grad project: new breed of CNC design, need input

I’m in 4th year industrial design and decided to make a new type of CNC machine as my grad project. I’ve already built a CNC so know the technical basics, but for now I’m focusing on the research part first before I can start the build.

My main goals would be:
-make it truly portable, maybe the size of a small airplane luggage or even back pack??

-targeted for artists and designs; to bridge the gap between the client and the machine with more freedom to experiment with the tool itself rather than as a manufacturing device. The machine could directly make the art/design, not just create parts for it. (IE: bring the CNC to the surface/material instead of bringing the material to the CNC).

I need some research and opinions, this is where you guys come in. What do you wish a CNC can do, be improved upon, etc? Any opinions/wishes would be great, no matter how far fetched (for now). What tools besides a router would be cool/helpful? Did you ever wish a CNC was truly portable (you can go to the client’s house instead of them coming to you, can engrave directly on the wall or other oversized surface)? Etc etc. Also what else could a CNC do if there’s another tool attached. Pen = plotter, knife = vinyl cutter, brush = robotic painter?, etc

Thanks in advanced!

What about 3D printing and CNC in the same device? It could cut away metal to make a part, and then add plastics to these parts!

I would think more about your target user… why exactly would they need to bring this to other locations, what would they be doing with it there, what is the benefit of taking your cnc with you, and why does this make more sense than the current ways of doing it? From your description, it’s not completely clear.

If you can answer some of these questions, additional features and design direction might present themselves. You might even want to consider a day in the life of your target user with the cnc

It would be very cool to cut out prototype forms over a long lunch

I’ve been trying to come up with something for the last few days, you really got me thinking. But, Travisimo has it right. What’s your target end user, and what would they want with something so portable, but so limited because of size?

I want to design a multi-functional CNC specifically aimed for artists and designers; it doesn’t have to specifically be a milling machine, router, or whatever. It could be a new class of CNC all together; a CNC technically is just an XYZ table, what tool is attached will classify what kind of tool it is (a router, mill, etc). That’s what I’m trying to find out what else can a CNC be, what do other designers and artist want a CNC to be, etc. Since CNC’s aren’t used as much in the design/art world to experiment with, so I want to bridge the gap. Currently CNCs are made for manufacturers; the artist/designer sends their file to the manufacturer to be made. But what if artists/designers had their own personal CNC, what could that do. To push the possibilities of what a CNC can do.

Making it portable may help since often not it’s easier to move the CNC rather than the material. It will still have a decent cutting area (estimate at least 16" square by 8" depth). Let’s say you want to laser etch the sidewalk, well you can’t move the sidewalk; or you want to put a design print on the bedroom wall (alternative to a wallpaper, or new type of “street art”); or you want to engrave a 20 feet long timber; or do something to the roof of your car; or after making a prototype table you decide ??? would be better on the table top, now you can modify it without taking it apart or making a new prototype; etc etc… Or if you live in a small apartment and just don’t have room to keep a permanent CNC machine nor have a space to do CNC machining, you can store it away and go elsewhere to machine when needed. To push the possibilities of what a CNC can do.

I like the idea of 3d printing as well, I’ll look into that. I’m also asking some machining/woodworkers for some input and will soon personally talk to a few locally. But the way manufacturers think differs a lot from how artists/designers think. I think that maybe one of the hurdles for me since I don’t know many designers/artists that experiment and pushes the CNC technology. If any one know of any designers/artists or any design firms with their own machines that would be great too!

Thanks for the feedback, keep them coming!

it seems you’re answering your own questions with a lot of possible ideas for portable CNC.

Also, suggestion, distinguish between XY routing of panel material where it may be true it’s easier sometimes to bring machine to material vs. CNC XYZ plus additional axes where it’s required to bring the hugely variable raw material to the machine.

Artists whom I’ve assisted generally know absolutely nothing about any industrial manufacturing.

One artist had numerous sculptures to do in plastilene for later fiberglass layup of characters in some Las Vegas hotel. He was exasperated at the amount of hands on clay sculpting - did I know of any other way to make them?

Surgery: lots of research into automated processes.

Optical, like the 1 hour guys - they use special CNC machining dense foam preforms to lap preformed lens blanks.

I read fascinating article on tensegrity type active truss structure CNC machine design. Tubular spaceframe, oscillation couplers tuned to accelerometers, but still a moving XY bed withing the tensigrity envelope. Researchers two benefits: complete elimination of vibration, huge work envelope, low cost from eliminating massive castings, and supposed infinite scalability of active tensigrity structure creating CNC machine of any size.

And then, like a designer, turn the question around: can the act of CNC become the art? I love watching hard milling, the brilliant yellow and purple cuttings, the sounds of a high speed shell mill running into steel, brass machining’s showering golden splinters like miniscule solid sparks, machine code rapidly scrolling by, MDF panel routing 3D topographical isobars - that’s art.

Noise. My experience is the pain in having to watch the code as it runs to ensure the tool paths are being followed despite doing previous blue foam test samples. Bit messy with the coolant sometimes splashing on the guard.

Hi there,

In my experience of machining - it would be great to know or stop the machine when the cutter breaks. Also if this is a portable device what will you do with the swarf created for the materials your are milling - will you have to take it away with you?

I know that where we puchased our 3 axis machine there was a device to convert the milling machine into a laser cutting capacity - I think that would have been cool to do. Other simiple problems we have encountered probably only revolve around our machine - things like when callibrating to the bed height - no material can be on the bed - this is sometimes not possible if your already machining, if the material thickness is high the router head plate hits the material - therefore damaging parts and also not calibrating correctly.

Good luck

Here’s an important consideration. It IS a CNC machine except there’s no table, just the surface to process which it sits atop. How will you anchor it down so it won’t move itself/vibrate out of place?

That is a cool idea, sorry I didn’t get all that at first… it kind of reminds me of those briefcases taggers use to make that could spray a pattern underneath when you pressed a button on the handle.

I remember hearing about people sometimes using a sandblaster to make the pattern on the sidewalk. It didn’t actually mark the concrete, it cleaned it and left the pattern because of the contrast. Pretty cool way to NOT vandalize

anyway, thought you might be interested, as it can roughly cut and mark materials and could be portable

You say “CNC” like it’s a type of machine, but it’s really a way to make a machine move. If you’re wanting to make something as portable as you say, it sounds like a carving machine is out - there’s no way it will be rigid enough to do a good job of carving over a surface as large as you’re talking about, and still be much fun to carry around on your back.

On the other hand, there are other operations a light-weight machine could do that don’t require nearly as much rigidity. A portable painting/drawing machine, for instance, could be set up on-site to do a mural. Cutting machines don’t need that much rigidity either; put a laser on it, and it could cut various materials onsite, like wall-paper, for example. I’ve seen a cutting machine with wheels on it that rolled over the stock it was cutting, so it could deal with big rolls of material - the inventor used it to cut out plastic for large inflatable structures.

There are also various additive processes you could look at, like the melted-sugar fabber I saw at the Maker faire - here’s a link to that:

Andrew Werby

The user interface of nearly every “cam” program I have used is really poor. If this is a product owned by individuals it’s hard to expect them to know how to set it up. I’d really suggest having some design consideration for this area- Good luck