The maker community is turning into a quickly-growing movement, as shown by the ever-expanding Maker Faires popping up worldwide. This last weekend was World Maker Faire in New York, where Tormach, a company known for making small, affordable CNC machine tools announced an even smaller, more personal mill, the PCNC 440.
Following in the footsteps of recent desktop CNC (computer numerical control) machines like Carvey and X-Carve, the PCNC 440 mill is designed to fit on benchtops, and lower the barrier of entry to real CNC. What’s different is that this machine is less like a router – it’s truly a CNC mill – allowing travel of 10 x 6.25 x 10 inches / 25.4 x 15.9 x 25.4 cm (X x Y x Z).
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With an R8 spindle, a spindle speed of up to 10,000 RPM and quick-change tooling, Tormach has taken cues from its industrial brethren, but managed to make its machine more approachable. Like major industrial machines, both CAD (computer aided design) and CAM (computer aided manufacturing) software are needed to create a part on the PCNC 440. Being that these are often expensive and cumbersome to learn, Tormach has partnered with Autodesk to provide a free year-long seat to a commercial version of Fusion 360 (CAD/CAM) with the purchase of this machine.
Because the PCNC 440 requires traditional software workflows to start cutting parts – unlike other desktop-style CNCs and 3D printers that allow a drag-and-drop file workflow – to some, this may be where the 440 falls short of other maker-oriented cutting machines.
"CNC Machining still does not have a one button print function like many of the desktop 3D printers," Tormach’s product marketing manager Andy Grevstad explains. "The PCNC 440 is easily the most approachable CNC mill for beginners, but you’ll still need to invest some time to learn machining techniques and CAD/CAM programming skills. While it lacks the instant gratification of a 3D printer, it is a much more capable and rewarding technology in many aspects."
Also, like its bigger brothers in the industrial world, this machine can cut everything from wood and plastics to real metals like aluminum, steel and even titanium, with precision – although a bit slower. In comparison, one of the smallest industrial machines, the Haas MiniMill, uses a 7.5 HP spindle, compared to the PCNC 440’s ¾ HP spindle, but a MiniMill starts at US$34,995, while the 440 starts at just $4,950.
"[The PCNC 440] is more for small prototype work, inventors, educators, and specialty manufacturing," Grevstad says. "There is a need for CNC milling technology outside of traditional manufacturing environments and I think that the PCNC 440 fills that role."
Still for the Maker
What the machine lacks because of complexity, it gains in approachability. Tormach has developed PathPilot, the company’s machine control system which is rooted in the open-source Linux CNC project. This software reads any industry-standard G-code and also has some conversational programming for those that like to edit and tweak things on the fly.
While Tormach makes two other larger CNC mills (the PCNC 1100 and PCNC 770) and a CNC lathe, the PCNC 440 keeps the tinkering audience in mind. It weighs just 450 lb (204 kg), has a compact footprint of 42 x 36 inches / 106.7 x 91.4 cm (W x D), and runs on 115 VAC, single-phase power.
There's more on the way for the PCNC 440, too – Tormach plans to release a power drawbar, an automatic tool changer, and a 4th axis sometime in early 2016, making this thing a tiny, all-encompassing manufacturing center.
Currently, the PCNC 440 is available for pre-order only, due to ship in November. Grevstad is sure we will continue to see new advances in many facets of affordable digital tools for things like at-home manufacturing. "It’s an exciting time for makers and those that want to make things," he says.
More information is available in the video below.