A Case Study: Ryan Patterson’s MyHue.
The potential for individuals to create, design and manufacture products themselves continues to be realized every day all around the country. With the affordability of robust digital fabrication tools such as the ShopBot Desktop, running a micro-factory out of handy space is not a dream, but reality. We thought we’d share one example, Ryan Patterson’s MyHue product, and provide an overview of its production. Ryan is ShopBot’s Head of Production Support.
Ryan explained, “The MyHue is a unique visual notification system that displays colors when you receive a text, e-mail or other notification on your phone.”
“The idea for MyHue originated from my work environment,” Ryan said. “Our office is primarily one room with a large number of employees sharing the space. As the number of employees using smart phones increased, the number of audio notifications has grown tremendously. We all constantly hear everyone’s beeps, music, engines racing, and other notification sounds as the endless texts, emails, weather alerts, and alarms come in throughout the day.”
“I thought it would be much better to have a visual display on my desk and not need the audio. I knew my coworkers would be much happier as well. Using MyHue, each time I receive a notification, MyHue displays a color preselected for that particular notification. With my settings, blue means I have a text, red is a new e mail and white is a phone call.”
Here’s a video of MyHue in action:
“I realized MyHue would be great in many other environments,” continued Ryan. “My wife works in a very quiet office where the sound of an incoming text is a distraction to others. She also spends a lot of time with customers on the phone. She does not want customers to hear her cell phone notifications being heard in the background. MyHue sits on her desk and she instantly knows she has a notification without disturbing anyone. The same goes for a noisy environment. When I am in my wood working shop, I cannot hear an incoming text or call, but MyHue lets me know I have one.”
“I took the idea a step further and created multiple MyHues. This works great when I am at home. If my phone is in the bedroom, I will receive a notification when I am in the living room, kitchen or back patio – anywhere I have a MyHue.”
Steps in Prototyping and Production.
Producing a MyHue consists of three basic steps: cutting the acrylic lens, the wooden base which holds the lighting and lens, and cutting the electronic circuit board.
The MyHue is available in two sizes with several lens designs to select from, and allows for customization with up to 15 characters (you can add your company name, your name, initials, etc.)
Ryan uses the ShopBot Desktop to cut the profile of his lenses, as well as to engrave the designs into the acrylic. He created a vacuum hold-down fixture of HDPE (using the Desktop) to accommodate cutting the acrylic.
Cutting the wooden bases for MyHue is a two-sided machining job. To ensure the exact line-up of the cuts, Ryan created a vacuum fixture. “The first cut into the wood is to make a pocket for the electronics and also the overall profile of the base,” explained Ryan.
Then he flips over the piece of wood, to make the second cut of the profile contour and also the pocket which holds the acrylic lens.
Finally the circuit board needs to be cut, and this is also a 2-sided machining job. To ensure exact placement of the copper pieces, Ryan created a fixture of HDPE with 2 pockets, to hold in place two circuit boards. The first pass with the ShopBot cuts the front side of one circuit board and the back side of the other; then you remove the copper pieces, flip them over and repeat the process.
“One of the challenges with such a small piece of copper is keeping the material exactly in place,” noted Ryan. “The trick was to create tabs around the material small enough to be able to snap out the pieces, yet also large enough to hold the copper down while working.”
Once the circuit boards are cut, he does the soldering and prepares the electronics, and then does the final assembly of the base and lens. Voila! MyHue — ready to ship.
Are you getting ready to prototype and/or produce a new product? ShopBot Tools offers production support services to help you configure the proper workflow for you. Just give us a call and ask for Ryan.
In 2003, the director of technical education at the Clark County School System in Las Vegas, NV took a big step: CNC (computer numerically controlled) equipment was introduced into the woodworking programs at most of the middle schools and high schools in the district. It was a bold step, one taken to introduce technology (computers) into what was seen as a vocational arena (woodworking). Included in the purchase of the initial group of ShopBots (funded in part with Perkins grants) were several days of training for the teachers who would be using and teaching with the new equipment. As with any new program that is introduced from the top down, some of the woodworking instructors saw the new technology as a gift with which to inspire and motivate their students. Others saw it as an expensive new storage table.
An article in the April/May 2010 issue of American Woodworker followed up on the some of the Clark County School’s shops using ShopBot CNC machines 8 years after implementation. The focus of the article was on woodworking, but a quote from one of the students points out that CNC technology has a bigger impact than making a bookshelf, “Wow, that X, Y, Z axis stuff really does have an application. I get it now.” One teacher encourages his experienced students to work outside the classroom to create projects that benefit the school or community. In one example, several students used CAD/CAM software and their ShopBot to create donation collection boxes for a Relay for Life event.
Design Thinking, problem-based learning (PBL), and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education are all about recognizing a need (stating a problem), creating a solution, prototyping, testing, redesigning, making use of life skills that include working in groups, and documenting the work. At ShopBot, we see that some teachers who started in woodworking are taking the initiative to use CNC equipment to expand the capabilities of their students into what could be categorized as STEM fields. To quote Matt McGuire from Elwood Middle School in NY “I have already started pulling the program from the traditional “shop” class by incorporating basic electronics, renewable energies, hydroponics, and flight. I was able to talk with the head of the district’s technology about getting approximately 10 computers into my room and the many different paths we could go with it, from this digital fabrication to robotics, and he seemed very interested in supporting this idea.” Matt applied for, and received, a grant from Toshiba to purchase his ShopBot CNC.
Educators using one of the organized programs that starts with a STEM curriculum such as Project Lead the Way may use CNC equipment to make real the projects rendered on screen using the 3D engineering software, Inventor. Competitions related to robotics such as First Robotics can also utilize CNC to manufacture parts for robots, or even to machine circuit boards. Students participating in SkillsUSA may be more competitive using CNC technology.
