Could the future of manufacturing fit on your desktop?

by Andreas Rekdal
February 2, 2016

Although formerly the purview of jumpsuited workers, manufacturing is increasingly becoming a high-tech endeavor. And soon, you'll be able to get in on it.

, a Chicago-based maker of tools for digital manufacturing, recently started shipping its desktop-sized 3D carving machine to backers of its 2014 Kickstarter campaign. That campaign raised over $600,000 from more than 600 backers, 12 times their original revenue goal. Now the company has started taking preorders from the general public, which are expected to start shipping around April.

Founded in 2002, Inventables wants to create accessible, easy-to-use desktop tools for designing and building pretty much anything you can think of. 

Founder and CEO Zach Kaplan's career as an inventor was kickstarted in high school, where he built a scale model roller coaster as part of a physics homework assignment. The model — which stood 5 feet high and more than 50 feet long — took Kaplan two years to finish and was written about in the Chicago Tribune.

“In that class they had industrial machines and software that were really powerful but really hard to use,” said Kaplan (pictured right). “I wanted the experience of 3D carving to be easy and accessible to everybody, not just the engineers with years of training.”

With that inspiration in mind, Inventables launched an initiative last month to donate a 3D carving machine to a high school in each of the country’s 50 states. The company’s goal is for every high school to have a carving machine by the end of the decade.

With Inventables’ Easel software, which combines design and manufacturing controllers in a browser-based interface, finishing your first project can take as little as five minutes. In the upcoming year, the company will also launch an app store where users can buy logos, applications that help with project design and templates for popular projects.

After designing a project — which can be anything from a sign to a box, an iPhone case or a radio — and securing the necessary materials (anything from woods and plastics to aluminum), all you need to do is press “carve” in the browser application and the machine will do the rest. With precision levels measured to three thousandths of an inch, Carvey can even be used to carve grooves on circuit boards.

Inventables also offers a larger 3D carving machine designed specifically for a shop-type environment. The X-Carve is louder and messier than its younger sibling, but the increase in size affords would-be inventors with an increased range of project options. Think skateboards, wall clocks, furniture — one X-Carve owner even made a working electric guitar out of a solid block of wood.

In contrast, Carvey is fully enclosed, quiet and small enough to fit on a desk in a school, office, or library. The casing is made in glass, so users can watch their projects come to life, from raw materials to finished products.

In Kaplan’s view, getting young people hands-on experience with tools like Carvey will be key to developing the kind of workforce needed for the future of manufacturing. Even in his company finding developers and designers with manufacturing experience at the pace they need, can be a pain point. But he’s optimistic about the future.

“It’s just beginning,” he said.

Images via Inventables.

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