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OM in the News: A New Wave of Machines for Cutting and Carving

March 5, 2015
A Glowforge laser cutter at work on a wooden iPhone case. The computer-guided consumer device has a  $2,000 price

A Glowforge laser cutter at work on a wooden iPhone case. The computer-guided consumer device has a $2,000 price

The desk space next to PCs first welcomed paper printers and later made room for 3-D printers that could conjure any shape from spools of plastic. Now new devices, including laser cutters and computer-controlled milling machines, are coming out of industrial workshops and planting themselves on desktops, reports The New York Times (Feb. 16, 2015).

Laser cutters have been around for decades, used in industrial manufacturing applications to engrave or slice through almost any material you can think of, including steel, plastic and wood. The computer-controlled lasers in them make precision cuts that would be almost unimaginable by hand, except by highly skilled artisans. The machines have developed a strong following among jewelry makers, print makers and other artisans, many of whom have hung shingles out on craft sites like Etsy. Laser cutters are best suited to creating 2-D objects, though they can also be used to produce more intricate 3-D objects like lamps or sculpture by cutting flat pieces that are assembled later.

One start-up, the Other Machine Company in San Francisco, has created a device, the Othermill, that acts like a reverse 3-D printer. Rather than building up a 3-D object by creating layers of material, as a 3-D printer does, the Othermill uses spinning bits to cut away at blocks of, for example, wood, metal or plastic. The machine, which costs $2,199, weighs about 16 pounds, so it can be carted around in a car. Other Machine’s CEO said the company had sold the machine to chocolatiers who milled wax molds for their candies on the device. “There is no technological reason why everyday people don’t have access to manufacturing tools,” she said.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is this tool important to the OM field?

2. How doe laser cutters differ from 3-D printers?

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