The ShopBot is a low-cost CNC, or computer controlled router. Think of it as a large-scale milling machine. It is great for small-scale production runs of machine parts in wood or metal. A friend of mine used his ShopBot to cut the gears and mechanism (other than the chime) for a full-scale replica of a grandfather's Clock. ShopBots (and their kin) can also fabricate extremely detailed 3D contour maps (whole cities!), and other intricate 3D surfaces.

We have one at the design school I teach at. It can cut anything programmable like the hull plates for a full scale sailboat. On a big boat, each plate of the hull is different shape, but the ShopBot just follows its orders and spits them out ready to install. It is very accurate. Hey, you can even equip it with a pen or the like, which permits very intricate drawings. The cheapest Shopbot is the small Shop Bot Desktop for $5,000. They are getting cheaper every year, but if you only need one occasionally, you can buy time on one at shared workshops like Techshop.

-- J. Baldwin

I work at Stanford's design school -- called the We designed and made much of the furniture we used in our new building space in Google's Sketchup and machined the material using a 4' x 8' ShopBot owned and operated by Rob Bell. The process was very fast, and relatively cheap. ShopBot + Sketchup allowed us to do many cycles of design/build/test, which ultimately yielded some very refined artifacts. dSchool2.jpeg

I have also used a Shop Bot while working with a podiatrist who practices as a foot surgeon. The folks in his practice spent a lot of time hand-crafting custom orthotics and insoles, which was very inefficient. Because of my experience at Stanford I realized that the high spindle speed of a wood router could effectively cut the medical grade foam he used in his orthotics. I modeled insoles in CAD (using Solidworks) and we purchased a 4'x8' ShopBot PRS Alpha to cut 20-30 pairs of insoles out of 4'x8' foam sheets. We eventually upgraded to a much smaller benchtop ShopBot and installed it in his practice. We reduced machining time to about 15 minutes.

ShopBot has a very strong user community and were always very responsive with tech support. The price of this computer controlled milling machine and modeling software is best of all. It would have been previously inaccessible to a private practice physician even a few years earlier.

--Dave Braggeroer

ShopBot Desktop
Available from and manufactured by ShopBot Tools

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  1.  You can get plans, kits, or fully built CNC machines.  I think their largest is comparable to shopbots smallest (about 24″ x 14″ maybe vs 24″ x 18″) and is about $1000 bucks built (way less if you diy) vs $5k.

  2. ShopBot is a great outfit. They were one of the Silver Sponsors of our “Manufacturing Makes It Real” tour in 2010 (we visited a lot of North Carolina manufacturers and even got a write-up in Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment).

    Great to see ShopBot get some recognition!

    Gray Rinehart

    1.  You will find a specific use. I convinced my boss to spring for a full-on 48″x96″ model (in lieu of yet another laser engraver), and I can’t stop playing with the damned thing.

  3. The capabilities of this type of machine are incredible and it is fantastic that they are becoming widely accessible. As has been pointed out above, there are many other brands of low-cost CNC routers on the market, as well as plans for DIY versions.

  4. I don’t know if I’d call a shopbot “low cost.” They are wonderful machines but not cheap. Two of the members of my hackerspace, Ace Monster Toys, have them for production work for their businesses and get great results. AMT wound up getting a donation deal for $1,000 on a 1993 table sized CNC that does 80% to 90% of what a shopbot does and are very happy now.

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