August 21, 2013
Additive manufacturing (AM) is an amazing technology, but it isn’t quite ready to replace every other form of manufacturing. For some pieces, particularly in wood or metal, it’s probably simpler, not to mention less expensive, to produce parts through more traditional manufacturing methods. That may eventually change, but for now the mill and the mold still find plenty of work.
Mebotics is a new start-up that arose out of the Boston Maker scene, and it has a developed a system that combines AM and milling into an all-in-one parts machine, which sounds similar to the Multi Proto Lab we told you about in June. Called the Microfactory, the system includes a dual-head material extrusion 3D printer, printing and etching heads, and a mill into the same, enclosed box.
According to the designers, the system is capable of working with four different colors simultaneously for 3D printing, or two different materials from the etching and milling half. Along with 3D printing parts in plastic, the system can machine parts with wood or metals. It’s even intended to be accurate enough to allow users to etch their own microchips.
In addition to the multifunctional flexibility, the Microfactory allows users to download specs, which the machine will process to produce parts with little oversight. It can change, for example, from grinding an object to adding AM parts to the finished piece. If a user can’t find the part he needs online, he retains the option of designing a part through standard 3D design software.
“If you had a database of parts for your Humvee you could connect the machine to a Wi-Fi hotspot, download the part you need from a directory and make it on the fly out in the middle of nowhere,” Jeremy Fryer-Biggs, one of four co-founders of Mebotics, told New Scientist.
Along with its functionality, the Microfactory has been designed to operate in settings where the noise and mess produced by its machining systems would normally be an issue. The entirety of the system is enclosed and when the access door is closed, noise is reduced by 10 decibels. It also features an attachment for a standard Shop-Vac to suck out the mess, and a filter to negate potentially toxic fumes.
Mebotics will be taking their Microfactory to Kickstarter soon to gain production levels of funding. Until then, you can get a glimpse of the system by watching the video below.