While important, the nature of these programs limits the number of people who can take part to a select few. The philosophy of the FabLab network is to make available to all people the tools and technology to make what is relevant to their interests and environment. In a presentation at the FabLearn conference in 2012, Paulo Blikstein suggested that the simple act of making can do wonders for students self-efficacy, even if the projects don’t seem to be geared towards engineering and science. With Project-Based Learning, many underlying concepts, skills, and processes are introduced in the context of an entire project rather than as separate subjects which then might be integrated and applied. When folks are working on a project that is of interest/relevance to them, the knowledge that they are acquiring has a framework to fit into, and students are willing to work harder when they can see the purpose of their studies.
Over the course of several blogs, I intend to focus on areas of interest that use CNC equipment as one of the tools in their digital fabrication toolboxes. Many will be related to STEM topics, and some more related to art. Today, let’s talk food production and sustainability. A type of agriculture, termed “permaculture” by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s, is based on three fundamental values — care for the Earth, care for people, and return of surplus. It’s farming that works with nature, with the intentions of eliminating waste and decreasing the amount of external additives like pesticides and herbicides. It’s also a model for thinking about systems. In an interview in November, 2013, Blair Evans of Incite Focus FabLab describes how creating an urban garden in Detroit can lead to bigger things. “Permaculture,” Blair says, “is based in systems thinking. But it’s hard to understand systems in general unless you understand one system well that you can abstract from. Unfortunately, in communities that are disenfranchised or under-resourced, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to get experience with well-functioning systems. Everybody can get some tomato plants and some worms and some soil, though, and have an extraordinarily complex system to work with and then scale up from.” While digital fabrication tools may not seem to mesh with creating a garden, Blair believes that, with their help, people are capable of producing most of the things they need, including shelter and food. One of the projects that the Incite Focus produces with its ShopBot CNC is a shelter/green house based on the Shelter 2.0 design of Robert Bridges and Bill Young.
Part of the system includes the insects that pollinate our plants. In recent years, the population of bees has been under stress. At least two FabLabs are engaged working to help the bees. The green FabLab Valldaura, above Barcelona, is manufacturing smart hives to monitor the health of bees. Watch the video to see how the big parts are cut with a ShopBot for the precise fit and ease of assembly, other parts are laser-etched, and electronics/sensors are included to monitor the temperature and activity of the hives. Another fun and informative video is available from Open Source Beehives. It is a project that includes CAD/CAM design, good woodworking and finishing skills for making the hives, a knowledge of nature to account for the health and happiness of the bees, and videography and stop action techniques to create the video.
Another side of sustainability is to re-use and re-purpose what was considered waste. Not everyone can afford to put in place a recycling center like that found at Charlotte-Douglas airport, which includes a large worm farm to turn food waste into compost. But at the Maker Faire in Paris in 2014, I saw an example of a personal composting station which included a space for growing herbs or flowers at the top. Kitchen waste goes into the top drawer, and the material drops down through screens with finer and finer mesh as it composts. Fab Lab Wgtn at Massey University, New Zealand recognized that CNC manufacturing itself creates a large amount of sawdust as waste. Wendy Neale and Jason Mitchell reported at the Fab10 conference in Barcelona (2014) that they composted food waste and other biodegradables from around campus with clean wood dust from their ShopBot in tumbling worm farms composting bins. It took a commitment from the community of ShopBot users to keep separate the clean wood that went into the central dust collection system, and the other materials that were vacuumed up separately. After an analysis of the compost, it was deemed free of heavy metals and toxins, and safe for use in the gardens. When you consider that their partner, the Kuratini Marae cultural center, produces about a ton of food waste each year, and the ShopBot produces 500- 800 kilos of wood dust, composting the food waste, garden waste, and sawdust removes a significant burden on the land fill, as well as reducing the need to purchase compost for the University gardens.
To return to Clark County, Nevada, let’s take a look at the areas in their CTE (Career and Technical Education) brochures that could benefit from the use of CNC equipment. I will further explore some of those areas in future blogs. And we haven’t even begun to explore the world of art.
Furniture and Cabinet making Agriculture, Food, Natural Resources Theater Design Technology Mechanical Drafting & Design Renewable Energy Technology PLTW engineering design, 3D design
Teacher Mike Annetts
For almost 20 years Mike Annetts has been an Industrial Arts teacher in Manitoba, Canada, for students from grade 7 through 12, and he has been running a ShopBot tool in his classroom for over a decade. When we reached out to him to see if he’d like to talk about his and his students’ experiences with CNC, Mike was enthusiastic to say the least.
“I would just like to thank Shopbot for making such a great machine!” said Mike. “I truly believe that it is a product that does what it says and the support we have gotten is amazing.
It was over 15 years ago that Mike was first able to bring a CNC tool into his school. After a disappointing experience with it, he studied other solutions, including spending a lot of time researching ShopBot Tools by reading the ShopBot user forum. “This research, as well as the company’s reputation for support” convinced Mike that the ShopBot was going to be a better fit for his classroom. He secured funding from his school board and purchased a 4 X 8 gantry tool, and has since upgraded the tool to running with a spindle.
I caught up with Mike by phone recently.
MB: How do students react when first being introduced to CNC?
Student with her small folding table project. Mike has blurred faces to protect students’ privacy.
MA: They think that it is very cool. The first CNC project we do is a folding table, and they get to use the Shopbot to carve a graphic design onto the tabletop. Our students are rural students in a mainly farming area so they do not have much of a chance to see any real manufacturing of products. They love being able to choose a design from the internet to use as a starting point, or even draw their own on paper. We then take a photo of the picture, convert it to a vector image, and then cut it into their table top.
