An Interview with the Makers of MakerArm

October 25, 2015 by Jennifer A. Diffley

The MakerArm is an astonishingly powerful desktop digital fabrication system with interchangeable toolheads that enable it to do everything from address envelopes to print 3D landscapes.

The MakerArm is one tool to rule them all.

Not familiar with the MakerArm? That's because it's not out yet. Though the company is still raising funds on Kickstarter to release its digital fabrication system, the potential for the small yet powerful machine could directly impact the way makers create everything from PCBs to custom designs. We talked more with Zaib Husain to learn more about his invention. 

The MakerArm does an astonishingly ridiculous amount of stuff, from creating PCBs to decorating cakes. How exactly is that possible?

Makerarm features interchangeable toolheads that allow it to change functionality based on need. Yes, it can create PCBs from scratch by carving out tracks on a blank board, applying solderpaste, picking and placing components and even soldering! If you switch out the toolhead, you can change to a completely different function such as 3D printing, CNC milling, laser engraving and more. Yes, we have even decorated a cake with Makerarm! 

It costs about $1k for a MakerArm machine. How did you go about keeping costs down?

We have an ongoing Kickstarter campaign that has raised over $200,000 in two weeks with the support of 190 backers! Early bird rewards on Kickstarter started at $999 and were taken up very quickly! With Makerarm we set out to design a low-cost, multi-use fabricator that will allow users to work on a wide variety of projects. Keeping costs low was essential, but we didn't want to compromise on design or functionality. We are working with Dragon Innovation in Shenzhen, China, and have gone through a rigorous product review process to ensure that our design is compact, cost effective and uses quality components. We are able to keep costs low since Makerarm base units can work with a wide variety of toolheads: in essence one Makerarm can work as many different machines and tools without the expense of purchasing a new product per functionality!

Your promo video mentions others being able to design their own attachments. How does this work?

We offer a Hardware Development Toolkit that includes custom toolhead parts and accessories. A tutorial takes makers through the steps necessary to design toolheads and includes schematics and a guide to the electronics interface. Access to the developer API, is also included. There are uses for Makerarm that we haven't even thought of yet and we're excited to see what our community of makers will create with it!

Our electrical engineers would love to design their own PCBs at home. Explain how the MakerArm matches up to other print-at-home PCB machines.

Makerarm allows you to mill double sided circuit boards with track widths up to 8 mils. It also allows drilling vias, holes and cutting out entire boards. Everything ranging from making PCBs to applying solderpaste, assembling surface mount components to actually soldering through hole parts can be done with Makerarm in a seamless manner with the use of interchangeable heads. 

The MakerArm 3D printing a cityscape.

Could you explain a little more about is a cross device, browser based 3D UI that allows you to control your Makerarm in 3D and import your projects within the workspace for an intuitive making experience. It also allows you to interface with your own scripts and third party apps and software for custom applications. This is currently under development and will ship free with Makerarm. 

Why should electrical engineers be excited about your invention?

With Makerarm, it's possible to have an entire makerspace on your desktop at a very accessible price point. Engineers do not need to purchase a new machine for each functionality they plan to use and will be able to work on their project from start to finish with just one compact, capable machine. Makerarm will help shorten development/prototyping time for engineers and more people will be able to bring their creations to life without breaking the bank. 

What toolheads would you like to see in the future?

We've been getting all sorts of requests for really interesting applications ranging from embroidery, powder coating/spray painting to bio-printing and medical testing. We're working on a number of new tool heads  and add-ons ourselves including a high power laser, a 5th axis head, a mobile base and rails that will really expand Makerarm's functionality. We're really excited to see what the community will come up with and can't wait to ship Makerarm out to all our wonderful backers!

So basically, the MakerArm is a wizard that can do everything from calligraphy to 3D printing. At a little over $1k, it's not as cheap as an Arduino board, but it's so useful that it's guaranteed to save money over the number of machines it would take to produce similar functionality.