I will be soon starting a new laboratory to study molecular neurobiology. It is my hope to run my laboratory as much as possible in an alignment with free and open source principles. During my earlier training, I often had to build new equipment and components to carry out my experiments. Through that process, I had put together a rudimentary hacker space, for example, fashioning a basic but reasonably functional mill by bolting a cross-vise to a dremel drill press. Now that I have some disposable income, I want to create a hackerspace/machineshop that my students and myself can use to rapidly prototype and build components and equipment to both do our experiments and hopefully replace more expensive brand-name items. There are three key pieces of equipment that I'm interested in purchasing, 1) a laser cutter, 2) a (hand) benchtop mill and/or a 3D CNC machining platform and a 3) a 3-D printer. While it appreciate many of these pieces of equipment can be built from scratch, I need to get to work as quickly as possible and therefore prefer to use out-of-the-box solutions so that I can concentrate on building the components that I need for my research and get grants to sustain myself. I expect to work with a variety of plastics, including acrylic as well as wood and softer metals such aluminum and copper for machining. I would hope to eventually print in something beyond ABS and PLA, but I am not sure where things stand and I am also interested in lithography.
My paramount concern is reliability followed by ease-of-use. Generally, I want to buy equipment that is reasonably easy for someone to learn to use (for example an undergraduate student) and has an intuitive user interface. I want equipment that offers a high level of precision and that's easy to calibrate and maintain while being durable enough to last several years.
So I'm asking for any information or suggestions, preferably based on experience, towards making a decision on the 3 types of machines above as well as any other ideas for setting up a productive and easy to use hacker space for students and postdocs in my lab. What are reliable brands? What aspects of each machine should I consider (i.e. laser power, air assist, water cooling, build height etc…) My budget is about 15-20k for all three machines and misc tools.
Thanks for all your help.