Three years after launching its first desktop milling product suited for rapid PCB prototyping, New York-based startup Bantam Tools announced on July 7 it was introducing a brand new desktop CNC milling machine optimized for aluminum creations. Built for experienced users, as well as beginners, the fully enclosed system has features that the company expects will make the metal prototyping and building experience fast, easy, and reliable.
During the product’s virtual launch party, Bantam Tools CEO Bre Pettis described the machine as “small but mighty” and “packing a lot of punch.” He went on to say that, from the moment the user receives the new product, the setup process is easy, mainly because the machine weighs 70 pounds and does not require an engine hoist to install it. Pettis and his team worked for years on the design and product development process, asking mill users what they were looking for in small CNC machines and then incorporating feedback from product designers and educators to create a very accessible and intuitive product.
The result is a machine that the company claims can cut aluminum precisely, and quickly, 40 times faster than other CNC milling machines on the market. It also has a load of new features for both hardware and software that provides a 3D real-time view of the design to give the user the confidence needed prior to milling.
“The Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine will be the gateway to CNC milling,” suggested Pettis. “One of the main reasons we decided to make the CNC Milling Machine is to close the gap between hobby-grade and professional-grade CNC machines […] we’re offering product designers, engineers, and educators who prototype the ability to reliably machine aluminum and other materials at an entry level price point. Because this machine is perfectly suited to explore, teach, learn, and prototype, we know it’ll be a welcomed boon to both educators and product designers.”
A few years ago, low-cost desktop CNC milling machines were booming, from dozens of affordable models on Kickstarter and Alibaba to tutorials for making DIY desktop CNC milling machines at home. The small desktop mills could churn out customized parts very fast without the high costs and space needed for big mills, making it a good choice for many small craft businesses and up-and-coming product designers that needed to make prototypes and parts on a budget. The market opportunity was very auspicious, even leading to a new breed of hybrid 3D printer-CNC systems to raid the market for a while.
Although quite a few cheap desktop CNC milling machines received bad performance reviews and were only considered useful for hobbyists tinkering and forging trinkets, the desktop version of CNC is still considered to be a great tool for customized manufacturing, inventing, small prototype work, education, and training. Programs like engineering, biomedicine, graphic design, industrial design, architecture, and K-12 TechEd or woodshop classes all need to teach students how to operate CNC equipment. The large, industrial machines are intimidating, unsafe, and difficult to use, while the desktop options have become an ideal opportunity for extremely accessible education. In fact, just after Bantam Tools announced its desktop PBC milling system in 2017, the company reported a series of successful high-school and university programs that empowered students to design and build cost-effective and fast prototypes of their projects using the new device.
For Pettis, who is the former co-founder and CEO of the 3D printing company MakerBot, and has long been talking about developing desktop CNC milling machines, Bantam’s new device is revolutionary. Going on to suggest that the milling process, which starts with a block of material and then reveals the part, can be as mesmerizing as watching 3D printing manufacturing.
Made in the U.S. at the Bantam Tools factory in Peekskill, New York, the new desktop CNC milling system comes with a software suite that allows for predictable outcomes, including automatic material location, and supports simple drag-and-drop integration with SVG files for 2.5D designs. The new auto probing feature allows one-touch probing routines to automatically adjust for material location and tool length, a feature typically reserved for industrial milling equipment.
Director of marketing at Bantam Tools, Zachary Dunham said during the virtual launch party, that the new auto probing feature was simply “awesome.” Dunham went on to explain that “the setup work with CNC machining is usually one of the things that ends up taking a lot of time and is often prone to error. For beginners and even experienced CNC users, this [auto probing] is a time-saving tool. In the future, we are going to be building out more probing routines for locations and offsetting plans.”
With a spindle speed of up to 28,000 RPM and optimized for quarter-inch tooling, Bantam makes quick work of aluminum by utilizing high-speed machining strategies. Furthermore, the company takes a lot of the characteristics used in a lot of the big industrial CNC milling machines, like CAD and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software which is needed to create the part.
According to Pettis, historically CAM has kept people from getting into CNC milling because these are often expensive and difficult to use tools. To work around this issue, Bantam has incorporated Autodesk’s Fusion 360 integration and toolpath templates that allow CAD designers with limited CAM experience to machine parts more professionally using an “Auto-CAM” solution. This feature helps anyone who has experience with Fusion 360 start milling quickly and easily.
“We found that a lot of people are interested in getting into CNC. They want to start printing with metal because it is really functional and unlocks a whole new experience. But learning CAM is confusing. The Fusion 360 CAM templates allow you to drag and drop your model into the template, then simply hit Command–G and a whole suite of tool pads automatically populate and adjust to your model, allowing you to export the code. This is both time-saving and an educational feature that we expect to be really helpful in classrooms,” explained Dunham.
Priced at $3,599, the Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine is considered by the company an affordable option compared to other pricier professional machines and services.
After weeks of anticipation, the Bantam team appeared excited to roll out the new device, especially considering that due to the new COVID-19 pandemic, the current state of the world has altered the way companies are manufacturing and launching new products. For Bantam, this meant a pivot in their whole system, from sourcing to production, everything had to be thought and imagined in view of the new limitations and challenges. With a new machine built almost entirely in-house in New York, the team of designers and engineers have much to celebrate this week as their product has moved to the manufacturing stage and is already taking orders.
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