Renegade Manufacturing: New do-it-yourself CNC machine kits could kick open doors for entrepreneurs

November 9, 2011 by Darren Engineering 0

Designer Judah Sher says his "Kikori" CNC machine kit will lower the barrier for small businesses to start up their own manufacturing facilities. (Click pic for larger image).

Judah Sher’s invention sounds like a Thai chicken stir fry dish, but its potential impact is far more dramatic.

It’s called the “Kikori,” a relatively low-cost CNC machine made out of wood instead of metal that is designed to help more small businesses do their own manufacturing. CNC (Computer Numeric Control) routers carve patterns — ranging from simple flat 2D cutouts to elaborate 3D shapes — out of wood, metal, or plastic.

CNC routers are one of the workhorses of manufacturing, but they don’t come cheap. Though prices widely vary, it is not unusual to have to invest more than $20,000 for a new one. By using more affordable raw materials and making the design open source, Sher thought he could slash that entry-level cost by 75 percent.

Now, with the help of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for seed money, he’s done it.

The Kikori machine kit, which sells for $4,000, is assembled with MDO (Medium Density Overlay) board, an inexpensive plywood coated with resin-soaked paper. It is a “self-replicating” machine, which means that it is capable of making its own replacement parts (or cloning itself, but with human help).

Sher says he wants to “bring the means of production to garages everywhere” and bring more manufacturing jobs to American cities and towns where they otherwise would have no chance of sprouting.“I wanted to build a tool to make it easier to start a small business,” Sher explains. “With a machine capable of making pretty much whatever you want. People can start with one CNC machine and then expand inexpensively because the Kikori can make copies of itself.”

“We recommend that you immediately create one full set of spare parts just in case something goes wrong. This cuts down on the downtime due to repairs. There’s no lost time because a part has to be put on back order,” he adds.

CNC routers take instructions from CAD designs that are converted to DXF and DWG files. Keeping with his affordability theme, Sher says he is exploring using DraftSight, a professional-grade free 2D CAD product by Dassault Systèmes, to operate the Kikori when he teaches classes on its use.

“I’m very glad that there are versions for Windows, Mac and Linux so I don’t have to worry about what operating systems my students are running,” he says.

Sher, founder of Sindrian Arts, is affiliated with the Artisan’s Asylum, a Boston-area collective of more than 100 artists and engineers who share a “professionally maintained manufacturing facility, which includes capabilities for precision metal machining, electrical fabrication, welding, woodworking, sewing & fiber arts, robotics, bicycle building and repair, and screenprinting.”

The “Kikori,” which is Japanese for “wood cutter” or “lumberjack,” was originally designed in SolidWorks. To demonstrate its versatility, he’s created a customized iPad stand, a snazzy lounge chair, a funky tennis ball launcher and a Balisong screwdriver– all with wooden parts cut from the router.

Judah Sher's tennis ball launcher is a cross between a slingshot and a crossbow.

Sher warns that his slingshot gun is not meant to be played with by actual children — just engineering devotees who wish they still were kids.

Judah Sher's Balisong screwdriver, based on the one-handed flip action of the traditional Balisong knife. (Click the picture to see how the handle works).

He says he cannot wait to see what other kinds of products are born out of the Kikori.

“I probably wouldn’t be happy making mass produced goods for a large corporation,” Sher muses. “The longer I spent studying industrial design in school made me realize that I didn’t want a typical job.”

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