Rapid prototyping has become nearly ubiquitous in industry, and there are many machines designed for this purpose, as well as equivalents for home-use. Many individuals, for example, now own 3D printers, and of these “makers”, many would love to have a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router, which carves away material instead of building it up. Unfortunately, few are able to have both.
3D printers and CNC routers are both CNC machines and both are designed to move a tool in three-dimensional space using a 3-axis system. There are, however, some differences in how these tend to be designed. 3D printers are designed to be tall. They are often compared with one another based on “maximum build volume,” the maximum dimensions of an object it can print, of which the Z axis is a significant component. The CNC router, on the other hand, is primarily used to carve sheets of wood, so router designs trade off height for rigidity. Finally, 3D printers typically decouple the Y axis from the X and Z in order to minimize the weight that the motor has to carry. On CNC routers, the tool is moved along all three axes and the routed part remains stationary to avoid issues with stability and accuracy that may be caused by moving the material itself.
Currently, despite having only minor differences in both functionality and core design, these machines remain separate, so each CNC machine purchased requires an additional investment of space and money. For many, this means that owning both a 3D printer and a CNC router is a prohibitively large investment and, with this project, I hope to change that. I have designed and built a machine that can be configured for both purposes, or for any purpose that requires moving a tool around in 2D or 3D space for that matter. This will be relatively tall like a 3D printer, but rigid enough to function as a CNC router, and its functionality can be changed quickly and easily by the user.