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 d.school. 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.
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.
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