Homebuilt is Re-Inventing Homebuilding with Distributed Manufacturing (and ShopBots)

Guest ShopBot blog contributor Dennis Michaud is an architect and was one of the founders and leaders of the highly successful California company, Blu Homes. Michaud’s new venture, Homebuilt, is more than a company; it aspires to also become a new business model for home building.  In this post he shares his vision for Homebuilt: “to empower absolutely anyone, regardless of prior experience, with the knowledge and materials to modify an existing residential building or build a new home – themselves.”  Dennis writes:

Eight months ago, Homebuilt set out to do something at once radical and unnoticeable. Inspired by the successes of Larry Sass’s digitally fabricated buildings, including the Digitally Fabricated House for New Orleans (MoMA NYC 2008); Robert Bridges’s and Bill Young’s Shelter 2.0Timberply (also by Young and Bridges); and the Wikihouse project, we aimed to springboard from the proven ability to make buildings out of CNC cut parts, to bring this technology into the realm of a code-compliant building system. Here’s a look at some of its pieces and parts….


Homebuilt's easy-to-assemble construction. If you can lift 23 lbs., you can build your own house.

Homebuilt’s easy-to-assemble construction. If you can lift 23 lbs., you can build your own house.

Homebuilt construction pieces cut on a ShopBot full-size gantry CNC

Homebuilt construction pieces cut on a ShopBot full-size gantry CNC

Our successes to date have been very exciting, not only in the technical ability to use Shopbot’s CNC tools to facilitate some of the most challenging and expensive aspects of stud-framed and wood-finished construction, but also for this technology’s ability to integrate seamlessly into the existing homebuilding industry while simultaneously offering an alternative business model to innovate within it.

Technological advances in US homebuilding: a history of unfulfilled promises

This history of technological advances in homebuilding, as for example highlighted in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2008 mega-exhibit “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling” in New York City, has been one of false starts and unfulfilled promises.  Whether they involved advanced materials, new production processes, or new ways of “delivering” a house, almost nothing substantial has changed since the first use of dimensional lumber studs in 1830′s Chicago.

What I feel has been missing from the, albeit technologically laudable, innovations from 1850 onwards has been a deep recognition that homebuilding is a fervently local endeavor.  As such, it is difficult for any process not immediately and easily repeatable anywhere in the US to gain traction against the tidal flow of cross-continental standardization within this very mature industry, with its established,  slow-moving supply chain.

Whether for the philosophical or architectural desire to work with the genius loci (“spirit of the place”), the ecological importance of minimized transportation costs, the economic benefits to local business, or simply the market demand to “know your builder,” attempts to industrialize housing have either failed or failed to integrate within the mainstream building industry.

However, centralized, non-local industrialization is not the end-all and be-all of technological advancement, or even of off-site building production, both of which can operate on a local level. Indeed, what is most incredible about Shopbot itself is its having yanked one of the most important tools of modern manufacturing – computer controlled fabrication – out of centralized factories and into the realm of local fabrication.

The possibilities of distributed manufacturing

Whereas previously only the most highly capitalized – and therefore centralized – fabrication outfits could afford a CNC behemoth, Shopbot’s tools are able to be housed, well, in almost anyone’s garage. What this has meant and will mean for the small-to-medium scale wood and metal-working industries cannot be understated. Many of us take for granted that a custom sign or beautiful cabinetry can be shipped from someone in our own state at little more cost than the off-the-shelf Made in Who-Knows-Where variety.   Technology like Shopbot’s CNC tools may indeed not only create the possibility for a more localized model of manufacturing, but as a result help save American manufacturing in general. It would be too lengthy to get into why this is so important, but in the specific case of homebuilding, in light of its inherent local-ness, such “localizeable” technology is fundamental to any attempt for real innovation of American homes.

If properly designed, the pre-fabricated component of a digitally-fabricated house can be completed by anyone with a Shopbot or similar CNC router. This can be in a local millwork shop, someone’s garage, or even on-site, as conceptualized by Larry Sass’ YourHouse, and made possible by tools such as ShopBot’s Handibot® Smart Tool.  This is because, unlike other forms of automation, CNC digital fabrication uses standard formats and well-established, open methods, file types, and tools. If you have a Shopbot, regardless of its size or age, you can start making digitally-fabricated houses.

What does this mean for a company like Homebuilt? 