“Going from drawing a design to actually making the physical object is really powerful!”
MB: How does your work differ with different age students?
MA: The grade seven and eight students just touch on the software (Mastercam) and I have a template made up which they follow so the learning curve for them is easy. As we go up into higher grades the students struggle with the software part of the design. They have to design their own projects —no blue prints — and draw them in 3D using Mastercam, and then draw out the layout on virtual plywood and assign tools and tool paths etc. Finally, they cut them out and assemble the projects. They do all of the tool paths, verification, bit selection, etc. Together we post them and check for errors before the file part is actually run.
“With the 7th and 8th graders, I’ve found that making projects reinforces their understanding of basic math. Working with the 9th graders and above, I start to introduce engineering principles — and as we make more and more complicated items it really inspires them.”
MB: Can you describe some of the projects?
MA: Sure. Some of the projects we have done in the past have been anything from simple signage, cabinetry, some 3D items such as making stepping stone molds, fish hook molds out of aluminum, basically anything we can think of. I hope to get into the 3d stuff more which would include making molds for Jell-O, chocolate etc. We have a vacuum forming machine so we would make the mold from wood and then vacuum-form the actual Jell-O mold around it.
Testing the shape for guitar design with the ShopBot
Student shows off finished guitar
MA: Another project, which I am trying to develop further, is making a “Rube Goldberg” puzzle where the students have to construct stuff on the Shopbot to make some sort of goofy apparatus. An example would be putting a candle out by starting with the snap of a mousetrap, which would trigger another action. This would continue for numerous steps until the candle is extinguished. We have done marble machines in the past using the Shopbot to cut the gears, pulleys, etc. These machines continually rotate marbles through different mechanisms and are an awesome project for developing problem-solving skills.
Mike continued, “I like to develop projects which force the students to think rather than just giving them something where they have to follow the measurements or someone else’s design. Students nowadays do not have many chances or situations where they have to think things through from start to finish. In a world of instant gratification, this is rare.”
A few more samples of the impressive work these students are making:
Bam! Pow! Zowee! “Holy Industrial Arts class, Batman!”
MB: How has your experience with the ShopBot been?
MA: We first purchased the Shopbot approximately 15 years ago and it was definitely the best decision we ever made. With the machine, we have opened up a complete new spectrum of opportunity for student projects. We have used it as a cutting tool as well as a marking tool for laying out sheet metal designs. In addition, I teach basic electronics and we have used it to cut out circuit boards when needed. I have had discussions with past home economics teachers about even utilizing it for laying out full size-clothing patterns that the students could use in designing and manufacturing personal clothing. The possibilities of the Shopbot are only limited by the imagination.
MA: The machine’s operation has been practically flawless. Over the years, we have upgraded to a spindle, which we found necessary to reduce the noise level in the shop, and we upgraded the internal board to decrease cutting times. We occasionally lubricate the gears and that is about the only maintenance we do. I constantly use the Shopbot forum and the expertise of other owners to help me develop new ideas, and techniques. When we purchased the machine, I had zero knowledge of the CNC process and reading the forum greatly made it easier for me to get into it.
MB: As I am the only Industrial Arts teacher here in McCreary it gets crazy working with the students as there are many of them and only one of me! Usually there are one or two students who seem to catch onto the process faster than others and I try to use them as a resource to help their struggling classmates. Each of our students designs a different project so there are very many individualized questions to answer; so these advanced students are greatly appreciated!
MB: At first when we purchased the Shopbot, we treated it like a “stand alone” piece of equipment with specific functions. Now it is regarded as just like another piece of equipment in the shop to get the job done with and that is my intention. It is so involved in industry that using CNC equipment should be a standard skill coming out of high school shop programs, just like using a table saw, or any other tool. Students now see it as an opportunity to make even “cooler” projects and they do!
MB: What software programs do you use?
MA: The programs, which we use with the Shopbot, are Mastercam and Vector Magic. Mastercam is a great program, which allows us to do the cabinetmaking, sign making, 3D work, etc. all within one program. It outputs the Shopbot code directly and allows us to use multiple tools in one posting which is nice. Vector Magic is a fantastic program for allowing the students to download a piece of line art and convert it to vectors. It is amazingly simple to use and I would recommend it to any teacher using CNC. It took me 15 years of trying others but is for us by far the best we have used up to date.
MB: Do your students use the ShopBot to make products for fundraising?
Student shows off Monopoly game and table she worked on
MA: Yes, absolutely. In the past, we have used the Shopbot to mass produce items to sell at fundraisers. Our last project was a board game which sold really well. After the shop deducted our expenses, each student took home their share of the profits to spend as they please.
The grade nine students worked together with me to research our small town customers in regards to age, gender, finances, etc., and then came up with some product ideas. After quite a bit of discussion, we chose to design and sell a game board similar to a “Sorry or Aggravation” type of game.
MA: The students and I then designed the game and started up an assembly line with the Shopbot doing the cutting and the students the finish work. We placed the product in some local businesses and sold some at the school Christmas concert. They all sold and it was a great entrepreneurial learning experience for the students, and was that much more successful because we had the Shopbot to utilize.
Students used their software and ShopBot to design, carve and inlay a Monopoly board game
MA: Overall and to sum it all up here, I can say that having the Shopbot was a huge boost to our program. It does make teaching the class much more challenging but the rewards are much greater. The students are actually designing their projects and putting a great deal of thought into them, which to me is what we want as teachers. The parents are amazed at the quality of projects going home and to be honest so am I sometimes.
I rarely get students here who have ever really “built” something. However, by the end of the program they are taking stuff home that will be passed down through the generations. They are immensely proud of their accomplishments as well as they should be. They work hard, make mistakes, re-do it and in the end they have something to show off — something that “they” did and it wasn’t the instant gratification that is so relevant in kids’ lives today.
