Even though 3D printing is the focus of this website, the technology is just a small component of a larger movement taking place. So, as much as new start-ups and large manufacturers hype 3D printing as the forefront of an industrial revolution, it is only an important part of the low-cost Maker movement that is occurring all across the globe. Thanks to affordable electronics, open source hardware and software, and the ability to share knowledge at high speeds over the Internet, manufacturing is shifting from a slow-moving, centralized framework, in which consumers are forced to rely on giant corporations for their daily goods and necessities, to a decentralized, DIY framework, where consumers can procure these items either from small, local businesses or by making them on their own. So, when we cover such projects as the 5axismaker from London-based 5axisworks on Kickstarter, and other hybrid 3D printing/CNC-ing machines on 3DPI, it’s important to remember that, in the background of these exciting 3D printing stories, there’s a much more important story unfolding.
5axiswork’s 5axismaker is a new character in this larger tale, bringing to the Maker movement what they boast is the “first ever affordable 5axis multi-fabricator.” There have been a number of machines in the past two years that show off their ability to perform hybrid fabrication tasks, 3D printing, CNC machining, 3D scanning, and the like. As opposed to some of the devices we’ve covered, the 5axismaker is a 5-axis machine, meaning that the robotic arm used to 3D print or mill has greater degrees of freedom than the 3-axis set-ups of typical 3D printers, allowing it to mill from multiple angles, carving away at the object it is manufacturing. The project’s creators point out that such equipment, at prices upwards of $10k, is typically reserved for larger manufacturers and machine shops. By using off-the-shelf components, this start-up has managed to bring down the cost to about $5k.
5axis has already successfully created a low-cost 5axis machine, but they’ve turned to Kickstarter to mass manufacture it, as well as create open source software to go along with it. They’d like to, ultimately, create a machine capable of working with a variety of interchangeable toolheads, including a 3D printer extruder, a CNC mill, a water jet, a touch probe, and a wire cutter. And, because programs to control 5-axis machines usually belong to large Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), 5axis believes that open source control software will help the Maker community even more. Their Kickstarter video illustrates some of the uses that such toolheads might have.
Theirs isn’t the first open-source 5-axis machine or even the first to seek funding on Kickstarter. Unfortunately, the other 5-axis projects on KS haven’t achieved their funding goals. As graduates from the Architectural Association, 5axis’s founders, Fedor Gridnev and Elena Gaidar, may be suited to push this project through the £50,000 finish line. If so, the era of distributed manufacturing may well be within reach. If not, there will certainly be others like Fedor and Elena out there who can bring such a machine to the people. Either way, my bet naive bet is that ten years from now, you’ll be able to head to your corner Maker Mart to pick up a custom piece of furniture at an affordable price.