The Microfactory: A machine shop in a box
The Microfactory: A machine shop in a box
Hybrid manufacturing is finally here.
Hybrid manufacturing is finally here. Read more
About this project
Read about the Microfactory at:
BoingBoing ~ New Scientist ~ Core77 ~ SolidSmack ~ PCMAG.com ~ Hack-A-Day ~ MAKE ~ Adafruit ~ Hot Hardware ~ Engadget ~ Stuff UK ~ Fast Company ~ 3D Printer World ~ 3DPrintingIndustry.com ~ Fabbaloo ~ Gizmag ~ Salon.com
We're revolutionizing personal manufacturing with this amazing all-in-one, networkable, four-color 3D printer and milling machine!
Makers making for makers: The Microfactory project began one year ago when four friends, longtime members of an independent maker space in Somerville, Massachusetts called Artisans Asylum, came together to create a better prototyping and machining tool....one that was easy to use, self-contained, and capable of a truly impressive list of tasks. They independently financed the development and testing of five full versions of the Microfactory, resulting in the exceptional product featured here. The Microfactory was entirely conceived, designed and built by people who have spent their lives around machines, who wanted to make something truly revolutionary and highly usable for makers everywhere.
Introducing the Microfactory: a networked, easy to operate, affordable, mess-free, quiet, safe and fully-enclosed machine capable of:
- printing functional parts in four colors or multiple materials
- AND computerized etching
- AND computer-controlled milling!
And check out some of the special features we've built in:
- Port for a shop-vac hose so the machine "cleans up after itself" while it runs
- Noise-reducing housing with safety-stop button
- Full on-board computer -- no separate hardware or software needed! Connect and control through any (wired) network.
- High-quality industry standard software built right in
Use the “Machine Shop In A Box”, the first machine to combine additive and subtractive machining in one package, to unleash your most innovative ideas! Some of the possibilities include:
- printing a jig to hold parts for machining
- milling precision features into printed parts
- printing in layered colors / materials and milling through the layers to create beautiful designs
- ...and much, much more!
The Microfactory isn't the cheapest machine on the market, but we think it's well worth the money for people serious about making things. Here's a taste of some of the decisions that went into making the Microfactory special -- what we like to call the "awesome sauce":
- 100% Computer: The Microfactory contains a fully-capable on-board computer -- not a microcontroller! It has external connections for USB, Ethernet, and everything you’d need to run it like a complete, standalone machine on your network.
- Open Source: The software the Microfactory runs is based on Linux CNC, with some upgrades to give it the capabilities necessary to control the machine’s unique components. We love how open source gives you the freedom and flexiblity to take the Microfactory to the next level!
- Screws, Not Belts: Lower-end 3D printers and similar machines use belts and pulleys to control their mechanical axes. The Microfactory, though, uses acme-threaded screws similar to those found in industrial milling machines. This lets us achieve higher forces and greater precision.
- Stable Z: If you stuck a milling head on a regular 3D printer, which incorporates a movable tray into its Z-axis, you would quickly encounter precision problems due to the pressure of the miller throwing the tray out of alignment. The Microfactory is built more like an industrial-strength milling machine, with a stable Z-axis tray on strong rails.
- Superhero Chassis: The Microfactory is built factory-tough. In our video you can see a 350-lb gentleman standing on it -- that’s not a stunt! The chassis went through many revisions to make sure it can handle real-world makers and their real, tough projects. For extra heavy-duty conditions, the Microfactory can be upgraded to an all-metal chassis as well.
- Ssssh: Besides the noise-reducing chassis you can see in our video, the Microfactory has neoprene gasketing around the openings to further insulate the sound. We’ve tried to think of these details throughout -- the little things that make this not just a cool and innovative, but friendly and usable machine.
- Big Red: The big red rudolph-y button on the front isn’t just for show -- it’s a serious safety feature that just happens to also look cool. (It’s fun to hit, too - you should try it at least once.)
Watch our video and check out our website for lots of incredible details!
We need YOUR help!