MA: They gain confidence in themselves and that confidence spreads to other areas of their lives. Frequently those kids who do not get higher marks in other classes are the ones who excel with the CNC aspect of the program including the Shopbot. They find it interesting so they work harder at it and then they become the “go-to” students for the other students in the class who may be having difficulty in the shop. These students help out with the Shopbot operation and you can see their confidence grow every day.
You can learn more about full size ShopBot Tools here. And visit ShopBot’s education page for more information about integrating digital fabrication technology into your classroom.
That’s Ben Harris on the right, grabbing a selfie with Bill Nye “The Science Guy” at the first ever White House Maker Faire, Spring 2014
Bennett Harris (who goes by Ben) is probably best described as a Renaissance man of education. He tinkers, he designs, he builds, he teaches, he’s a tireless evangelist for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education and its cousin STEAM (add the A for Arts, since it’s all linked), and he puts it all together with his Reinventing Science kits that help capture the imagination and interest of young people in the principles of science. He builds these kits together with the help of a ShopBot Desktop tool.
We caught up with Ben recently to see what he’s been up to — it turns out to be a lot (as usual!)
The successful Kickstarter for “Reinventing Science.”
The most recent great news is that Ben has achieved a successful Kickstarter campaign in support of expanding his manufacture and marketing of Harris Educational’s “Reinventing Science” kits. Ben said, “You may be old enough to remember, that in the 1950’s and 1960’s companies like A.C. Gilbert and REMCO made educational science kits that were sold as popular toys. Kids were excited about the Space Race, parents were supportive of their kids learning new high tech and high science concepts, and schools were racing to be competitive in the fields we now call STEM.”
“Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost that hands-on spirit and as kids became more interested in computer and video games the science kits started to dry up,” Ben explained. “At the same time schools started to do less hands-on science and hands-on projects. ”
“There are science kits available today for school use, and some on big box store shelves, but I’ve found that too many of them seem to be low dollar, low quality throw away items with few (if any) instructions. The majority of them aren’t made in the USA either. I want to change all of that and bring back quality, durable, educational STEM kits for both home use and for schools. At the same time I want to convince parents, kids, and those investing in our future through education that STEM is important and worthy of investment!”
Sounds like a great cause. Here’s the video from the Kickstarter effort:
“Reinventing Electromagnetism” (see picture below) is Harris Educational’s newest STEM kit. It includes everything (other than a battery) necessary to build a working single-loop simple DC motor and multi-turn compass galvanometer. Includes powerful neodymium magnets. Teaches concepts of magnetism, electromagnetism, electric current.
“Reinventing Edison” (below) is Harris Educational’s first and best selling STEM kit. The kit lets you recreate the steps Edison (and other inventors) took to create the first practical incandescent light bulb. Experimenters use a safety vacuum chamber and hand vacuum pump to work with several included filament materials (including Carbon Pencil Lead, Tungsten, and others). Along the way you learn about voltage and current, air pressure, history, invention, properties of matter, and more.
Commitment to North Carolina education.
One of Ben’s goals with the Kickstarter is to help fund his effort to build a permanent Maker space, with an educational focus, in his hometown of Burlington, NC. A proud graduate of the Technology Education program at NC State, Ben is devoted to bringing inspiring science education to his community. He was the engine behind the first Alamance mini-Maker Faire and continues to be involved in growing this event. He’s now searching for a permanent home for a Maker space where he can build his kits, teach classes, and invite other educators to get involved in offering hands-on learning to young people (and older!).
Ben is involved as a volunteer with the EV Challenge, which was founded in North Carolina back in 1996 and has been a very active program ever since. Ben explained, “The mission of the EV Challenge is to energize high school students about engineering through a real world electric vehicle program.” Students who get involved get the opportunity to build real, full-size plug-in electric vehicles, participate in a yearlong educational program and competition, all the while learning numerous skills including: applied engineering and environmental science, electrical troubleshooting, public speaking, and community service.
The EV Challenge has a great intro video on this page of their website.
Ben has created and produced a product, The EV Challenge Troubleshooting Simulator, that’s now in use as part of the EV Challenge curriculum. Ben said, “The EV Challenge is a high school program where kids take donated gasoline vehicles and convert them into fully electric vehicles. The students then compete in a race event that also includes a troubleshooting challenge.”
“Harris Educational created this trainer so that every school in the competition could afford to have one in their program. It is designed to teach principles of EV circuits, failure modes, and logical and safe troubleshooting skills. It is my hope that the EV Challenge program will grow to include more schools and more student groups from around the country — and also, when we’re able to open a permanent Maker space, we can be helpful to the EV Challenge students at this venue.
EV Challenge participants using the simulator
The EV Challenge website explains that participating in the Challenge course and events ” is often a life-changer for students and has a significant positive impact on their experience of science and engineering. Recent research indicates that:
• 84% of the students become more confident in their ability to learn science.
• 68% of the students become higher performers in their science class.
• 34% of the students are more likely to pursue a career in engineering.
• 30% of the students are more likely to pursue a career in science.
The program is currently serving high schools in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, and Iowa and would like to grow to include a national reach.”
A couple of photos Ben has taken of EV Challenge events…
Students troubleshooting wiring issues on an EV
Making last minute repairs and updates to this STEM Cycle from Dudley High School in Greensboro, NC
All of this commitment led to a very special invitation this past Spring…
White House Maker Faire!
On Wednesday June 18th 2014 President Obama declared a “National Day of Making” and hosted the first ever White House Maker Faire. Ben said, “I was very honored and proud to be invited to the White House as an ‘Honored Maker’ for the work I’m doing with Harris Educational, The Alamance Makers Guild, The Burlington Mini Maker Faire, and my Maker Made STEM kits. Kudos to all of the creative and talented folks who were picked as exhibitors for this event! Very Inspirational Day!
