What is The MicroMill?
The MicroMill is a 3-axis milling machine, controlled by your computer and able to produce precision parts from a wide range of materials from your desktop.
Its small footprint, quiet operation and enclosed body make it perfect for use at your home, workshop or office environment. Safety features like a pause-switch built into the door make it ideal for use in Makerspaces, FabLabs and Education where there may be unsupervised use.
Whether you're a maker, designer, artist or small business - you'll benefit from being able to produce strong, usable and unique parts in-house without any of the cost from outsourcing.
- Versatile. Machine almost all materials softer than steel.
- Tiny footprint. Approximately the size of an A4 sheet of paper.
- Lightweight. Move it around the office or take it with you on jobs.
- Easy to use. Huge range of easy-to-learn, well supported software options.
- Open Hardware. Community-led development and low cost replacement parts.
- Ready to run. Comes fully tested and assembled. Just remove the box and plug it in.
The MicroMill came about because of a necessity. Our small team design and create things that solve problems, but we had a problem of our own - an inability to produce high quality, usable parts in house. The other machines on the market were simply too expensive for what they offered, and it was hard to see a realistic return on investment so early on in the startup process.
If we had this problem, we knew there would be others in our position.
The solution? Design and produce a CNC milling machine with all the function and performance of the 4-figure price tag machines, but negotiate with the right manufacturers so that the price stayed firmly in the 3-figure bracket.
We've come to Kickstarter because without your help we can't make this machine available for all, or carry on the work needed to bring you what's coming next.
What Can You Make With The MicroMill?
Outsourcing is expensive, so the more things you can make with one piece of equipment the better. With this machine, you can keep development under one roof: Yours.
Whether you need to produce custom PCB's now or in the future, machine working parts, custom gears or novelty products to sell on Etsy - the MicroMill has you covered. It comes ready to run out of the box, together with a set of cutters and a selection of materials to get you started.
Depending on what you're making, a CNC milling machine can often be faster than a 3d printer - but the truth is they're the perfect partners. Use a 3d printer to ensure that your part is the right fit and form - then use the MicroMill to produce a solid, usable part to go beyond what a 3d printed component is capable of.
The bed size is 115x100, with a Z travel of a roughly 64mm. By simply using double sided sticky tape (seriously!) you can machine parts from plastics, wood, foam, wax and even metals such as aluminium & brass.
Wax and Foam:
A favourite of ours is Foamex (aka - Foamalite, Forex and Palight). This rigid, lightweight and extremely easy to machine PVC foam is the perfect go-to material for a CNC machine (and why we'll be including some in the box with each MicroMill!)
Coming in a massive range of colours and standard thicknesses, you can quickly and easily produce very accurate parts from Foamex. Once you're happy with the design you can move to a more time consuming material like Acetal or aluminium. Foamex also makes a superb spoil-board material as you can screw directly into it to give more rigid materials a little more support.
Machinable Wax is a blend of LDPE and Paraffin - making a stiff, stable and extremely easy to machine material. It's quite a bit more expensive than Foamex, but if you're looking to make moulds - then look no further!
The MicroMill can machine almost all types of wood. We've had fantastic results cutting logos out of laminates and desk tidies out of mahogany. While there are plastics that are better for engineering applications, you can't quite beat the look and feel of wood for many things.
This is where the MicroMill excels - engineering plastics and PCB fabrication. Its also where our story began. One of our team needed a tiny rack and pinion that couldn't be made strong or accurate enough on a 3d printer. We got quotes from machinists, both locally and in the Far East, but they were so laughably expensive we knew there had to be a better way.
- Acetal/Delrin & HDPE - if you want strong, stable and usable components (for gears, brackets and more) then really look no further than these materials.
- For a tough and clear plastic, Polycarbonate (Lexan) is preferable to Acrylic. Its also relatively low cost-wise (115x100x10mm = £0.85) and machines brilliantly.