The Microfactory was made BY makers FOR makers, but we need your help to go into production. The Microfactory team has footed the bill for
the entire cost of development over the last year (sometimes
working some pretty interesting day jobs to make it happen). In order to
raise the cash to hire a production staff and negotiate the best price
on your machine’s parts, we need money up front. We are preselling a
limited number of units through Kickstarter, including some with custom upgrades.
Please support our campaign, and help us bring about the
personalized manufacturing revolution!
Machine SpecsBasic Version:
- prints functional parts in four colors or multiple materials in 2 colors
- 4-spool side rack for extrusion materials
- 300W spindle for computerized etching and milling of plastics and wood
- plywood frame, 25” wide x 29” deep x 25.5” tall
- work volume 12"x12"x6"
- sturdy enclosure tested to support 350lbs, reduces noise output by ~10db
- vacuum port for standard 2.5” shop vac + filtered air inlet with replaceable cartridge
- safety features: fully enclosed moving parts; covered drive belts & motors
- open pulleys to protect motor and frame
- professional industrial motion-control package for high precision & machine reliability
- swappable pallets for batch printing
- internal dedicated networkable computer (no standalone computer required!)
- runs industry-standard gcode on a customized open-source system (cross-compatible with machine-shop mills)
- Ports: 4x USB 2.0, VGA, Ethernet Power
For more information please visit our website
Project Status & Delivery Timeline
Currently, we have several working prototypes of the Microfactory. There are a few technical items that need finishing, and then we’ll be ready to begin the process of preparing the Microfactory for large-scale production. Below is a rough timeline that you can use to follow along with us as we move from completing R&D into manufacturing. Make sure you sign up for our mailing list so that you get all the latest updates!
Present to February 2014: Our core team will be expanded to include several specialists who can help us finalize some of the custom software as well as beginning the process of taking a very cool handmade prototype and turning into a mass-producable machine with detailed instructions, packaging, etc.
- Hire a team of 3-6 engineers to finalize the technical aspects & documentation of the machine for production
- Finalize the design
- Complete testing run of finalized design
- Begin the process of creating the user manual(s) and user-downloadable content
February 2014 to June 2014: With the addition of some manufacturing and operations staff, we plan to use this time to create tooling and begin the production process. This early production phase will involve a lot of testing and documentation to ensure that the shipped units are as perfect as they can be.
- Finalize the supply chain
- Finalize the assembly procedure
- Set up the final assembly location
- Finish the first incarnation of the user manual / content & collect feedback
July to October 2014: The real production run begins here! We will be completing orders and carefully testing and packaging all of the pre-ordered Microfactories for shipping. (Our dedicated early backers will receive the first units off the line according to their reward status.) During this time, we will also be conducting a major website expansion to include community forums, detailed do-it-yourself instructions, and downloadable content for making all the cool stuff we can think of.
- Begin final production and assembly of Microfactory 1.0
- Begin shipping units! (Simplified Microfactory ships in July; the full version in September/October)
- Finalize user manual
- Overhaul website, adding user manual and downloadable content
Special Technical Considerations
It is important to us that you are happy with the Microfactory when you receive it! We have a big vision for making the Microfactory a versatile and easy to use machine, but it’s not, in its early stages, for everyone. Microfactory 1.0 is designed for people who have some basic experience with machine tools. Below are some special aspects of the machine that you should think about and be conceptually comfortable with when purchasing this first incarnation of the Microfactory.
The Microfactory runs industry standard g-code on an open source platform: a highly-customized version of LinuxCNC. This is cool because you can run the same programs you would on common CNC tools you would find in your average machine shop. However, you should be comfortable with the following workflow: To create a part, you can either download a file (from a place like Thingiverse) to make on your Microfactory or make your own file from scratch.
To make a milling or etching file, create the part in your favorite CAD (Computer-Aided Design: i.e. Solidworks, AutoCAD etc…) program or download something you want to make form the Internet and then use a CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing: i.e. CamBam etc…) program to create your subtractive machining g-code tool path. For printing, make your part in the desired CAD program or download it from the Internet and then use a g-code generator such as Slic3r to create your tool path. Both milling and printing files can be opened in our version of LinuxCNC and run. All of the steps in this process can be done with a freely downloadable program. Also, it is important to note that the machine prints in four colors, but you have to manually designate the colors. One of the things we will be spending time and money on if successfully funded is writing a program for your Microfactory which will automate this process. If your early-version Microfactory does not include this functionality, you will be provided with a free software upgrade when it is available; but do be aware that the process may temporarily be manual.