President Obama addresses the Makers
Kudos to Ben for his work! You can learn more about the kits at his website, Harris Educational. And learn about the ShopBot Desktop here.
Winter’s coming and the holiday season is almost upon us. We’re calling all “Handibotters” and “ShopBotters” to participate in our first annual:
How does this season inspire your creativity? We invite you to CNC it and share it! Whatever holiday you may celebrate, share your CNC project with ShopBotters and Handibotters everywhere by helping us decorate our tree at ShopBot World Headquarters in Durham, NC. Have fun with your materials and supplies, and show us how you celebrate this special time of year.
Be creative and have fun! We ask that you make your item using a ShopBot or Handibot as the primary tool – feel free to use other techniques and tools as well.
We’re building a CNC’d tree at ShopBot that we’ll use to display all submissions. With this in mind, your creation should be similar in size to a tree ornament (no larger than 3”–8” on any axis) and weigh less than 1 pound. It must fit in a flat-rate box or envelope for shipping. Your final design can be 2D or 3D, as long as it fits within the rest of the parameters.
Submissions must be received by Dec 15th, 2014.
The tree will be fully decorated by Dec 22nd, 2014 and a photo of the completed tree and the design submissions will be posted to the ShopBot blog and Facebook page. The tree will remain up through New Years 2015.
Please send your item (packed carefully) to:
ShopBot Tools, Inc.
Attn: Holiday Decor Challenge
3333 Industrial Drive
Durham, NC 27704
Please include your name, email, and any information you’d like to share on how you made your piece and any references to resources and materials you used to design and create the submission. Tell us your story, about your inspiration for the project. You and your design could wind up being featured on the ShopBot blog some time in the near future!
THE FINE PRINT (Please Read!)
We encourage you to upload a photo of your submission on the ShopBot Tools Facebook page, but this is not required to take part in the challenge.
By submitting your CNC holiday decor challenge entry, you are authorizing ShopBot to publish your project in upcoming publications and promotional materials, on our websites and in our other e-media, as well as to possibly display it at shows.
We welcome the use of open source or licensed projects, as long as your submission does not include any elements that are protected by copyright without the expressed written permission from the person or institution that holds the copyright.
ShopBot will not be held responsible for loss or damage due to circumstances beyond our control.
Contact Jeanne Taylor at email@example.com with any questions.
Just about any time of day, any day of the week in Balstrop, Louisiana, you’ll find an industrious production facility with 4 ShopBot PRSalpha ATC tools running at full tilt. About 11 years ago, James Brent (Pastor Jim) was called into the ministry and felt compelled to witness to people in need; specifically people who weren’t already involved with the church. “It wasn’t really on purpose that I started all of this…” he explains, “As we started witnessing to drug addicts and wanted to help, we decided early on that a few church services weren’t enough to turn their lives around.” And thus Freedom Challenge Ministries was started.
Freedom Challenge Ministries has had hundreds of graduates of its faith-based, year-long program committed to helping men (and women in its sister program, Morehouse Women’s Challenge) overcome their struggle with life-controlling addictions. Some individuals are court-ordered into the program, but many come on their own. Freedom Challenge Ministries offers a safe, controlled environment — for an extended period of time — with little or no cost to the families, and operates completely on charitable donations.
In the early days, when looking for ways to get the word out about the ministry, as well as fund it, “some of the men decided to make crosses using jigsaws.” Floyd Arnaud, Director of the Men’s Group, explains, “we had collected scrap wood from a local cabinetmaker and about 6 guys cut out crosses one-by-one.” After selling the crosses in local Walmart parking lots for several weekends, and handing out flyers about Freedom Challenge Ministries mission, the popularity of the crosses grew to the point that they quickly exhausted the cabinetmaker’s supply of scrap and had to begin buying material to produce the crosses.
After services one Sunday in August 2009, Pastor Jim had a thought: “Let’s make a football cross, and paint it in the Saints colors!?!” To say football is big in Louisiana would be a huge understatement. The 2009-2010 season for the Saints was one to remember after years and years of disappointing seasons – the first Super Bowl win took the team and the region to new heights and hope. The Saints-painted crosses were a huge hit and essentially launched the need for a more automated and streamlined manufacturing process. Pastor Jim, through the recommendation of a colleague, contacted ShopBot Tools to learn about ShopBot and eventually lead to the purchase of their first machine. Pastor Jim recalls his first conversation with Dianne in sales at ShopBot. “Dianne asked lots of questions about what we were trying to do and gave me information about the tools. She also encouraged us to look at other CNC’s to be able to compare. The fact that ShopBot makes their own tools so they really understand them, have affordable pricing, and that they have excellent tech support made ShopBot our choice.”
These days, Freedom Challenge Ministries has nearly outgrown the 20,000 square foot shop and fabrication facility that allows the men to work onsite together to generate the products that help pay for their living expenses. Creating over 70 different cross styles and sizes is only a portion of the many wood veneer and MDF ornaments, tractors, animal, decorative shaped products they create and sell. Jake, who went through the program himself 7 years ago, has stayed on at FCM and is the main operator and shop coordinator of their CNC machines. Even taking the tools offline for some software updates and tune ups can put them behind on orders that come in daily.
Each weekend teams of men package up crates upon crates of painted, stained and decopauged crosses and other items that are taken across Louisiana and Texas to Walmart store fronts,. Once each month, truckloads of product are taken to the Canton, Texas, flea market where Build-A-Cross has a permanent storefront along with several booths selling everything from their crosses to monograms to grab bags of “filler” containing every imaginable wooden shape. They are also rapidly growing their internet business, which often makes it difficult to keep inventory stocked. Orders come in daily and are regularly produced and shipped the next day.