- ABS is a little finicky - but with the right speeds it cuts cleanly and leaves you with solid, usable parts far beyond the capabilities of 3d printed ABS parts.
- Linoleum - while not technically a plastic, lino blocks make excellent customised rubber stamps.
While FR-1, FR-2 and FR-4 are usually reserved for isolation milling your own circuit boards, you can also make custom jewellery and art pieces from these materials. Due to the fibreglass in FR-4, we don't recommend that you mill this material as it will dull your cutters and generate hazardous dust.
You can do both single and double sided circuit boards with The MicroMill - its all down to how you choose to mount the board in the machine. A foamex spoil board and some small pegs do a great job as an alignment bracket.
Metals are some of the more challenging and time consuming materials to cut with The MicroMill. It's definitely worth getting used to the setup and operation before diving right in to these trickier materials. You want to use the biggest cutter you can for the operation and take things nice and slow so you don't risk damaging the cutter or workpiece. We'll be including a 'recommended feeds and speeds' guide with each unit.
Not all grades of aluminium and brass are good for machining - there are lots of grades of alloy all suited for different applications. As a rule of thumb, Aluminium 6061 and Brass CZ121 will work just fine.
You can use The MicroMill to produce custom 'EDC tools' and high performance parts on your desktop. Keychain multitools are really popular on Kickstarter, so who knows - you could have a campaign of your own soon!
There are some things you just can't cut on a milling machine - others are not recommended for various safety and tool-life reasons. If you have a particular material in mind, please message us on here or through our website and we'll get back to you as quickly as possible.
The MicroMill is capable of cutting almost all materials that are softer than Steel.
Whilst it is possible to cut carbon fibre and fibreglass, we don't recommend this as the fibres will dull your cutters very quickly and the dust that is created is really horrible and not at all desirable in the eyes/lungs.
Remember, not all plastics are created equal - some machine excellently (like Acetal) and others are a bit trickier (like ABS). Any questions regarding those sorts of things, please get in touch!
Why choose The MicroMill?
While designing the MicroMill, we knew it was important to match the capabilities of its much more expensive competitors, but go about it in slightly different ways. The overall price of the machine was a big factor in its design, but we also wanted a machine that was simple, easy to operate and safe for any user and environment.
The MicroMill, by definition is a Micro-Milling machine. It occupies an area of your desk just bigger than an A4 sheet of paper, and weighs less than 6kg so moving it around is extremely easy. Grippy rubber feet ensure the mill stays put while running, and won't transfer any annoying vibrations into the surrounding surfaces.
Ready to run:
We had considered making The MicroMill a kit, but decided pretty early on it would be best for everyone if we provided the machine completely assembled and ready to run out the box. This way you know you're getting a calibrated, tested and functioning machine without the headache of assembly. Just plug in, select your material and cutter, shut the door and get started.
The MicroMill is made from wood. Not a cheap MDF or nasty laminated chipboard, but from a Swiss material called CDF. It is a super high density, flame retardant material with a black core and two sided laminate finish. Each machine is routed by specialists in the UK to our exacting specification.
"[CDF] has great stability, high-impact and scratch-resistance, but also with excellent resistance to moisture and most commonly used chemicals."
"particularly suitable for demanding interior design applications: schools, hospitals, laboratories."
We've partnered with Igus® - a German company that specialises in polymer bearings and linear guides. We've had several meetings over many months with various members of their UK site regarding the best components for The MicroMill.
The plastic bearings from Igus® are self-lubricating, maintenance-free, cost-effective and versatile. They can deal with all the forces, vibrations, loads and dust/debris generated without you ever needing to service them.
Igus® are also providing our linear rails, rods, lead screws and anti-backlash lead nuts. With the same superb quality throughout, these parts alone push us way beyond the build quality of our competitors.
The motors are coming direct from the manufacturers with a few modifications we've asked for to make assembly easier and smoother. They're seriously over-torqued for this application, and step natively at a resolution twice the accuracy of what we've seen our competitors using.