It is really important that you get good adhesion to the printing surface on the first layer of any print. While adhesion is a function of many factors (bed temperature, smoothness and treatment of the printing surface, etc…) one of the most important aspects is proper machine calibration. In an effort to reduce costs, the Microfactory’s print head is manually calibrated. This is done by loosening or tightening one of four spring-loaded screws (one for each print head) connecting the nozzle block to the gantry.
This is not a terribly laborious process, but is an essential part of proper machine operation. If we are successfully funded, we would like to further simplify/improve this configuration to reduce the overall amount of calibration required over the lifetime of your machine; however, early versions of the Microfactory may require manual calibration.
As you can see from the video, the space between the milling heads and the printing heads is relatively small. One of the benefits of the Microfactory is that you never need to remove the printing head when you change over to a milling operation (and vice-versa). This saves you a lot of time and makes the machine much more user friendly. However, the proximity of the print and milling heads means that extra care may be required when adding or changing milling tools. We ask that you use common sense when putting in a milling bit after finishing a printing operation. Turn the print heads off and give them an opportunity to cool before trying to insert the milling bit.
The international response to this project has been wonderful! We want to express our gratitude to all of the supportive people outside the US who have gotten excited about what we are doing. We REALLY want to get Microfactories to you, and see all of the amazingly creative things you build with them. But we are facing a dillema!!! Kickstarter does not support flexible shipping and tax options based on the country you are ordering from. We have been wrestling with what to do about this. We need to be realistic about the fact that we are a very small company on a very tight budget, and we apologize for the international shipping charge being as expensive as it is. That charge reflects both shipping (for the sizable Microfactory) and import taxes for a wide range of destinations. If this fee is prohibitively high compared to the actual shipping and taxes you would pay for your country, we encourage you to wait until the machines are made available to the general public.
Risks and challenges
The Mebotics team conceived, designed, built (and tested and rebuilt and tested and rebuilt...) the Microfactory over the course of a year of hard unpaid work and dedication. The next step is take the next step and build up the infrastructure to finish and manufacture our machines. With this in mind, we have turned to Kickstarter with three goals:
1) Use pre-orders to determine if people are interested in having a machine with the Microfactory's unique capabilities
2) Secure the funding to hire a few more key team members to help us finish up aspects of the machine's software and hardware
3) Obtain the critical mass of orders to make a production run feasible
When manufacturing a new device, there are always challenges related to part procurement, price negotiation, quality control, staffing, assembly and shipping. There will no doubt be some re-engineering and part substitution related to these issues, but we have experience bringing products to market, and we believe that we possess the right mix of skills to address these issues.
We are very proud of how far we have come on our own, but without outside investment money, we have limited resources. We are committed to bringing you the highest quality machines, and to do that we need a full time staff. Our funding goal reflects what we believe to be the realistic minimum which will allow us to buy the parts for your Microfactory AND to hire the people to ensure that something really amazing arrives at your doorstep.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Because we are 32x micro-stepping on 12tpi threaded screws on 1.8 degree motors, the machine has positional resolution of 0.00001in. Practically speaking the limit of resolution is the nozzle diameter. These machines currently have 0.35mm (.0138in) nozzles installed, plus a little for material expansion/flattening (depending on which material you were using and the programmed height of your Z axis layers). For what it’s worth, our nozzle can also be replaced with others that have different orifice diameters. A 0.25mm nozzle will give you even higher resolution but creates greater back-pressure and slows down printer speed significantly. A 0.4mm nozzle will look sloppier but allow you to print much faster.
So to summarize, resolution really depends on the choices you make (YEAH open source machine) what nozzle you choose to put on, what plastic you want to work in and what you set your Z axis layer heights in software.
The milling equipment is very accurate: We have consistently cut parts within 3-5/1000 of the intended spec. However, the Microfactory is intended to be a development, not a production, tool. Because step loss can occur over time if you’re making many of the same part, those numbers can drift. We recommend re-zeroing the unit after every few parts to ensure consistency.