Outreach is continuing to expand. The demand for their crosses and other products has never been higher. Pastor Jim believes this is just the beginning of their outreach and ministry possibilities locally and beyond.
To learn more about this organization visit:
To see some of the products they make and sell visit:
To learn about full-size ShopBot PRSalpha tools visit:
Designer/Manufacturer Sidney Molepo
Film actresses Jessica Chastain (“The Help,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), Cody Horn (“Magic Mike”), and internationally renowned singer Celine Dion have something in common: their love of Sidney Molepo’s unique shoes and fashion accessories.
Mr. Molepo, who was educated as an architect and furniture designer, in recent years has turned his attention to the smaller, personal items that people can use and interact with every day.
Sidney says, “I create unique handmade fashion accessories. I recognize your individuality and am committed to designing and making products that meet your values and unique personal style. Now you can be red carpet ready with your very own piece of handmade luxury!”
He’s not kidding about the red carpet. Here, actress Cody Horn clutches a Sidney Molepo clutch.
It begins with a pencil sketch
Each clutch features vegetable-tanned leather, hand-died with eco-friendly pigment, and natural or black-stained walnut accents. Each clutch is completed with metal hardware details and magnetic clasp closure. Sidney adds, “With the ShopBot Desktop, I cut the wood pieces and also use a v-grooving bit to engrave my logo on the sides of the clutches.”
Clutch from various angles…
Sidney works out of the studio that he has built in his home in Montreal, and shares his story: “I was born in Ramotswa, Botswana, and raised in Ottawa, Canada. I am the son of a political refugee, and due to Apartheid in my parents’ native South Africa, my family and I immigrated to Canada. As a child, I spent my time drawing, and making toys from found materials.”
“This creativity led me to pursue a degree in architecture,” Sidney continues, “and to discover an interest and talent in designing and making solid wood furniture. This passion led me to New York City where I was fortunate to work with notable furniture and product designers. Among them was designer Dakota Jackson, and it was while interning there that I first became exposed to CNC— a large Thermwood tool. This was an eye-opener for me and I started to dream about being able to own my own digital fabrication equipment to add to my collection of traditional tools.”
While living in Brooklyn, and inspired by the creative culture around him, Sidney became intrigued with the possibilities of how his background as a furniture maker could translate into making unique fashion accessories using wood and leather.
Bag made of leather and ash veneer wood. Sidney had been invited by celebrity stylist Elizabeth Stewart to contribute an original handbag to be auctioned at The Bag Lunch charity event of PS Arts.org, a non-profit dedicated to improving children’s lives through arts education.
Detail of wood, cut and engraved with the ShopBot Desktop
One of the first sketches for the bag
“I first became familiar with ShopBot Tools while living in Brooklyn,” Sidney explains. “I saw an ad in MAKE magazine for the Desktop tool and was intrigued to see the power of CNC being offered in a small package — potentially just right for the work I envisioned. I looked at some competitor tools, but what led me to decide on the ShopBot Desktop aside from its affordable price point, was that I saw that it is a heavier, more robust tool than others, and I like that it functions at 110 volts so it truly can be a small studio-based / home-based tool. I can easily say that I wouldn’t be able to bring my products to life without the ShopBot!”
Using the ShopBot Desktop in shoe design and fabrication.
Sidney explains, “I use the ShopBot in various ways to make my sandals. For instance, one necessary element in making a shoe or sandal is the shoe last. The last is a mechanical form that has a shape similar to that of a human foot — you use the last as a mold around which to create the leather upper portion of the shoe.”
“Shoe lasts are expensive, and so thanks to CAD and digital fabrication with a ShopBot, I can now make my own lasts for use in shaping the leather straps for my sandals” says Sidney.
Creating a digital probe of a shoe last on the ShopBot Desktop
He continues, “I use the digitizing probe to scan the bottom of my existing shoe lasts. I then bring the information into Rhino 3D and I’m then able to design the outsole for my sandal wedges around the exact geometry of the bottom of the last. Once I finalize the design, I then use Cut3D to generate the toolpaths and then I machine the walnut blanks into finished outsoles on the Shopbot. And thanks to the accuracy of the initial probing, the machined walnut outsoles fit perfectly to the bottoms of the existing lasts.”
“In Rhino, I also use the digital info that the Shopbot made of my existing lasts to design the bottom and top halves of the mold for the bent veneer laminations that form the outsoles of my Dumela and Phepa sandals.”
Machining a mold segment for sandal
A completed outsole laminating mold
Carving a footbed prototype
Machining the walnut outsole for the Tlou sandal
Take a look at some of the finished work. This is the “Tlou” sandal.
Two views of the Tlou sandal.
This is “Phepa”
Phepa sandal, two views.
Sidney explains that all of the leathers used in his designs are vegetable-tanned, with no chemicals such as chromium sulfate. He continues, “I design templates for the leather patterns in Rhino and then I create the 2d toolpaths in VCarve Pro, which I then run on the Shopbot. I cut the templates out of 1/4″ birch plywood with an end mill bit. I then manually cut the leather patterns using the templates. I had planned on buying the Donek drag knife, so that I could cut leather directly with the Shopbot…..but I never got around to making that purchase… maybe in the future!”
In addition to using his Desktop to engrave his logo on clutches and show outsoles, Sidney will engrave the lid of the shoe boxes. Here’s the one he made for Jessica Chastain.
Shoe box for Jessica Chastain’s sandals
Molepo has also created Mopedi Body Balm, a hand cream made from beeswax and food safe mineral oil. “I use the ShopBot to machine the birch lid for the bottles. Also, the logo on the lid was printed with a rubber stamp I made on the Desktop, using a v-grooving bit.”