Here we knew was our biggest opportunity to introduce a different way of doing things. Other mills come with an expensive custom spindle that often have a limited lifespan and a big bill for replacement parts. So rather than go through the hassle (and minefield) of developing our own spindle, we've kept things simple.
Included with each MicroMill, is a class-leading rotary tool by the German manufacturer: Proxxon. This tool has a manual speed control knob with a range of 5,000-20,000rpm and plugs directly into the back of the MicroMill.
The tool itself runs quietly and without vibration in a holder on the side of the machine, and connects to the spindle unit through a Proxxon flexible shaft. These really are the best in the world - capable of running at tighter angles without getting hot.
The rotary tool, flexible shaft and milling head all come from Proxxon. We then specially adapt the cutting head to cope with the forces generated from prolonged machining - meaning all the accuracy and precision you want from The MicroMill, every time you go to use it.
It comes with a range of collets and takes any cutter/end mill up to 3.2mm (1/8").
The plug socket on the back of the machine is also universal. So if you have a rotary tool you'd like to try, or you've managed to lose the Proxxon unit (it's removable, so you can use it for other things too!) you don't have to worry. Just plug in and get started.
Unlike many CNC machines you can buy that run from a router, The MicroMill gives you a level of control and safety by switching the spindle through a relay. This means when you press the abort button on top, or pause the machine by opening the door - everything stops. Allowing you to safely change cutter, make any adjustments or leave the room for lunch knowing you can carry on when you get back - just by closing the door and pressing the top mounted green resume button.
The spindle speed is also manually controlled. Typically you'd set it to between 9-12k and leave it there, but having the option to experiment and change it throughout the machining process helps you get the settings you're happy with. For example, you can slow things down if you think the cutter is running too hot, or speed it up if you hear it struggling - this will increase the cutter lifespan.
In order to keep the mess from machining contained, and comply with safety regulations, every MicroMill comes with a 6mm thick polycarbonate door. The aluminium hinges, stainless handle and 3kg-force latch are from Elesa- Italian specialists in the machining industry.
You can use (or keep using) any CAM (computer aided machining) software you like. The MicroMill runs off the GRBL open-source firmware platform so you have lots of options.
Having designed your part in any CAD program - such as Fusion360, SolidWorks or SketchUp, you then need to generate the 'tool path'. This is where you setup the cutter size you want to use, material dimensions and machining speed (feed rate). It seems a little complicated at first, but trust us, you'll be up and running in no time with our handy guide.
To keep things simple, we recommend either MeshCam (15-day free, 3d modelling), SketchuCam (free SketchUp plug in), FlatCam (PCBs) or Easel (free, web based) to generate the g-code for your part.
Once you have a g-code file - this contains all the motion instructions - you simply connect The MicroMill to your computer via the included USB cable, insert the material you'd like to cut, move the cutter to the 'zero' location and begin. Easy! (We will be including instructions to get you started.)
Technical Specification & Comparison:
Setting up the MicroMill:
In this video Josh briefly covers one of the many workflow options for using The MicroMill. Because we're open-source, you're not limited to just these programs and can use any that you choose.
We take you through the g-code and machine setup for milling a small EDC tool out of carbon fibre, and show The MicroMill cutting through it in real time. For this video, we used very conservative speed settings and in reality we will be recommending you use faster settings as outlined in the included Getting Started guide. The overall cutting time here was 8 minutes.
Why have we come to Kickstarter?
As a platform, Kickstarter allows us to connect directly with our end users, ensuring the machine is perfectly suited to your needs. Without the benefit of being able to place orders for parts in bulk-quantity, we simply can't bring the machine to you at this price. We've spent many months designing, developing and rigorously testing The MicroMill, and now that its ready to go all we need is your support to make this happen. So please give us your feedback, shout about it from the rooftops and back the project if you can!
We have some really exciting projects in the pipeline that this project will help facilitate, it's our hope you'll join us on this adventure and get as excited as we are for what comes next!