We have designed a building system, and with the help of Shopbot a series of tools, that enables us to work with local fabricators to build local houses. It means that Homebuilt doesn’t need a huge, centralized factory, or the associated costs thereof.  Neither do customers need to pay for shipping from that centralized factory.  Homebuilt is instead able remain lean and nimble, collaborating with local, equally nimble fabricators to modernize the way we think about housing production. All the while, the efficiency of the tools as well as the distributed manufacturing model enable equitable sharing of profits, not only between Homebuilt and local, distributed fabricators, but also with the buyer, for whom efficiency of production leads to lower prices.

We believe that the Homebuilt concept – the reduction in the cost of housing through localized, distributed manufacturing – is truly innovative, even if we are still using 2x4s, 16” OC, and no one will even notice the difference.

Here are some of the projects, mentioned at the beginning of this post, that have inspired the Homebuilt concept…

Digitally Fabricated House for New Orleans Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (MoMA, 2008) www.momahomedelivery.org Larry Sass, Daniel Smithwick, Bill Young, and Dennis Michaud (author) Sponsors: Shopbot Tools, Boise Cascade, eFab Local

Digitally Fabricated House for New Orleans
Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (MoMA, 2008)
Larry Sass, Daniel Smithwick, Bill Young, and Dennis Michaud (author)
Sponsors: Shopbot Tools, Boise Cascade, eFab Local

Shelter 2.0 www.shelter20.com Robert Bridges and Bill Young

Shelter 2.0
Robert Bridges and Bill Young


Wikihouse www.wikihouse.cc (image from npr.org)

(image from npr.org)




ShopBot Will Test-Cut Your Design at IWF Atlanta 2014

Thinking about adding CNC technology into your production? ShopBot Tools has announced a special offering for attendees at this summer’s International Woodworking Fair (IWF) in Atlanta, August 20 – 23. For those who are seriously exploring CNC solutions in woodworking (or virtually any material), ShopBot will demonstrate the cutting of your design, live at the event.

Ryan Patterson, ShopBot’s Director of Production Support, noted, “Our tools enable tremendous efficiencies for manufacturers, and really the best way to understand the power and precision of CNC technology is to see it in action. That’s why we’re providing this opportunity for interested professionals.”

Patterson invites you to send him information about your product and production needs, and include a design that ShopBot will cut on either the ShopBot PRS Alpha 96 X 48 with Automatic Tool Changer, or ShopBot Desktop. Your design can be anything from a pencil sketch to a CAD drawing file — we’ll take it from there and get it prepped to cut.

Interested? Send an email to  ryan.p@shopbottools.com.  You’ll need to contact Ryan by August 8th in order to “make the cut.” In your email, mention your production needs, and attach your design. The ShopBot team will perform material cutting for a limited number of IWF attendees on a first-come first-served basis.

ShopBot Desktop CNC

ShopBot Desktop CNC

ShopBot Tools has specialized in serving the needs of small to medium-size cabinetmaking, furniture, and other woodworking businesses for years.  But their tools are also widely used on materials such as plastics, MDF, styrofoam, and soft metals such as aluminum, in a wide array of industries. “This includes aerospace, transportation, consumer products, hotels and restaurants, the list is endless,” noted Patterson.

Manufacturers using wood or other materials are encouraged to get in touch with Ryan Patterson. “We’re not just about providing tools,” Ryan summed it up. “ShopBot is here to help solve problems. What sets us apart, aside from providing affordable CNC tools, is the group of services and resources we offer to support your success.” These include free access to user forums and communities such as 100kGarages.com, in-person and online training classes, and free technical support.

ShopBot PRSalpha CNC

ShopBot PRSalpha CNC

Handibot Tool goes to work in a FIRST Robotics Competition pit crew

The roar of robots racing, kids shouting and general mayhem filled the air as the FIRST Robotics 2014 Virginia Regional Competition got underway in April. FIRST Robotics’ mission is “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

Chris Thompson was there with two FIRST teams that he coaches, Team 1829 and the Carbonauts. And there was a new member of the pit crew on hand…  a ShopBot Handibot® Smart Power Tool. Chris and his students offered up the help of the Handibot tool to anyone needing an emergency part made quickly on this powerful, portable CNC tool.

Team 1829

Team 1829

See the full story and pics at the 100kSchools.org blog.