With regard to milling speed, the 300-watt spindle has a built-in potentiometer so that it can be controlled at variable speeds. The router we have chosen for the 650-watt spindle has a fixed speed of 30,000RPM; but because the hardware is open-source and swappable, you could mount whatever spindle you like, provided it had the same form-factor.
When we’ve used the Microfactory to mill flat sheets, we’ve used double-sided carpet tape to hold the part we’re cutting to the tray -- this is very effective for parts made of reasonably soft materials. We’ve also prototyped a simple clamping system that mounts on the Microfactory.
If you have an interest in a custom clamp, there are 4x¼-20 screw-holes outside the milling envelope for you to attach your own, as well.
Because we’re based in the US, the original design used imperial measurements. However, as we made progress towards manufacturability, we went through a (very interesting!) evolution towards metric parts and specifications -- the machine is now about 75% metric. By the time it’s ready for full production, it will be entirely metric.
Some of our sharp-eyed viewers have asked about the noise level displayed on the dB-meter in our video. The video was actually shot in a room adjacent to a large server farm, so there is quite a lot of background noise due to the cooling equipment. In an otherwise quiet environment, the loudest part of the machine is the vacuum being used to clean it (via the shop-vac port on the side). No milling machine is completely quiet, but with its door closed, the Microfactory is definitely quiet enough that you don’t need earplugs in its vicinity.
Several people pointed out that our International shipping costs were high, and it was certainly never our intention to make things difficult for backers outside the U.S. Kickstarter allows us to set a single International shipping-and-tax fee for all countries. For relatively small and inexpensive items, this presents little issue. For a more expensive and large item like the Microfactory, however, we had to account for a wide range of possible destinations, and this generated some pretty large swings in cost depending on where it was going, and we set the shipping cost accordingly, so that we would not lose money on International sales. This raised some important questions, though: Why should someone ordering from Switzerland have to pay more because we had to account for the fact that someone from Denmark (where the taxes are much higher) might buy one? Why should someone in the UK pay more for their shipping because there is a chance that someone in China could order one?
We clearly made a mistake in trying to account for every possible destination, and we want to work with you to fix it. While we can't adjust the International cost for shipping the fully-featured Microfactory, we would like to work with our International backers to come up with a fair shipping price for the simplified Microfactory. For now, the simplified Microfactory reward is only available for shipping in the U.S. If you would like to pre-order this machine for International shipping, please contact us. If everyone SERIOUSLY interested in pre-ordering a single-print-head Microfactory will please message us with the country you would like to have your machine sent to, we will work with all the interested backers make the overall shipping fee as reasonable as we can (we have a couple of creative ideas how).
Certainly we would replace any parts that broke due to normal wear-and-tear as a result of a manufacturing defect! And there's no time-limit on that, because we view ourselves as being part of a community of makers: We would always replace a part that shouldn’t have failed, and anyone who experiences that should contact us right away and we’ll work with you to fix it.
If a part needs replacing due to abnormally extreme use or for some other reason, though, we’ve done our best to make sure it’s easy and inexpensive for you to do it yourself. The Microfactory was built out of relatively common, inexpensive parts as much as possible, and designed to be cheaply maintainable by relatively-handy users -- this is something that we did intentionally to keep costs down, and so that the machines would perform as intended for a long time.
Yes! We designed our machines to be modular, so that they are maximally upgrade-able AND customize-able. Here's how you'd do it:
The simplified machine is built on the same chassis as the full version. The upgrade process has 2 basic steps. First, you would need to remove the single feeder/single spool module (the left wall) and replace it with the 4 spool 4 feeder module. You would then remove the single nozzle on the gantry and replace it with the quad head. While fitting in the four-nozzle print head is a little awkward, the basic operation is just a matter of unscrewing and then tightening 5 screws.
But you could do a lot more than simply upgrade to a four-color printer! You can use the same removable wall configuration that makes this possible to create your OWN modules, and easily build a custom Microfactory! For example, you could make one for CNC painting, and mount the paint tank to a blank side wall panel.
Feel free to ask us about any clever upgrades you think of, if you need more detail!
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