Let’s get this out of the way: Additive manufacturing is the future. It’s like a compact, luxury, hybrid SUV – comfy, clean, forward-thinking, and sells like hotcakes. But it’s also shielding young, creative minds from the potential that the rest of the industry has to offer. Subtractive is more difficult and involved, sure – just like the other manufacturing technologies and methods like injection molding, forming, joining, and fabrication – but so is clipping apexes and ripping through gears on a manual transmission sport bike! While accomplishing these two-wheeled shenanigans may be more challenging than anything on four wheels will ever be (especially in a luxury SUV!), it’s far more rewarding, and a $10,000 bike can dust anything on four wheels under $100,000. And that’s why there’s a dusty Pocket NC on the AMT testbed instead of some broken extrusion printer.
To be clear, this isn’t about ragging on AM. In fact, the disruption and attention generated by 3D printing made way for Pocket NC. Let me tell you about it.
Whut? OK, Just Calm Down.
From the Pocket NC website: “Pocket NC was started in a one-bedroom apartment in 2011 by Matt and Michelle Hertel. Inspired by how the 3D printing revolution was bringing manufacturing into homes across the world, they decided to embark on designing a desktop CNC mill.” Pocket NC made “its Kickstarter debut in 2015. Upon launch of the campaign, the $70,000 goal was met within the first hour and was sold out within the first week raising a total of $355,000 from 280 backers making it the most successful Kickstarter campaign in Montana history. Pocket NC delivered all 100 units on schedule by March 2016.”
Since then, Pocket NC has grown to offer two versions of its desktop 5-axis machine, the V2-10, boasting a 10,000 rpm maximum spindle speed, and the V2-50, which boosts its maximum spindle speed to 50,000 rpm (full disclosure, the V2-50 requires the addition of an industrial air compressor to attain them dummy-high spindle speeds). AMT ordered and received our first Pocket NC in 2016 and now has two of the over 2,000 machines sold worldwide.
The first Pocket NC AMT ordered became the staple of the testbed and the primary tool used in my experiments until this little thing called “COVID” happened, which sent me to work from home and the testbed to collect dust. Fortunately, mid-lockdown, I was given permission to pack up the Pocket NC and send it to our Tech Center in Monterrey, Mexico, where it went on to be used by much more capable hands than my own – and unrestricted from mandatory work-from-home mandates. They love it in Mexico and have been touring it around from trade show to trade show, demoing MTConnect and making chips. Can it do more than just demo parts in wax and plastic? Absolutely. It’s capable of cutting softer metals like some grades of aluminum, gold for jewelry, and machining brass (not to be confused with, you know, brass – learning that the hard way was a fun experiment) and has full 5-axis capabilities to boot. Calling it an “industrial-grade” machine, however, is admittedly a bit of a stretch since not many jewelers are familiar with CNC machines. I have cut watch movement parts, though!
So Why Tell Us, the Industry, About It Then?
While the Monterrey Tech Center takes the Pocket NC to trade shows all over Central and South America, we shouldn’t forget that AMT’s headquarters took it to the greatest industry tradeshow of all: IMTS – and we took it there first! That was in 2018, and it was a few firsts for both AMT and the Pocket NC. Namely, we exhibited it at IMTS before Pocket NC as a company did, and it was also the first time AMT brought manufacturing technology to IMTS! Sure, the Pocket NC is not our own product, but MTConnect is. Until then, AMT had never exhibited at our own show, and we couldn’t have done it if it weren’t for the Pocket NC and not some busted printer. You’re welcome. Anyway, because of some promises I’ve made to the Hertels, I’m going to stop here, but you should look into Pocket NC as a manufacturing technology company in our industry. And keep an eye out for them – you’ll see them again, and it will be big.
In the meantime, I’ll work on getting our second Pocket NC up and running and look into getting some more cool tech to join it on the testbed. Next time, in part two of this two-part article, we’ll take a deeper dive into AMT’s testbed as it sits now and why I’m still leaning on subtractive as the quintessential industry technology.