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Review: iModela 3-Axis CNC Router/Mill

Looking for a small computer-controlled router/mill? This one won't break the bank but has quite a wide range of uses, from cutting 3D objects out of soft materials through to engraving metal and making PCBs - not just the tracks but the holes as well.

By Nicholas Vinen

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control and is a category that includes 3D printers, routers, mills, laser cutters and other similar devices.

The Roland iModela is a new product in their Modela range. It’s smaller and more affordable than commercial CNC mills so will appeal to hobbyists, especially model makers. We think it also has uses in the world of electronics, such as making PCBs.

The first thing we noticed upon receiving the demo unit is how small it is – just 214 x 200 x 205mm.

That’s tiny compared to most other CNC mills and that means it’s portable, occupies little bench space and is easy to work on. The whole thing folds apart in seconds, giving you access to the milling bed, tool spindle and spindle motor. It’s just as quick to pack up for storage.

The small size means the bed (or workspace) is also quite small at 86 x 55 x 26mm – so the largest object you can mill is slightly less than this.

Having done some tests, we can tell you that with the right cutting tool and a bit of patience, you can use the iModela to make PCBs, even those with relatively fine tracks (down to about 10 thou or 0.25mm wide); although having wider tracks makes the process easier.

As well as cutting PCB tracks and drilling holes for component leads, you can also use the iModela to mill the edges of the PCB, in order to cut it to a particular shape. This involves cutting a lot more material though, so you would probably need to use multiple passes to get a good result, removing the material around the PCB edges in layers.

Of course you can also use the iModela for its intended purpose which is to cut 3D objects out of solid plastic, wood and so on. The blank piece, to be cut or engraved, is taped or otherwise attached to the flat bed on the base of the machine.


Click for larger image

The iModela consists of three basic parts: the milling bed, which moves in the Y-axis (forward/back); the spindle, which moves in the X- and Z-axes (left/right and up/down) and houses the spindle motor and cutting tool holder; and the electronic module which controls all four motors and communicates with the host PC.

These are all housed in a plastic case, which also contains the swarf and dust generated while cutting.

The tool holder accepts 2.35mm (3/32”) shaft tools only. While they are not the most common size bits, they are commonly used for hand-held engraving machines and for dentistry.

There is quite a range of milling bits available – we were able to find and purchase suitable milling and drill bits made from tungsten vanadium, tungsten carbide and high speed steel without too much trouble.

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