

So, when you see one of these crash video’s, do you see yourself at some distant point in the past?  If not, count yourself lucky.  

What I’ve started thinking when watch these crash videos is the importance of training.  Yeah, like we all need another CNC Machine and safety training meeting, right?

Yes, we do.

The Importance of CNC Machine Training

Periodic training sessions carry a number of positives.  First and foremost it puts information at the forefront of our minds.  Yes, a session may cover a topic most of the shop already knows, but it may just brush the dust off of it as well.  We carry a lot of knowledge in our heads, and it’s often that some of that is used only on rare occasions.  Nothing wrong with brushing it up, giving it a nice new mental veneer.  It’s simple refreshment that can often save yourself time and money.  It’s easy to forget the small things…and often that is where refreshment training saves us time and money.

Also, sessions like these often lead to related topics and discussion that open the door for the whole shop to learn and benefit.  

 

Let us not forget the newbies  in our shops.  No matter how industrious and sharp and driven, he/she is going to make some blunders.  Hopefully of the less expensive kind.  Added training and mentorship is where my thinking lay when it comes to the young-in’s in our industry.  By taking the time (and yes, short-tern expense) to aid and mentor them in their learning, we all benefit.  Not only do we save ourselves money in the long term, we help craft better CNC machinists and operators.  

That benefits everyone in the CNC manufacturing industry.

Whether you’re clocking hours in a Haas CNC machine shop or a DIY CNC enthusiast experimenting in your garage, periodic training and discussion pay’s dividends in the long-term.  

Your Turn:

Do you believe that periodic training sessions, say, once per month, are a benefit to your shop?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

CNC Machine Manufacturing & the Future: Part Duex

The other day I shot out a post highlighting a few thoughts about the future of CNC machine manufacturing and the growing 3d printing movement.  I’d like to add to that a bit here today as I came across a couple of articles that build and expand on those thoughts (thanks to the forum users over at Practical Machinist for sharing these links).

For the CNC Machine Operators:

A CNC Turning Center in the FAME Lab in the Le...

A CNC Turning Center in the FAME Lab in the Leonhard Building at Penn State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the main thrust of my post the other day centered on 3D printing as playing a greater, if not massive part, in the future of manufacturing, there is still plenty of good news for those of us still wedded to our “ancient” technologies.

Silicon Valley Mercury News:  This article highlights the results from the report “The Hidden STEM Economy”. It states that degrees are not required for  27-36% of all jobs in science, engineering, technology, and math within the greater San Jose, San Francisco and bay area.  While I think living in some of these locations may financially eat away at the incentives, this is still an interesting read and hopefully signals a growing trend here in the states.

From the article: “The report urges policymakers to boost funding for training in such careers as tool making, technical writing and technician work — the critical pick-and-shovel brigades in tech’s gold rush.”.

Glad to see that tool making was first on that list!

 

Digital Manufacturing and 3D Printing

English: Example of replication of a real obje...

English: Example of replication of a real object by means of 3D scanning and 3D printing. The gargoyle model on the left was digitally acquired by using a 3D scanner and the produced 3D data was processed using MeshLab. The resulting digital 3D model, shown in the screen of the laptop, was used by a rapid prototyping machine to create a real resin replica of original object. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time to take that DIY CNC hobby to the next level and begin applying your chops to 3D printing folks.  Mixed feelings about this article.  While I’m in awe of the technological advancement, and see a place for CNC machine operators and the like in this mix, it does fill me with some trepidation.

No technological, and especially manufacturing, advancement comes without costs.  No easy road here.

Now if I were a young CNC hobbiest or 3D printing guru, I’d be pointing my sights toward building on those skills.   The landscape is always changing, and sometimes it’s a swift transition; the manufacturing world looks ready for a huge shift.  Don’t be caught unawares.

The Wall Street Journal: A Revolution in the Making 

 

Your Turn:

So, what are your thoughts?  Is CNC machining poised for a rebirth of sorts and an elevated place in our future, or is 3d printing graduating from diy hobby and sporadic manufacturing implementation to full-fledged wide-scale production and machining replacement?  Or is the future something more balanced like these articles seem to suggest, a place where 3D printing and CNC machining both have their places in a stable manufacturing economy?  Let me know in the comments!

