Andy Brooks may not work in IT anymore, but troubleshooting problems is still a big part of his job. His company, Oak Branch Manufacturing, offers prototyping, 3D cutting, architectural design, engraving, and signage for a growing list of high-profile clients and companies in his home state of Georgia and all across the country.
Like a number of career manufacturers and small business owners, Brooks’ career in manufacturing started off as a side project. He had purchased his first ShopBot, a PRTalpha 96, in 2005 while he was working in information technology for a local Georgia company. At that time, he would cut projects and prototypes for himself and the occasional client, which helped him to hone his skills on the machine.
After several years of cutting pieces for clients, Andy realized that not only were his projects becoming more complex, but he was building a reputation as a quality a CNC shop for hire in the Gainesville area. In fact, by 2012 he had enough clients and business to quit his day job and go into full-time contracting. From those first cuts up until 2013, the PRTalpha was the cornerstone of his company, then known as Brooks CNC.
“Up until the last few years, the ShopBot was essentially the sole workhorse of my shop,” says Brooks. “I used it to cut just about every project that came in.”
As business increased further, the company brought on a second employee, and purchased a second ShopBot, this time a more portable Desktop that could be used to experiment and expand capabilities. Today, Oak Branch operates out of its own building with a number of employees and houses a range of digital fabrication products, including a large format laser cutter for engraving and signage. They manufacture on just about every scale imaginable, from one-offs and walk-ins like local signs to huge contracts for organizations like Ronald McDonald House® and the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.
Behind the Scenes on a Big Project
Perhaps the largest and most complex project that Oak Branch has been involved with to date is the installation at Starbucks® Downtown Disney in Orlando, FL. The job required coordination with the Walt Disney World Resort, the architect, and countless other contractors who were hired to work on the project. This particular store wanted to highlight the company’s commitment to green living and environmental concerns, and Oak Branch was challenged with making several big features into a reality.
The first part of the project was the wall detail that would serve as the backdrop for the counter in the shop. Supplied with only the what, it was up to Oak Branch to figure out the how. As a first step, the general design was cut into the material on the shop PRTalpha.
Next, the individual panels were assembled and more detail was added by hand, based on pictures of actual plant life and foliage.
Once the panels were completed and finished, they were shipped to Florida where they were mounted in conjunction with the actual construction efforts that were already underway. The finished product provided a backdrop to the menu, and when lit from an angle, really shows the amount of painstaking detail that went into the design.
In addition to the menu backdrop, a number of other details were cut throughout the shop, including the store’s “Welcome” sign and logo, both of which were carved directly into the wall.
Perhaps the most ambitious request to come from the client was a wall installation that both displayed the Starbucks logo but also incorporated real plant life. The result was a “living wall”, which was painted with sod and gave the company logo a mossy look that fit in with the rest of the store’s green and brown eco motif.