When we’re out on the road talking about milling machines, inevitably the comparison to 3D printers comes up. If you’ve got a 3D printer, why would you need a mill?3D printing is awesome. It removes two key steps in the fabrication process: the need for CAM programming and the need for a machinist. However, sometimes you need things made out of materials that are too hard, too expensive, or just plain impossible to print.
Let’s look at some examples! For comparison, I printed out our company logo using a 3D printer. In this case, the Ultimaker 2. I love it, and it’s the one I use the most at home.
Next up is a chocolate mold I made on the Othermill. The machined wax is in the foreground. I made the negative by pouring a silicon mold making compound around the wax positive. It’s used to make very high-resolution molds and will capture the finest details, right down to the surface finish. Finish quality is important, and milling machines can produce fine details.
Here’s an example of a lino block print. The oil-based inks work with the rubbery, flexible surface of the linoleum to smoothly transfer the print.
Like 3D printers, mills can make accessories and parts for themselves. With enough skill and preparation, a milling machine can work with very difficult materials. Below is a silicon glass wafer with a 20µm layer etched in the surface. It was done with a diamond bit and special coolant. The glass wafer was held in place with a custom vacuum chuck, also created on the Othermill. Not as simple as circuit boards, but possible.
Last up is my favorite reason to have a mill around, and that’s the ability to work with materials that will never be 3D-printable. Simone, our support engineer extraordinaire, made a purpleheart and mother of pearl inlay version of our company logo. It’s 3.25in across, so many of the shell pieces are very small. She collected the shells, hot glued each one to the bed, and carefully cut out the individual letters. These pieces were then carefully inset into the matching pockets in the purpleheart wood piece.
All that being said, the most interesting projects are what you can do with both a 3D printer and a mill. Are you making a project using both a mill and a 3D printer? Let us know! The desktop manufacturing revolution is here.