A 3-D printer for the people

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Sienci Labs, a UW startup company, has created a more affordable machine, similar to a 3-D printing mill, called Sienci Mill One — a computer numeric controls router. Founded by mechanical engineering students Andy Lee, Tim Thompson, and Chris Thorogood, Sienci Labs started through Enterprise Co-op to make linear motion systems — mechanical systems that move an object around.

“For our machines, we use … a carving tool and we make the mechanics that move it around in a space. So if you take a bunch of different linear motion systems, you can use it for a whole bunch of different applications,” Lee said. “We started developing [linear motion systems] early on in January and then once we had a bunch of prototypes, we started building our own machines.” 

Unlike regular 3-D printers, which create objects by adding layers of a material through squeezing the material out of a tube, CNC removes layers from a block of material to create objects. This allows the precise creation of 3-D objects from various materials instead of just plastic.

Sienci Mill One allows for affordable, easy to use, and fast prototyping for companies and classes by simplifying and standardizing components. This allows them to sell their machine for a lower price.

“Everyone knows about 3-D printing, but not many people know about CNC milling, which is kind of the other side to it,” Thorogood said. “You’re able to produce 3-D objects … instead of just with plastic in a 3-D printer, you can make it out of wood, plastic, metal, foam, or whatever you can think of.”

Sienci Labs hopes to make rapid prototyping more affordable and accessible to people who want to use them. “CNC machining is one form of rapid prototyping and we want to do 3-D printing, and laser printing, and weaving,” said Lee. “There’s so many other things we can do and so many other applications.”

“The nice thing about making products that are cheap and accessible and that still work very well is that now you can start using them in classrooms to teach students or take them to third-world countries and help them have access to these materials which they can build for a very low price,” Thorogood said.

Sienci Labs is currently running a Kickstarter to raise money to start mass-producing Sienci Mill One.

This article has been edited to clarify that CNC routers are not the same thing as 3-D printing machines.

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