Makerarm: A mega-cool robotic arm for makers

For the past few weeks I've been chatting to the folks at Makerarm.com about an incredible robot arm called… well, Makerarm. They've been keeping this close to their chests, but I'm delighted to be able to tell you that the Makerarm Kickstarter project launched just a short time ago as I pen these words.

This little beauty is a complete personal fabrication system packed into a single robotic arm that mounts on your desktop. It features interchangeable heads for countless applications such as 3D printing, plotting, milling, laser-engraving, electronics assembly, and… the list goes on.

So just what can this little scamp do? Well, pretty much everything, really. Let's start with 3D printing. We've all seen traditional low-cost 3D printers. These are typically presented in a cubic frame, which significantly restricts the range of motion available to the print-head, and therefore limits the size of the objects you can produce.

By comparison, Makerarm sits on a round base 4.72 inches in diameter. It is 24 inches high and the dual arm assembly provides a total arm span of 15.7 inches. Furthermore, as we see in this video, Markerarm can rotate 180 degrees around its base, which means it can actually span 2 x 15.7 inches = 31.4 inches.

One pet peeve I had with the cheap-and-cheerful 3D printer I purchased a year or so ago is that it easily became misaligned, and realigning the little rascal could bring a strong man to his knees in frustration, so the fact that the Makerarm is self-aligning brought tears of joy to my eyes. Let's look at some of Makerarm's current capabilities in a little more detail:

  • 3D Printing: Makerarm is not confined to a box, can 3D print on any flat surface, and can print with both filament and resin. It maps its work area and carries out bed levelling automatically so you don’t have to. Plus, it has a huge work area of over 30 inches. 
     
  • Milling/Carving: Makerarm features high-speed (light duty) desktop milling and carving. You can mill at speeds up to 20,000 RPM (at 300W) in a variety of materials including plastics, wood, and soft metals right on your desktop. You can even hook up heavy duty flex shaft tools such as the Dremel Fortiflex to Makerarm for power-carving, grinding, or shaping applications (with speeds up to 23,000 RPM). 
     
  • Laser Engraving: With Makerarm’s high power 500mW laser head (405nm), you can engrave and etch your favorite materials including plastics, wood, leather, cardboard, and more. 
     
  • Pick-and-Place: You can choose from vacuum pump coupled suction cups, electromagnetic heads, and grippers to carry out pick-and-place operations. 
     
  • Assemble: Makerarm’s assembly tool heads allow you to automatically place and fasten screws, carry out gluing, and perform pick-and-place functions to assemble parts. 
     
  • PCB Fab & Assembly: With Makerarm’s PCB fab and assembly suite of tools, you can iterate within hours instead of weeks and months. PCB milling, drilling, solderpaste dispensing, automated soldering for THT (through hole components), and pick-and-place assembly for SMT (surface mount components) takes the hassle out of electronics assembly and prototyping.

But wait, there's more, because two or more Makerarms can work in conjunction with each other to perform more sophisticated tasks. Also, you can create your own custom tool-heads tailored to your own applications with Makerarm’s hardware development kit (HDK) and application programming interface (API).

The great thing about Makerarm is that it can satisfy so many different requirements. Take my Caveman Diorama project, for example. I'm starting to think about the various artifacts I'd like to create to place in the cave, ranging from wooden crates to the H.G. Wells-esque time machine. I can see myself needing 3D printing, milling, engraving… I need a Makerarm!

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