Stretch Goals & Future Development:
We have more than a few ideas for where we can take this machine should we get funded early, or for the months after funding.
We've already had fun with a pen-plotting attachment, and have even started playing around with a drag-knife cutter for things like vinyl.
The main aim for a stretch-goal is to offer a Laser Cutting/Engraving head. Integration is going to be very easy - to remove the Z-assembly you only have to undo 4 easy to reach screws. So any deep cleaning or head-swapping is going to be a breeze. We'll also provide laser-safe tinted acrylic door covers to make the machine as safe as possible while the laser is running.
The MicroMill is a 3-axis computer-controlled machine - so can be converted/modified into a wide range of things. It's going to be entirely possible to add a very low cost 3d-printing head in the near future, and its something we're already thinking about.
Have an idea for an add-on you'd love to see? Please get in touch!
We've decided to make TheMicroMill an OpenHardware project. After the campaign we will upload all the files/documentation to GitHub and share it through a forum on our website.
This means that any developments or improvements - whether developed by us or by you - will be shared back to the community to drive progression and continually make The MicroMill better!
A support network made up of actual users is always preferable to a single contact-form on our website, and should give you the confidence that no matter what happens - you will find the answers you need!
The MicroMill V1 had a laser cut MDF frame and was mostly built from scrap parts we had laying around the office. It worked surprisingly well (and still runs!) which gave us the proof of concept we needed to carry on to develop the MicroMill we're offering to you now! Most of the development work is done on the computer, but we hope you'll find these images interesting!
VAT/Import Taxes & Shipping:
We're VAT registered - this means we can claim back the VAT on all of our components. This keeps the MicroMill as cheap as possible for all international backers - It also keeps the cost down for those in the UK and EU who are also VAT registered.
This does mean is that we have to charge 20% VAT fee on top of your pledge for all those eligible (UK and EU only). We've spoken to Kickstarter and they're happy for us to charge this externally, prior to your units being shipped to keep it out of the funding total.
You should know your own VAT situation and whether you're able to claim it back or not. For international backers, there may or may not be an import fee in your country and we recommend you do the research so you know what it is/may be prior to backing. If you're VAT registered in the EU you'll have an EU VAT number - as long as you can provide us with this prior to shipping there will be no VAT charge.
Any questions/queries/discoveries please message us and we'll do our best to help and/or feed that information back to everyone in an update.
To clarify, for international backers the price you pledge is the price you pay. For ALL backers in the UK/EU, you will be charged an additional 20% prior to shipping to cover VAT, unless you're in the EU (not UK) and have a VAT-number.
Shipping in the UK/EU is free, there is a £25 additional price for all other international backers.
We understand that not everyone who wants to support the project may need or afford The MicroMill right now - so we've taken the advise of other Technology projects and introduced this brilliant little customised cup as a thank you to anyone who wants to help us.
The cup itself is a BPA-free takeaway style double walled insulated mug, made from polypropylene. Its also completely dishwasher/microwave safe (mug only excluding grip) so you can keep using it as many times as you like!
We'll be offering it as an add-on option for all backers - so if you're planning on milling PCBs then the lid comes in extra handy to keep any escaping particles of dust from getting into your hot beverage!
Risks and challenges
It's said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link - so the fewer links in a chain, the better.
Our manufacturer/supply chain is very short. We've worked long and hard to ensure our partners are the best in their fields, with long track records of producing superb quality parts in large quantity to big industrial clients.
Assembly, QC and testing will be done by us, in house. Units will be assembled from start to finish by the same people, ensuring everything is perfect before being sent out. Each unit has its own batch number, so we'll be able to keep track of it too.
By capping the reward tier quantities we retain control over our quoted timeline. Too often campaigns fall victim to their own success and leave backers disappointed and waiting. We will only introduce a new pledge tier once the others are sold-out and we've confirmed with our suppliers in the UK that we can deliver on schedule.
We're getting the packaging foam custom cut and posted with an insured courier service to the door of your choosing.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (45 days)