Talking shop with Other Machine Company

The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Danielle Applestone on running a machine tool startup and empowerment through desktop manufacturing.

Register for Solid 2015, where you can see Danielle Applestone’s session — How to make an Othermill: From milk jugs to your door — and much more.


An Othermill. Photo: Other Machine Co.

For this week’s episode of the Solid Podcast, Jon Bruner and I sat down with Danielle Applestone, CEO of the Other Machine Company — purveyors of one of my favorite personal digital fabrication tools: a desktop CNC router called the Othermill (see a demo video).

Grown out of the Machines that Make project at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and incubated at Saul Griffith’s Otherlab in San Francisco, Other Machine Company launched a successful Kickstarter to finance completion of the Othermill back in May of 2013.

For readers not familiar with this particular type of kit, I’ll go into a bit more detail: a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) mill is a machine tool that can be controlled by a computer to move some kind of rotary cutter (such as an endmill or drill bit) to remove material from a workpiece. This is a type of “subtractive manufacturing” process.

With all of the fuss around 3D printing (known in the industry as “additive manufacturing”) these days, I personally don’t think that CNC machining gets enough attention. Although 3D printing is certainly an exciting technology in its own right, it cannot currently compete with CNC machining in terms of cost, supported material types, and range of applications.

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Although the Othermill isn’t quite powerful enough to start cranking out unibody aluminium laptop cases like its larger and more industrially oriented siblings, it can be used to make a wide variety of crafts and prototypes from most machinable materials — as long as the raw stock is small enough to fit into the Othermill’s 14 × 11.4 × 3.2 cm work envelope.

I mostly use my desktop mill to prototype circuit boards (using endmills as small as 0.01”). Other users have been using their Othermills to create printmaking stamps, metal jewelry, small mechanical parts (like gears and device enclosures), and even chocolate molds. One guy even made a Bluetooth-enabled ice fishing rig.

It was a great time hearing Danielle share her thoughts on what it’s like to run a machine tool startup, interesting projects that her users have made, and empowerment through desktop manufacturing — we hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we did recording it. We’re looking forward to hearing more from her at Solid 2015, where she will be giving a talk detailing the story of the Othermill’s manufacture, starting with the recycling of consumer plastics and ending with finished mills happily machining away on the desks of users.

Also, don’t forget to tune in again next week to hear the second part of our conversation with Dennis Wingo (part one is here), in which he regales us with the story of how he and his team were able to use the world’s largest radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory to wake up a 30-year-old research satellite.

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