Being able to work with new materials opens the doors to countless project possibilities. A toolbox will give you the ability to take things apart and put them together, while a 3D printer enables you to bring new objects into the world. But how far can you go with your home manufacturing ambitions?
There are countless manufacturing and production methods out there, many of which are great for DIY projects. Most of the examples below can be used safely at home and have been marked as such, but some will require the help of a professional service.
3D Printing (DIY-Friendly)
Around 2.2 million 3D printers were sold around the world in 2021. As this hobby gets more popular, technology is improving and 3D printers are getting cheaper. There has never been a better time to get into 3D printing, especially for those who love electronics DIY but lack the tools or skills to make things like enclosures by hand.
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing that involves creating 3D objects using a 3D model as a guide. Objects are created layer by layer, usually with a solid or liquid thermoplastic, but 3D printing comes in many forms.
Can You 3D Print at Home?
In short, yes. 3D printing is safe to do at home as long as you take the right precautions. It’s important to be mindful of pets and children when using a 3D printer, and you should never leave your printer unattended for long periods. FDM and SLA 3D printing are the most popular and affordable options for home 3D printing.
Advanced 3D Printing
The most common forms of 3D printing are all designed to work with polymers, but this doesn’t mean that other materials don’t work with this process. Metals, ceramics, chocolate, and a range of other materials can all be 3D printed. The machines that work with these materials are usually expensive, bulky, and unsuitable for home use, but you can pay for services to do the work for you.
SLS (selective laser sintering) and LMD (laser metal deposition) are two common examples of metal 3D printing processes, both of which require a high degree of expertise to use. You can learn more on the topic in our handy guide to advanced 3D printing methods.
How Much Does 3D Printing Cost?
3D printing is one of the more affordable manufacturing services on the market, but only if you are working very small batches. Making one item is always much cheaper with 3D printing vs. a process like CNC machining. It’s hard to say exactly how much your print job will cost without visiting providers to get some quotes.
Wood is incredibly versatile, especially when you consider that it grows organically. You can use wood to create just about anything, from furniture and buildings to electronics enclosures and even jewelry. Working with hand tools, like saws, hammers, and planes, is the cheapest way to get started with woodworking at home.
Can You Woodwork With Just Hand Tools?
The art of woodworking is thousands of years old, but power tools have only been around for a century or so. It is entirely possible to create detailed and sturdy pieces with wood using only hand tools, but it is worth keeping in mind that you may need to learn new skills to get the results you want.
Power tools make woodworking much easier. Powered saws will cut through wood far faster than a handsaw, while tools like lathes can grant perfect symmetry to your work. You can rent the equipment you need for your projects when you want to use power tools for woodworking, but you could also pay someone else to do the work for you.
Casting aluminum at home has become very popular on online platforms like TikTok, with countless guides showing you how to achieve the best results. Casting is a simple process: you pour molten metal into a mold and the metal holds its shape once it solidifies. Casting methods like lost PLA or lost foam enable you to make single-use molds with items that you already have at home.
Can You Cast Metal at Home?
It is possible to cast metal at home, but you have to be careful. Aluminum melts at around 1220 °F, and other metals need even more heat before they can go into a mould. This makes the process of casting metals dangerous without the right equipment and know-how. It’s vital that you do plenty of reading and preparation before you attempt to make your own cast.
CNC cutting machines aren’t found in most homes, but this is changing with products like the Glowforge. Laser, water-jet, and plasma cutters are all good examples of CNC cutting machines, and they all offer different benefits. In most cases, CNC cutting is used to cut 2D shapes out of flat sheets of material, though some machines can cut in three dimensions.
Much like the other processes outlined here, you can find CNC cutting services online. This makes it easy for you to test designs and get used to designing for these machines before you buy one for your DIY projects.
What Does CNC Mean?
CNC, or computer numerical control, is a method of tool automation that uses computers to provide instructions to machines. This makes it possible to program precise movements that can be replicated thousands of times without any deviation. CNC is ideal for modern manufacturing.
CNC machining is one of the most popular manufacturing methods for both DIYers and manufacturers. Just about any material can be shaped using a CNC machine, and the tools available in this space are only getting better. Of course, though, CNC machining isn’t something that many people have access to at home, and this means that you need a service to help you.
What is CNC Machining?
CNC somewhat resembles sculpting, with a piece of material having pieces cut away to reach the desired shape. As long as the machine you are using has the right end mill and enough power, you can cut just about any material using this method. You need to create production drawings and 3D models to work with a CNC machine.
CNC Milling vs. Turning
Milling and turning are two of the most popular types of CNC machining. CNC milling is usually done with a stationary block of material and a moving head containing the end mill, while CNC turning is done with a piece of material that spins and a stationary head. CNC turning machines are often referred to as auto lathes.
Sheet metal bending is one of the most cost-effective and easy ways to create boxes and other types of enclosures. Tools like metal sheers, angle grinders, and even Dremels can cut aluminum and other soft metals, and a cheap secondhand vice makes an ideal bending jig. It takes time and patience to get the best results with this method, but you can also pay for a company to handle it for you.
Finding a Good Manufacturing Service
Since the rise of the internet, many manufacturing services have popped up online. Companies like this can take your files and turn them into real-world objects, and it can be surprisingly cheap depending on the method you choose.
Companies like Protocase have made a good name for themselves for providing excellent sheet metal cutting and bending services, but they can also provide CNC machining and 3D printing services. Fractory is another good example of companies like this, and it’s well worth looking for an option that suits you the best.
Choosing the Best Manufacturing/Making Method for Your Project
There are a lot of manufacturing methods out there, and this article only scratches the surface of the options DIYers have available. From vacuum forming to injection molding, you can choose from an array of options when you step into the world of production.
Cost, ease of use, and availability all factor into the decision you have to make when choosing the right method for you. 3D printing is one of the best options for DIYers looking to get started, but options like CNC machining will be required when working with materials like metal.