A funny thing happened on the way to our supposedly 3D-printed future: A simpler, older, but no less revolutionary technology made its way into every automated factory on earth, and now it’s coming to a garage near you. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s mostly because it has a completely unbankable name—CNC routing (or CNC milling.) Also, unlike the usurper technology 3D printing, which has only lately become popular, CNC milling has been around since MIT pioneered the technology starting in the 1950s.
CNC routing is basically the inverse of 3D printing. Instead of using a computer to control a basic armature and print head that deposits plastic or some other material in three dimensions, CNC routing uses a spinning drill bit to carve wood, metal or plastic. It’s the difference between making a sculpture out of clay and carving it from marble, only there’s a robot doing it instead of a human.
And now CNC milling is becoming as accessible as 3D printing. Shopbot, which has made CNC routers since 1996, has launched a Kickstarter crowd-funding effort to launch its Handibot miniature CNC router.