Inventables’ Easel software and Shapeoko desktop CNC milling machine (Inventables)
There’s a shift happening in the world of manufacturing. Previously, if a designer, artist or inventor conceived of a new product, it would need to be built in a manufacturing plant. Considering the cost of building one product using mass manufacturing machines, that possibility was often, unfortunately, out of reach for the average aspiring manufacturer.
Recently, however, computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling machines have made their way to the novice designer’s desktop, theoretically allowing for at-home, small-scale manufacturing and leveling the playing field for small businesses. However, without formal engineering training and extensive skill with CAD/CAM software, even the at-home manufacturing machine left entry-level designers out of the game – until now.
Inventables made quite the announcement at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) trade expo in Austin, Texas. Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan unveiled the company’s newest CAD/CAM software, Easel, the first ever free, one-stop, cloud-based design and fabrication software, “for dummies”.
Easel was designed with beginners in-mind, but is still sophisticated enough that the pros can appreciate its streamlined user experience. Traditionally, if someone were to design a product to build with a CNC milling machine, they would need to first design the product using a CAD/CAM software, export that to another program that can “translate” the specs of the design to a numerical configuration the CNC milling device can understand, and then watch the machine go to work. Learning advanced CAD/CAM programs like Autodesk takes time – a long time, so Inventables created software that takes a product from idea to manufacture in about five minutes.
Even the most basic beginners can use Easel. It allows users to design their idea in 2D and the software will automatically add the third dimension on its own, allowing users to see what their final product will look like in real time. Users can design products free hand, using a saved vector file or selecting one of the sample files included in the software. Once satisfied with the design, they simply send it to their CNC milling machine and Easel does the rest.
Easel can also design based on specific materials. The stability of plastic is different than that of wood, so its dimensions are designed with the type of material in-mind. Easel can design for wood, a variety of hard and soft plastics and soft metals. The specific CAD/CAM calculations are automated. The user only needs to plug in a few numbers, including material type, thickness, bit size and cut depth, and the software will automatically do the rest.
Inventables’ Easel screenshot (Inventables)
The Easel was designed to work seamlessly with Inventables’ Shapeoko CNC milling machine, one of the most popular desktop CNC milling machines in the world. The software will work with almost any CNC milling machine, but it will not connect via USB to any machine other than the Shapeoko.
If you are getting the Shapeoko, you’ll have two options: the Mechanical ($299) and Full ($650) kits. The Mechanical kit is ideal for experienced CNC milling machine users that want to add their favorite electronics and tools, to meet their specific needs. The Full kit includes everything needed to begin manufacturing, including all the tools necessary for cutting through everything from plastic to circuit boards.
Easel doesn’t work with 3D printers, but because of its ability to carve directly out of wood, metals and plastics, it does open the door for the creation of beautiful, unique pieces that can be manufactured in small quantities. Aside from helping the novice engineer design the products of his dreams, Inventables also believes Easel had a place in the mass manufacturing world. Kaplan said Easel and desktop CNC milling machines are ideal for testing prototypes before a product goes into mass production. Whatever the purpose, Kaplan said there is a place for Easel.
The paramount software will be available for free at easel.com. Kaplan said Inventables wanted to give away the software to give the home-based manufacturer a tool to made his ideas come to life. Kaplan said he believes manufacturing power has been in the hands of large companies for decades, but slowly things are beginning to shift – and Inventables wants to be a big part of that shift.
At the SXSW expo, Kaplan said that today there are approximately 2,000 manufacturers of consumer products worldwide, but believes that number will skyrocket to more than two million in the not-too-distant future. Kaplan said if Inventables can create user-friendly tools for the average aspiring manufacturer, it can help ignite that wave. That’s why Easel is free for everyone and even its competitive Shapeoko is offered at an affordable price.
Inventables was founded in 2002 and its mission is to spark the digital manufacturing revolution by equipping the average, everyday person with the tools to become a manufacturer, should they so choose. Easel is currently undergoing a closed beta test to ensure quality before official release. Anyone interested in obtaining the software can sign up for early access at easel.com.
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