ShopBot Tools in large-scale manufacturing: Wood-Mode

Following is a 2009 update to Cabinetmaker FDM’s article by editor Karl D. Forth, about ShopBot CNC Tools in use at Wood-Mode. The article speaks to the benefits to large-scale operations of incorporating smaller CNC routers in cell-based operations. Since its original publication, Wood-Mode has grown its stable of ShopBot Tools to 16 tools. We’ve taken the liberty of adding some photography of the beautiful product that Wood-Mode offers in its Wood-Mode and Brookhaven lines.

By any measure, Wood-Mode Inc. is a large operation. But it is unlike many other large cabinet manufacturers. “We are, for the most part, a very large job shop,”says chairman and CEO Robert Gronlund. “We are focused on how we can be more efficient in just-in-time.”

The privately owned company was started in 1942 and employs 2,100 in a large, integrated 1.3 million-square-foot plant in Kreamer, Pa., that does everything from process green lumber to carry out delivery in Wood-Mode trucks. The company produces custom cabinetry for every room in the home. Annual sales revenue is more than $200 million.

Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 3.58.07 PM

Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 3.43.54 PM

The Kreamer factory produces 1,600 to 1,800 units per day. Wood-Mode makes custom and semi-custom kitchen and bath cabinets, and custom cabinetry for other rooms. There are two product lines, Wood-Mode and Brookhaven, in both framed and frameless. Wood-Mode sells through independent sales representatives to 850 Wood-Mode/Brookhaven independent dealers. When Gronlund goes to a trade show, he says he spends half the time looking at big machines with the capacity to make thousands of pieces and the other half looking at smaller equipment normally used in a small shop.

Despite its size, Wood-Mode employs something small to improve its manufacturing process. It has 16 ShopBot CNC machines in use, equipment normally used in much smaller shops. The ShopBots are primarily used for point-to-point boring for hardware, doors and drawers. The first one was purchased as an inventor’s kit in 1999.

Flexibility advantage
Joe May, director of manufacturing and engineering, says flexibility is the biggest advantage of the ShopBots. “We can configure each one differently for different types of products, without the expense of a bigger machine,” he says. “In the newest machine we have about $25,000 invested, so about every five weeks it pays for itself.”

The ShopBots work well in component part production. “Components can be anything,” May says. “A customer can want a completely unique profile. The ShopBot allows us to cope with that easily. We can build one component. And that’s what we do.”

The company has four product lines. The Wood-Mode 42 line is named for 1942, the year it was started. The Wood-Mode 84 frameless line was started in 1984. Brookhaven One is frameless, Brookhaven Two is frame. Making both frame and frameless cabinets in the same plant isn’t really an issue, May says. “One side of the assembly area is frame, the other is frameless.”

Manufacturing flow
May says it’s difficult to describe the flow without describing the buildings. Component parts, drawers, frames, drawer parts are all done in the A1 component plant. Special cabinets are done in A2, which is on the second floor. The C building makes flat sheet stock.

There are five basic steps in the manufacturing process:
• Rough mill.
• Component plant, with cutoff saws, sander/shapers.
• “Wood start,” which brings doors, frames and sides together for sanding before machining.
• Finishing is primarily catalyzed varnish. Wood-Mode is just getting into water-based.
• Assembly;  the company does very little finishing of assembled pieces.

Almost all doors are made here, but Wood-Mode outsources MDF doors. Wood-Mode cuts door pieces for assembly of five-piece doors, and has them go through a shaper/sander combination.

“I’ve been here five years and I’m still amazed by the volume of cabinets we put through,” May says. “We’re doing a better job of tracking systems with bar coding. We know where individual parts are.”

But many challenges remain. “It’s a constant ongoing effort to try to minimize bottlenecks. The goal is to be a little better than the day before. Even if you do one thing better, it helps,” says May.

Wood-Mode purchased its first ShopBot, a PR model, in 1999 to make templates for rails and panels. The company found it could do an infinitenumber of parts on one machine, and Wood-Mode went from 800 templates to eight programs on the ShopBot.

Parts come down to assembly, with frameless on one side, frame on other. There are four frameless assembly lines, each with its own boring. Two of the ShopBots are in components and eight are in assembly, where they are used for decorative hardware boring.

The ShopBots work well in component part production.

The ShopBots work well in component part production.

“We do the doors and the drawers independent of the final cabinet,” May says. “They take a drawer or door to the decorative hardware machine, with a tag so they know what hardware it needs to be bored for. Doors are finished, then bored. All hardware is field installed.”

