It's a concept which makes a ton of sense.
Much of the market for rapid prototyping machines seems to overlap depending on the desired output and construction method, but all the milling, cutting and 3D printing machines on the market share one common element – Computer Numerical Control.
Now OmniMaker LLC says they plan to use a modular approach, employing a basic 3D printer as an intelligent docking station to expand the capabilities of their device.
OmniMaker says 50 percent of the functionality of most rapid prototyping machines can be handled within a commonly shared base which would allow unique functionality to be added in the form of plug and play modules as they're developed. The company says their Modular Rapid Prototype machine "will revolutionize the way future 3D printers and other Rapid Prototype machines will be made and sold."
After nearly two years of work, the Boulder, CO, firm OmniMaker says they've produced "an attractive intelligent base station that can accept modules of widely different functions and technologies."
There are cost advantages to the consumer in creating a package which can be readily upgraded or reconfigured for different functionality. OmniMaker says the four modules and three base sizes offered will be ready for the future, whatever it may hold.
OmniMaker explains that the introduction of modularity "solves the problem of obsolescence and lack of versatility in rapid prototyping machines."
The idea is that a quick and versatile swap of several different manufacturing technologies – FDM printer, SLA printer, CNC Mill, digital scanner – allows the base unit of the OmniMaker to house a variety of tools via "head modules" which can be snapped to the base machine.
"We've figured out a way to make one machine quickly and easily accept plug-and-play modules that can totally change the nature and the capability of the machine."
It all starts with the base machine. This base includes a platform that raises and lowers the object to be made (the 'Z' axis), which can be heated, chilled, or left at room temperature. Featuring a sturdy frame, a color touch screen display, an SD card slot, a USB socket, and a power supply capable enough to handle the base and the connected module. Four high-torque motors placed at each corner of the platform increase stability, are capable of carrying a heavier load and don't require a computer to produce parts.
OmniMaker says there are currently filament extrusion 3D printer modules, a CNC router module, a UV Resin printer, a laser scanner digitizer, and an experimenter's X/Y module available for the platform now, and add that they're working on a DLP resin printer module.
The OmniMaker Kickstarter campaign ends end Oct. 21, 2014, and the company says it hopes to deliver the first machines by April of 2015. Prices for the various combinations of bases and modules start at $499 and run up to $5000 for a "steampunk" version of the device made from oak and brass.