Manufacturing processes like 3D printing and CNC milling have become accessible to an increasingly large audience as prices decrease and machine quality increases. Fully equipped Makerspaces continue to crop up, and many individuals opt to transform their homes into highly capable design and manufacturing facilities.
In this post, you’ll discover the top tools needed to create a Makerspace capable of producing high-quality prototypes and designs that mimic the look and feel of a final product. You’ll receive an overview of each of the technologies, so that you can better decide which should be used for your concept or design.
3D Printing is an additive manufacturing technology meaning that objects are built up layer-by-layer. This is among the most versatile technologies, as it features an expansive material library, and compatibility for a large number of different designs and geometries.
A number of different 3D Printing technologies exist which are suitable for different applications. This infographic gives you an overview of the top technologies which include FDM, Laser-based SLA, DLP, and SLS.
FDM and SLA printers are best for hobbyists and Makerspaces, but other highly capable and costly technologies continue to grow in popularity and accessibility, especially with new releases like the Formlabs Fuse 1 SLS printer.
Pinshape’s 3D Printer Pages provide community reviews and prints from many of the most popular machines on the market today. The Prusa i3 MK II tops the charts in the FDM category, and is a great option for those looking to add a reliable and low-cost machine to their arsenal. The Formlabs Form 2 tops the SLA charts, and is essential looking for those to create highly detailed models or products for a variety of industries.
Laser Cutting is especially well suited for enclosure design and rapid prototyping, and functions by using a high-powered laser to precisely cut flat sheets made from a variety of different materials. Some of the more common laser cutting materials include thermoplastics like Acrylic and PETG, woods, and metals like Steel and Aluminum.
Laser Cutters come in a variety of different specifications, and the machine’s laser power output is important for determining which materials it can cut. As an example, 40W lasers are suitable for cutting fabrics and soft woods, but struggle with thicker sheets of plastic. Many different factors determine which materials your machine can cut, so it’s important to consult the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Laser cutters are just starting to reach hobbyists and prosumers with recent releases like the Glowforge laser cutter and engraver. For those with higher budgets, Rayjet has a line of suitable products, and we’re hopeful that more products will be introduced into the hobbyist market.
CNC, standing for Computer Numerical Control, is most often referenced as a subtractive manufacturing method that creates objects by cutting away material with a high powered rotary tool. CNC is most often used for creating objects from high strength metals or plastics, that would otherwise be difficult to produce with other technologies.
CNC Milling is the technology of choice for creating injection molds out of aluminum, and for a number of other metal fabrication applications. CNC mills vary in the materials they can use as a function of the build of the machine, and power of the rotary tool.
A number of CNC options exist for the hobbyist market including the PCB Milling Machine by Bantam Tools. The Origin Pro by Shaper Tools is a hybrid handheld CNC machine that’s available for pre-order, and likewise a great option for those looking to purchase a lower-cost CNC. For the more technically inclined, a number of DIY options exist including the Rep Rap Cyclone.
Soldering irons tend to be some of the least expensive and most used additions to makerspaces, and function by melting thin strands of wire typically comprised of Tin and Lead. Soldering Paste is a great option for those less confident in their abilities, and involves depositing a cool and slightly sticky paste onto your board or electrical joint. The soldering paste is then heated, causing embedded metal particles to fuse together and form a strong bond. Most soldering pastes need to be heated in the range of 160C – 260C to melt, so they may not be the best option when working with sensitive components.
For the majority of users, low-cost options like those from Home Depot and Harbor Freight tend to do the trick. Those working on advanced circuits and with uncommon soldering wire may benefit from some of the more costly options that allow for precise temperature control and rapid heat up times.
For those of you looking to create vibrant or visually accurate designs, a well-stocked finishing setup is a must. Which tools you need will depend on the specific applications you’re working on, but there are a few general tools that all makers should have.
- Multiple different sandpaper grits (ideally ranging from coarse 100 grit to smooth 1600 grit)
- A set of x-acto blades
- Dremel Kit
- Safety equipment (glasses and gloves)
This list will change depending on your specific needs. For example, artists and product designers may benefit from the addition of a pair of paints and airbrushing equipment. Metal workers will benefit from the addition of more specialized polishing and finishing equipment. The above list serves as a framework for the main tools that every maker is likely to need.
As machines continue to lower in cost and improve in accessibility, makers will become increasingly able to bring their ideas to life. To improve your knowledge of 3D printing processes, check out Formlabs’ Ultimate Guide to Stereolithography.