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For hardcore makers, an at-home CNC plasma cutter

Hardware development is coming home.

Industrial processes are becoming more and more accessible to hobbyists and engineering renegades, those unaffiliated with research institutions or patent-churning corporations.

Case in point, as of this week you can buy an automated plasma cutter for your garage for less than a grand.

Computer Numerical Control cutters--more commonly called CNC machines--are a staple in parts manufacturing.

A torch is a useful tool for cutting metal, but making precision cuts by hand is impossible. CNC systems carry a plasma torch over a table based on programed X-Y axis coordinates.

The new at-home plasma machine, the CrossFire, is the brainchild of brothers Mike and Danny Downs. Their father was a classic car builder, which inspired a lifelong affinity for DIY shop culture.

During a late night conversation, according to the company, the brothers were talking about CNC plasma cutting and the distinct absence of a machine for the home builder. Soon after, Langmuir Systems, the company responsible for the CrossFire, was born.

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As an example of what a plasma cutter can do, this aluminum skateboard deck was cut from a 3/8-inch sheet of aluminum.

It's hard to predict the impact a metal-cutting machine that costs $995 will have. But taken in concert with additive manufacturing tools like 3D printers, the potential is there to open up hardware development, until recently a notoriously cost-intensive process, to the masses.

When the weekend furniture builder becomes a hobbyist robot designer, innovation is likely to abound.

That's not such a far-fetched idea with the concurrent trends of falling sensor prices and open-source development in robotics.

The proliferation of hardware projects on crowdfunding sites is just one indication that we're now in the age of democratized hardware development.