Anytime industrial equipment or technology initially used by industry giants seeps into the private sector, it evolves in unusual ways. Ten years ago, you could only find the regular use of CNC machines and other types of robotics in the governmental or high-end fabrication shops and factories around the world. We saw this with the initial use of the Internet by the military. Yet, once the technology hit personal computers, it exploded into a medium of seemingly unlimited uses and capabilities. When the people of the world get a hold of new technology, they often squeeze out every last unimaginable use possible and end up changing the world as we know it.
Soon we will see CNC technology evolve in the same way as the internet did. It has expanded into the hands of millions of people and given them the ability to actually do things that we might have only seen in science fiction movies. As the cost of CNC technology drops, we are starting to see a variety of uses that the original designers of the technology could have never envisioned. Small companies are now able to tinker with technology that would have been too cost prohibitive to even consider five years ago. Now that people play with this technology, it will most likely result in an evolved form of CNC that will not only increase the speed at which people personally manufacture objects in their homes, but will also give new rise to a world of convenience, efficiency, and precision with automated processes that were previously done by hand.
Following here is my list of predictions for the future uses of CNC we can expect in the next ten years. These predictions are not guaranteed to come true but will ultimately help you better understand the potential of this technology and the significance of its impact on our future.
1 – 3D Printing will allow the instant creation of practically anything: Three dimension printing using resins, plastics, and even metal alloys are being born out of small shops around the world, and while still in its infancy, these technologies are paving the way to new businesses, and changing industries. Today we are only seeing the early stages of this with on-demand 3D printing, ordinary people can have objects created for them simply be sending a company a computer file. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, nylon printing has recently been shown by a few companies to be able to create articles of clothing, ten years from now we may simply be printing the clothes we wear.
2 – Precision mechanics will be used for everyday convenience: CNC applications will not necessarily create new objects but rather automate processes that were once done by hand. CNC paint sprayers, or etching devices that can be moved with more precision that any human is able to muster. Industries have sprung up around these applications. It is now possible to draw a design with a pen and paper and have it etched or painted on a laptop, or cut out of vinyl to stick on the window of your car. These technologies are coming to the home too. While seemingly silly, the last few years have seen CNC cake decorators that squirt icing on a cake, or egg printers that use food safe inks that can create works of art on egg shells with a cost that allows the process to be done every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The fact is that this technology will lead to us having the ability to automate, and mechanically control even the most basic of tasks including, but not limited to, making food, cleaning the house, and doing your hair all with the simple push of a button.
3 – Fully mobile CNC machines will be used by the general public: Like the internet, CNC technology will continue to evolve to the point at which it will be fully mobile. There are already affordable home CNC machines that can cut metal, wood, and plastics that can fit on a coffee table and moved around by a single person. Soon you will be able to carry around a CNC machine in your pocket for writing or drawing as well as tackling massive projects with thousands of them working in concert, like ants. We are already seeing this concept in fully automated factories, and like basic CNC, it won’t be long before this technology makes it to the everyday user. Creating or doing anything mechanical on the go will become easier and more efficient. In fact, it is probably safe to say that mobile CNC machines will even be able to make other CNC machines that can perform completely different tasks.
Considering these predictions will ultimately help anybody understand the possibilities of this amazing technology. The evolution of CNC capabilities will eventually bring us into a world of instantaneous object creation and service robotics that will forever change how we think and feel about mechanical labor in our everyday lives. As these machines develop, being on the cutting edge will be more important than ever and will determine the leaders of the industries of the future.
Jack Douglass is an R&D Engineer at Torchmate
Image courtesy of Fab@Home – An open-source personal fabricator project.