Disclaimer: I’m an engineer, not a pro film maker. Be advised.
I took a tour on the Inventables HQ and talk with founder Zach Kaplan about Easel and the future of CNC machining. It is a long video. Zach walks me through Easel in the beginning portion, and the cut demo is at the end of the video.
Last October Inventables released their Shapeoko 2 desktop CNC machine. The second generation of the fastest selling CNC machine comes with notable improvements and upgrades. The #2 brings along a larger work area as well as dual y-axis motors, and a completely redesigned z-axis. Overall, the Shapeoko 2 allows more people to easily build a reliable desktop CNC machine and most importantly, afford one.
The Shapeoko 2 desktop CNC machine (via inventables)
More notably, Inventables has recently been hard at work improving their latest product, Easel. Easel is a web based CNC design and fabrication environment created to take the complexity out of CNC design software. Traditionally, CNC designs go through CAD software then compiles the projects into G-code. Then, the G-code is sent to a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) program, with it additional settings tweaks. In addition, CAD and CAM programs can require training and lots of practice before jumping in. Easel has been created to effectively eliminate the complexity of the CNC design software and allows users to jump right into an intuitive design environment, which will handle all of the CAD and CAM calculations.
Easel will be a free app that anyone can use. It was first unveiled at the Austin, Texas ATX Hackerspace by Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan. It was a project by college student, Paul Kaplan (no relation), written in Java. It also was the ticket to join Inventables heading the Easel development team. A year later Easel is public.
The software will allow users to create designs using built in shapes, uploaded vector files, or by drawing freehand in the app. One convenient feature is that the graphical user interface shows the design in two different displays. One is a 2 dimensional image from a top view and the other is a 3 dimensional image which allows a user to see what the design would look like when cut into the material.
Shapeoko 2 machine with Easel design Software in action (via inventables)
Nevertheless, the software is still new and is in the beta phase of testing. Consequently, it does have its limitations on what it can do. For instance, it will currently only allow users to cut in one plane limiting what can be created. Also it has six materials that are available to choose from before the milling, but there is no option to expand upon these or add your own.
However, these are all areas in which Kaplan is looking to expand upon in the near future. He is also looking to make the software more universal. As of now, the app can be used to send designs straight to a Shapeoko 2 to be milled, however, with any other desktop CNC machine it will not be that simple. Other systems would be required to provide their own CAM software to interpret the G-code produced from Easel. Other machines and even DIY CNC tools are in the future Easel support group.
In addition, Kaplan has mentioned that 3D support is soon coming. This will greatly increase the versatility and capabilities Easel can offer. This can allow everyday “Joes” access to a technology, which once would cost thousands of dollars to use plus lots of training. Ease is the name of the game…
Anyone with a Shapeoko or other machine whom would like to try it out can get it through early access on Easel.com.
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