The Online Machine Shop

I’m at MIT all day at a symposium run by Eric von Hippel on Democratizing Innovation.  It’s a classic “drink from a fire hose” type of day – short (15 minute) descriptions of 40 or so research projects over two days.

Most of what I’m interested in is the research around open source.  However, given that I recently read FAB and have been thinking about a “personal fabrication machine”, I was totally jazzed to hear about eMachineShop – an online machine shop that allows a user to design, price, and order custom machined parts online.

The company’s tag line is “Why waste time traveling, calling, faxing or emailing to conventional machine shops – and waiting days for quotations? Reduce your total time up to 90%! Open doors to new products and projects, to inventing new things, to reducing the cost of parts and more.  Quantity 1 to 1,000,000.”

The examples are great.  Pricing is straightforward and easy to deal with.  And – for people like me that barely know how to use a stapler (unless it’s a virtual one) – this is a brilliant example of the shift from physical to virtual, enabling me to create stuff using software that I’d previously never have a chance of even thinking about playing around with.

  • Matt Cutler

    I had a very similar reaction to eMachineShop when I first heard about it… my undergrad degree was in Mechanical Engineering and I was always happiest when I was machining, covered in grime and metal shavings. I have occasionally fantasized about creating my own home machine shop, or perhaps getting access to a well equiped and maintained shop in the area. 😉

    With that said, I dove into eMachineShop and had a relevant project at hand -> creating a prototype of a cool ‘trophy’ for an awards program we created inside Marketing. The prototype turned out to be really cool, but it took _forever_ to arrive. Like almost six months from the time that I submitted it — the initial estimate was around 3-4 weeks. Ugh. After a huge flurry of email back and forth, they admitted that they were having trouble with the supplier who did their laser-cut steel work. While the part eventually did show up, my initial experience was negative enough that we never went through we producing the final awards. I very much hope that they have worked out these kind of bugs by now.

    So, if you are looking for an introductory project, some kind of cool custom award might be a good place to start. Making just one is pretty expensive, but the unit cost goes down quickly if you get a bunch made. Similarly, if you want to give a really cool, one-of-a-kind gift (and have plenty of lead time), eMachineShop opens a world of possibilities. BTW, definitely go through the tutorial. It’s absolutely required for understanding how to use the software — and does a decent job of introducing the fundamentials of computer-controlled machining.

  • we also looked into emachineshop, quickparts, and other places to do prototyping for us. since our parts are within a small work envelope of a mini mill, we bought one of these sieg x2 mini mills and performed a cnc conversion on it. now we make molds and parts out of aluminum and plastics. what’s great is that they’re small and are benchtop sized but can do some precision work. works great! you can take a look here: cnc conversion plans for the sieg x2 mini mill

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