 

CNC Machining and the Future of Manufacturing

As I’ve said before, I tend to check into the CNC machine related forums and communities on just about a daily basis.  The forums are a great place to share with the CNC community, find that g code solution you were looking for, pick up helpful tips, and to find DIY CNC inspiration.  They’re also great places to discuss CNC related topics: political/economy, the manufacturing climate, and even the future of CNC machining and manufacturing.  My personal favorite forum: Practical Machinist.  If you haven’t checked it out, take a gander.  You won’t be disappointed.

The machinist and his apprentice

The machinist and his apprentice (Photo credit: Bosc d’Anjou)

One topic I often come across, in various shades and forms, is the state of CNC machining and the future for machinists.  You can get a good example of this type of discussion here:  What percentage of machinists/ moldmakers at your company under the age of 40?  As you can see, quite quickly, the conversation morphs into a discussion of the trades longevity, wage stagnation, the education climate, the quality of the latest generation, etc.  While I’m not one to dismiss the difficulties of manufacturing in the U.S., and specifically the challenges facing  CNC machining, I tend to take the more optimistic outlook.

Manufacturing has constantly evolved, for better and for worse.  It seems to me that it’s only natural that machines will evolve with technology and this, unfortunately, means that some of us will lose out to robotics and other more streamlined processes.  There will always be a need for the skilled machinist, but one also needs to keep their eye on the future lest they find themselves summarily dismissed…if you get my drift.

Manufacturing and Machining Future?

PWC Norfolk Machinist

That future, in my estimation, will be a greater reliance on 3d printing.  I’m no expert, and I could be completely wrong, but I think the CNC machinist of the future may be more of a 3d machinist/programmer.  While that may cause apprehension in those of us wedded to our love of CNC machining (and the basic reliance on our employment working on CNC machines),  I believe the skills and talent it takes to be a top notch CNC machinist are easily applicable to the 3d printing field.

For example:  many of us already program, design, make quality control measurements and checks, work with a variety of materials, troubleshoot and repair our machines, etc.  While I’m only beginning to learn about 3d printing, it seems all of these same skills would apply.  In the future, will we continue milling molds, or will we simply program and print the mold outright?  My guess: we’ll be printing those bad boys.

I found a couple of interesting articles regarding 3d printing over at MakeZine you might enjoy.  While the majority of MakeZines articles are centered on  DIY CNC hobby, and the DIY’er in general, I think these articles are hints at what manufacturing is going to look like, or almost like, in the future.

3D printing a functional boat

Bringing them together...3d printing a cast for CNC mill replacement parts.

Your Turn:

What about you?  Do you think in the future 3d printing will become the equivalent of what CNC machining is today?  Share your thoughts and comments below!

DIY CNC: Projects and Inspiration

Cnc

Cnc (Photo credit: olleolleolle)

If you’re a DIY CNC enthusiast, or maybe someone simply looking to get your feet wet with a CNC hobby, you’re probably looking for ideas and inspiration from time to time.  While a full-fledged CNC machine opens the door to practically limitless options, those with smaller designs and home-builds often have limitations.  Not to worry, there are plenty of exciting projects for you to get your CNC fix on.  Some of these CNC tutorials and projects are definitely geared toward those just starting out and looking for simpler designs while learning the in’s and out’s of their machine.  Others are more complex and geared toward the more salty veteran.  Either way, there is something for everyone.

DIY CNC Projects

 

Vectric: Like it say’s, Free CNC Projects.  These projects come with step-by-step instructions, documentation, and project files.   Granted, this company is pushing their software, but they do offer free trial downloads.  If you don’t want to go the opensource route, then this may be the way to go to test drive the software on relatively introductory projects.

Instructables:  Hey, build your own CNC Mill or CNC router  before you even begin worrying about making that wooden plaque for mom.  Definitely for the more industrious and tinker type.  Downloadable e-books for those who find paying a little under two bucks a month worth it.

Tons of dowloadable dxf plans over at The CNC Zone Forums.  Forum Thread.  List of DXF files.  Can’t go wrong here folks.

DIY CNC Inspiration

 

This single Pinterest page has a ton of inspirational projects.  No plans or anything, just ideas to get those DIY CNC juices flowing!

Your Turn

 

How about yourself, any DIY CNC project plan sites or file locations you’d like to share?  How about inspirational CNC projects?  Let me know in the comments!