Looking ahead, Molepo is hoping to have his work discovered by more high-end clients, and is working to pitch his unique creations to small retailers.
“That ShopBot has created these tools that are so precise and powerful, and made them affordable to a small business like my own just starting up, is a blessing!” To learn more about Sidney’s work, visit www.sidneymolepo.com. Learn more about the ShopBot Desktop here.
Whether it is woodworking or robotics, one of the challenges of teaching in a public high school is that the bell rings for the next class just as the students/teachers have really settled into their projects. So it was a privilege to have 3 students from Kelvin Hasch’s woodworking program at Greely High School in Cumberland, Maine, work with their ShopBot™ CNC machine for an entire day: 8:45 to 2:15. The contrast became evident when most of the students from the first period class had to leave for the next class just as they were beginning to grasp the possibilities of their ShopBot.
The morning started with explaining how the ShopBot was set up, and having the students give the computer commands to move the cutting head to the next X, Y and Z location (Quote: “How cool is that!”) Using the V Carve Pro™ CAD/CAM software, they designed new files, placed them on the material where they wanted to cut them out, created toolpaths to cut them out how they wanted them, and machined the parts. By the end of the day, the team of students was working independently, only relying on Mr. Hasch or me when they couldn’t come up with the answer themselves. The students represented three classes: Senior, Junior, and Sophomore, so the knowledge they acquired doesn’t have to be lost when a single student graduates. Rather, it can be sustained as the rising students mentor younger students.
If you measure success by smiles and enthusiasm, everyone got an A. If you want to assess tangible outcomes, you can measure math skills, reading technical documents, perhaps writing technical documentation, entrepreneurship. One student said he had missed a quiz in math, but he was going to tell his teacher that he had been doing math all day when running the machine. More global skills such as design thinking, problem solving and working together as a team are not as easy to quantify but can have a huge impact on a student’s future.
The Program: Kelvin Hasch runs a traditional woodworking program, with all of the standard power tools. He runs an afterschool program where kids in traditional classrooms and those with special needs work together to create crafts. They donate the money they earn from selling the crafts to a charity that they have decided is worthy.
The tool: Mr. Hasch’s ShopBot PRT is a “legacy” tool, built in the early 2000’s, and once swamped by a leaking roof. With a bit of tuning, it will be in fine working shape for years to come. Problems with “step down” in the cut parts were fixed by securing the router more firmly to its bracket, and the plate that allows you to automatically Zero the Z was wired into the Control Box. ShopBot has sent a replacement for the cable that had dry-rotten after sitting in a bag for 10 years. The Porter Cable™ router will be replaced with a more powerful and precise spindle (already purchased.) While the CAD/CAM (Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Machining) software has been updated, upgrading to Aspire™ could allow the kids to design in 3D, or take models designed for 3D printing and machine them on the ShopBot.
The Future: Mr. Hasch’s operating budget has been decreased over the years, so he relies on donations of wood and other materials to provide supplies for his students. He often does in-kind exchanges to supplement the program. For example, the maintenance crew from the town of Cumberland visited while we were working, and came away with a whole host of ideas of how they could make use of the ShopBot in their work. The gym recently replaced its bleachers, and Mr. Hasch and his students are planning on creating products from the wood recycled from the old bleachers to sell and purchase a laser cutter for the program. With a bit of communication, students interested in robotics and engineering (STEM), and those interested in art, will learn that they have an incredible digital fabrication resource hanging out in the wood shop.
Gustavo Bonet, architect and designer. He helped out at the ShopBot booth at this year’s Maker Faire NYC
Gustavo Bonet is a traditionally trained architect who started making furniture in Florida before moving to NYC to get his Masters in Architecture from Columbia University. Gustavo says, “During my time at Columbia, I developed an interest and skill set in digital fabrication and parametric workflows. That drive came as a result of needing and wanting to understand how 3D digital designs are made.”
“It started with an elective course in casting plaster, where I began to dive into digital fabrication. The desire to design for digital fabrication has since then driven the direction of my professional career as an architect here in New York.”
I spoke with Gustavo recently to learn more about his work. (You can see a lot of it at his Instagram site.)
Gustavo says, “The best way to describe the work I do with my studio is, we are the ‘fixers.’ We serve our clients (architects, interior designers, artist, private clients) with tangible design solutions for executing/ materializing their designs.”
“Usually clients contact us because they can’t find anyone to execute a design due to cost, lead time, or complexity of the work. For every project we work on, we provide solutions that include digital fabrication. This has led us to always be working on a range of items from products, custom installations, and modern furniture. The studio is fully equipped with a ShopBot PRT, all the tools of a modern shop, and a team that can parametrically or traditionally design really anything presented to us.”
The studio is run with the help of his project manager, Diego Rodriguez, who was a student of Gustavo’s at Columbia. One of their recent projects is the design and fabrication of custom dishes. The studio was contracted by a hospitality designer to collaborate with the chef of a famous NYC restaurant (sorry, it’s apparently a secret), who wanted a custom butter dish and dessert dish…
Corian beurre dish
“I created designs working in Maya, then imported the work into Rhino. We sourced dark and cream-colored Corian and began to prototype. After the prototype stage, we’re now working with 3/4″ Corian and are CNCing them in batches of 20 dishes. It takes about 20 minutes to first cut the top of the dish, then we flip the material and cut the bottoms.”
Another recent project involved fixing a white oak credenza that was suffering from poor shelving design, leading the piece to begin sagging. “We re-did the design of the interior shelving and shelf slots in order to make the piece sound. Digital design and CNC saved the day!”
