License to mill: Mebotics' Microfactory combines 3D printer and milling machineView gallery - 10 images
Not content with the quality of parts made from 3D printers, and frustrated by the noise and mess created by milling machines, startup Mebotics has designed and built a machine that is both a 3D printer and computer-controlled milling machine at once. And because it's enclosed and can be connected to a vacuum cleaner, the company claims that mess is put to bed, too. Mebotics has turned to crowd-funding to bring the Microfactory (for that's its name) to market.
Though it's tempting to characterize this as a compromised product, that may yet prove unfair. On the 3D printing side of things, the Microfactory is equipped with four print heads and two independent heaters, allowing it to print in four different colors or in two completely different materials.
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And because the machine is entirely enclosed, mess should be contained, so Microfactory can walk fearlessly where other etching and milling machines fear to tread (such as in the office, or laboratory, where the resulting dust could be … problematic). Though it's doubtless relatively compact compared to other milling machines, claims that it is "relatively portable" should be taken with a pinch of salt and a polite nod, as plenty of things become "relatively portable" if you have a sizable electrical generator to hand (which this would require to take it on the road).
But the vacuum cleaner connection and closing door are nice touches. Opening the latter automatically halts fabrication, and closing it apparently has the advantage of reducing noise by 10 dB (cutting noise by 90 percent), though clearly turning on your chunking industrial vacuum cleaner will undo the good work. Still, the door has obvious safety benefits too.
Significantly, Mebotics says the Microfactory has an onboard computer (running LinuxCNC), so although fabrication is computer-controlled, you don't need to connect a computer to use it. The machine is networkable so that it can be both controlled and monitored remotely (from a smartphone, you'll be flabbergasted to hear, once the necessary apps have been developed).
The team self-funded five development prototypes, so it sounds as though the design is now finalized and ready for production. A fully-specced Microfactory costs rather more than entry-level domestic 3D printers, with a Kickstarter donation of US$4,495 necessary to secure a unit, though a simplified version which 3D prints in only a single color or material can be had for $3,915.
Though I sometimes wince at Kickstarter campaigns which aim for a six-figure sum when a five-figure sum would surely have been viable, such a sum would seem justified for such an involved machine. Unfortunately, Mebotics has gone all-out for seven figures, asking for a cool $1 million which, with only $37,000 raised with 13 days to go, it seems unlikely to reach.
Yet Microfactory has come an awful long way, and something tells me we haven't seen the last of Mebotics' machine. And miracles do happen, once in a while.
Scroll down for the campaign video.