Industrial CNC machine maker Hurco says they’ve filed a patent to enable CNC machines to become 3D printers.
CNC machines, if you don’t know, are devices that mechanically carve away material to reveal a finished object – subtractive manufacturing, as opposed to the additive manufacturing concept used by 3D printers. When you’re finished CNC’ing, you have a lot of scrap material leftover.
The idea here is that both 3D printers and CNC machines have precisely controlled mechanicals that move an active point, such as an extruder or a spinning router bit. The concept is that if they’ve already made a CNC machine with such mechanicals, why couldn’t they simply replace the router mechanism with an extruder and create a 3D printer?
In principle, this could work, but we think there’s a lot more to the story. We presume Hurco is employing the now-patent-free plastic extrusion technology, so we can imagine a Hurco extruder on one of their CNC machines being fed from a spool of plastic filament.
Sounds easy so far, but while mechanicals can be similar, there are other challenges. CNC machines are typically far larger than 3D printers, with build volumes being measured in meters instead of millimeters. If you’re 3D printing at that size (and you would, because why would you go to the trouble of making a CNC-3D printer hybrid otherwise), you’d expect very, very long print times, requiring vast amounts of plastic. You’d probably have to figure out some way of holding giant filament spools or hot swapping in fresh ones.
Another issue will be warping. Printing ABS or other warpable plastic will be pretty much catastrophic at these scales unless serious attention is paid to solving warpage. This might mean enclosing the entire build area in a heated chamber (but that would violate certain patents), or adding a massive heated bed to the CNC machine.
Another challenge will be software, which has evolved significantly on the 3D print side, whereas CNC control software is typically more akin to a control panel. It’s not clear how Hurco will drive their new hybrid through software.
There are few details of how Hurco’s plan will work, but we’re interested to see details. They’re apparently showing off their new concept at the International Machine Tool Show in Chicago later on this year.
Via NASDAQ (Hat tip to James)