White oak credenza project
Detail of CNC’d shelving for credenza
Below are Gustavo’s interior furnishing designs that were commissioned by Public Supply of Brooklyn, NY. Public Supply is a for-profit company that produces responsibly sourced and well crafted writing, art, and office essentials. From their site, “We channel 25% of profits from every sale to a teacher in a high-need classroom, who will use the money for a project that drives creativity. All design work on our products is done in Brooklyn, New York, and all products are sustainably sourced in the United States.”
Public Supply furniture; counter of Baltic Birch, naturally stained. 1/4″ marble top
Shelving of Baltic Birch
Finally, here is some of Gustavo’s parametrically designed work, creating a water ripple effect for CNCing 6 X 6″ MDF panels, for a civic project in Queens.
In addition to his studio work, Gustavo teaches “Intro to Digital Fabrication and Parametrics” at CUNY in Brooklyn, where he works with 3rd and 4th year architecture undergrad students. I asked him to give me the “Parametrics for Dummies” quick explanation of the concept of parametric design. He says the way he begins to explain it is with a metaphor of Pixar’s animated filmmaking. “Basically, think of it as working in 3D geometry. To create a face for instance, you begin with writing the code to create the spheres that together form the pieces of a face. You start with code and ‘work outward’ to the finished idea.” Works for me as a starting point!
Andrew Pitts of Heathsville, Virginia, is a self-taught studio furnituremaker with 38 years experience. His beautiful, detailed furniture has been featured in numerous exhibitions and garnered more than a dozen awards. He is an active member of several local Virginia artists’ associations and the national Furniture Society. With his many years of experience, Pitts only recently added CNC technology to the mix, with his purchase of a ShopBot Desktop CNC router about a year-and-a-half ago.
For Pitts, the reasoning behind adding CNC to his extensive workshop was a practical business decision. “I view the Desktop as just another tool in my shop, and it’s perfect for certain tasks that make my work easier. One of the ways that I make use of the Desktop is to make small items — that I traditionally only hand-carved — a more efficient process.”
Among the many offerings that are displayed on Pitts’ website, are small customizable plaques, many of which sell for less than $100. “Quite frankly, the carving with the Desktop is wonderfully precise, and its efficiency enables me to make more plaques quickly,” says Pitts. “These plaques are conversation-starters with my customers. If I can interest someone in visiting my shop to discuss a $49 plaque, then that opens the door for me to give a tour, show my larger pieces, and who knows, end up talking about a commission for a $4900 credenza.”
Here’s one of those $49 plaques, made of cherry wood.
The Deer in the Forest. This piece is individually carved to order on hardwood by a computer numerical controlled (CNC) routing machine, touched up with hand carving gouges, sanded, then finished.
Pitts’ prior career was in the Navy as a nuclear engineer, and he says that the Navy unexpectedly prepared him for success as a designer. Pitts explains, “The discipline necessary to command three warships over the course of my career, and operate aircraft carrier nuclear reactors, translated into an astute attention to detail and pursuit of perfection in my wood work.” Inspired by his time of service, Pitts designs and crafts many service-related pieces:
Officer’s Sea Chest and Shadow Box. Materials: cherry, white oak, red cedar, holly. Ebonized oak with shellac polish finish. Brass hardware.
16″H x 32″W x 20″D
Andy Pitts explains that the precision afforded by the ShopBot Desktop enables the construction of the drawer openings and other openings that you see on this Officer’s Sea Chest. “Precision is astounding,” Pitts remarks. “I visit the ShopBot Forum quite a bit for tips, and have found people talking about using 1/64-inch ballnose bits on the Desktop. It’s quite remarkable what this tool allows you to accomplish.”
Naval Surface Warfare Officer Insignia Box.
Walnut with Brass Hardware, Lacquer Finish
12″W x 10″D x 3″ H
Here are some of the furniture pieces that Andy Pitts designs and makes:
“From The Bay” blanket chest. Cherry, walnut, white oak, red cedar, tulip poplar
Shellac Polish Finish
36″H x 51″W x 20″D.
Finalist, 2011 Niche Awards
“From the Bay” chest, open view.
The ShopBot Desktop is likely the smallest tool in Andy Pitts’ “arsenal” of woodworking tools, especially when you consider that he has even milled his own lumber — with enough wood to last for many years of projects. Here are photos of his lumber sawmill, which he recently sold, and his solar lumber kiln:
A committed steward of the environment, Pitts uses pre-fallen hardwoods local to the studio, harvesting, milling and drying them himself. Pitts explained that he “wants to celebrate the wood’s inherent beauty, respecting its imperfections and variations. I use only clear finishes, avoiding stains that might mask the grain.” One can recognize a Pitts design by the grace of its curves, exquisitely matched grain patterns, exacting joinery and meticulous finishing…
“I admit that I put off adding digital cutting technology for a few years,” says Pitts. “A lot of traditional woodworkers frown on CNC as ‘cheating’ somehow. When I bought the ShopBot, some furniture making colleagues told me I’d gone over to the ‘dark side,’ — I think they were only half kidding! I have to say, that throughout history furniture makers have adopted the most efficient tools of their time. If CNC technology was around 100 years ago, professionals would have used them then. It’s just another tool!”
Pitts says he was heartened to see some very well known furniture makers in attendance at the Furniture Society conference in Washington State who have adopted CNC for precision carving. “I think we’re starting to turn a corner, where more and more furniture makers who consider themselves to be artists are unafraid to integrate CNC into their processes.”
Andy has a very full library of YouTube videos in which he shares his work process; they’re not “how to” videos but rather allow you to watch as he works. Here’s just one of them, in which he gets going on one of his first projects on his ShopBot Desktop. Andy says that the YouTube channel has been very helpful in spreading the word about this work.