For about 10 years now I have wanted to build some small CNC based shop tools for my workshop (a.k.a. "The Lab"), but haven't had the time. I have built my own Thermoformers in the past that needed my wife's oven to heat the plastic for forming. Melting plastic in the oven used to cook food was not a popular setup in my house as you can imagine. Unfortunately, I loaned those early oven dependant thermoformers out to folks who didn't return them, so I need to build a new one. I decided to build a CNC Thermoformer this go around. There is absolutely no reason for me to make a Thermoformer CNC except I thought it would be fun and easy first project to play around with before getting into more complex devices. 

The big difference now is that I have a 3D printer of my own that I bought back this Winter to tinker around with. Given that I want to make several CNC tools for my shop for dirt cheap, I thought it would be a good idea to use the Thermoformer project as an excuse to make a 3D printable, rapid prototyping kit that I could reuse on all of the future CNC builds. Things like Makerbeam, Open beam or standard 80/20 systems are expensive and have to be ordered online. This kit uses parts easily found at local big box home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes, so you can print connectors while you run around the corner to by screws and tubing. This means stock aluminum tubing and standard U.S. screw sizes that are carried in every store location. For the moment, the kit is based on standard 3/4" aluminum tubing and #6 1/2" screws available at every Home Depot and Lowes store location. I plan on making some components for the kit to fit EMT (Electrical Metal Tubing) that is typically used for indoor electrical conduit when wiring homes of commercial projects. EMT is super cheap - around $3.50 for a 3/4" 10' long piece of conduit instead of $14 for a 4' long piece of 3/4" Aluminum tubing. But since I have a lot of scrap aluminum tubing in my lab for the moment, I am starting with that.

It is a work in progress. I have been tweaking and reprinting parts this week to make each piece strong, but designed for fast printing. I have a basic set of building blocks and am working on more complex components like hinges and latches now. Once it is finished, I will upload the files here and on Thingiverse for others designers and makers to use and improve upon. Below are some screen caps of a few of the components from their CAD models. All of my printing is done on a Lulzbot Taz 5, which is just a work horse of a 3D printer.

 NEMA 17 motor mount for 3/4" Aluminum tubing from Home Depot.

NEMA 17 motor mount for 3/4" Aluminum tubing from Home Depot.

 Belt idlers for 3/4" Aluminum tubing from Home Depot.

Belt idlers for 3/4" Aluminum tubing from Home Depot.

 Batch printing different types of universal connectors for 3/4" Aluminum tubing.

Batch printing different types of universal connectors for 3/4" Aluminum tubing.