Wood-Mode uses 219 different pieces of hardware, all with different center sizes and different spacings. May says they threw away about 40,000 drill bushings used for assembly fixtures. “We would have to make a whole new set of fixtures if there were any changes. It used to take us a month after we identified a new door style to get the jigs and fixtures to the floor.” Now it takes 15 minutes. Information comes to May’s office. He makes changes, and they go to everyone on the floor at the same time.

It’s important to note that setup is done by the operator on the screen. Operators pull up the door style on a screen. (They tried to do setups on the keyboard, but found that didn’t work as well.) The operator programs on the screen, and next to one ShopBot is a person who machines hinges on another ShopBot. Wood-Mode buys ShopBot’s inventor’s kit. “It’s not a toy. It’s not just for signmakers. It can be a

Programming for boring on the ShopBots is done on the screen. This is more efficient than using the keyboards.

Programming for boring on the ShopBots
is done on the screen. This is more
efficient than using the keyboards.

“There are a lot of people who want to do what we’re doing,” May says. “With the ShopBots,
you can do whatever you want. The only limitation is your imagination.”

New rough mill
One of the largest upgrades is a new rough mill operation. Weinig supplied most of the equipment, including a new Weinig CNC moulder (there are five moulders in all). Also here is a Newman Whitney planer, Raimann ripsaws and the LuxScan optimizing system. All components were integrated into the Weinig system. The new rough mill started in June, and can produce 30,000 board feet a shift.

Wood-Mode also has a new dust collection system, upgraded electrical service for the old building and a new compressed air system. The company also built six new dry kilns and increased capacity 30 percent.

Commitment to dealers
“I think we go to market very well, through independent sales reps,” Gronlund says. “We focus on the independent dealer as opposed to selling to larger home centers.” Normally, about 70 to 75 percent of Wood-Mode’s business is remodeling, but the builder business has been so strong that remodeling is about 60 percent.

“We strive to keep our costs down,” Gronlund says. “As we grow, we’ve found our biggest challenge is quality labor. We have good quality labor in this area, and we’ve started an aggressive training program.”

Government regulations and environmental issues are always a challenge, but Gronlund say imports will affect a different, larger-volume market than Wood-Mode serves.

“We’ve grown our business with the almost tidal wave of homebuilding,” he says. “We want to build more capacity on the same footprint, to increase capacity 15 percent, within existing buildings, We have already done that in the lumber mill and rough mill.  “Our strategic theme is qualitative growth, as opposed to quantitative growth.”

Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 3.42.58 PMScreen shot 2014-05-16 at 3.41.39 PM

A Journey from Maker to Maker PRO: The Timbrr Stylus story

The first thing that strikes you when you step inside Dom Peralta’s garage/maker space in San Mateo isn’t necessarily the high-pitched drilling of his ShopBot Desktop’s spindle. Rather it’s the very pleasant and heady aroma of natural California cedar. That’s because the ShopBot is hard at work precision-cutting wooden dowels of cedar for the Timbrr Stylus, an ergonomic stylus for you to use with your touchscreen tablet or smartphone.

Dom Peralta's garage/maker space/factory

Dom Peralta’s garage/maker space/factory

The Timbrr Stylus is the brainchild of the team of Dom Peralta and Jon Corpuz, corporate industrial designers by day, and entrepreneurial Maker Pros on nights, weekends….and just about every possible waking moment. Right now they’re hard at work getting Timbrr Styluses completed to show off at the 2014 Maker Faire in San Mateo, and putting the final touches on a Kickstarter campaign to help the duo expand production.

Timbrr cedar stylus with capacitive rubber tip

Timbrr cedar stylus with capacitive rubber tip

Read the full story and see more photos at 100kGarages.com.


ShopBot Launches Official Certification Course for Teachers

ShopBot Tools has announced the launch of ShopBot Certification training. The program is being rolled out in Texas: career and technical education professionals can receive Level I Teacher Certification during the TIVA Conference in Austin, July 13th – 18th. TIVA is the state’s professional organization supporting career and technical educators.

Conference and course registration information is available here.

The ShopBot Certification program offers 4 levels of certification: Basic (Level I), Intermediate (II), Advanced (III), and Production (IV). The Production level includes cabinetmaking and manufacturing specific curriculum.  At each level students will study, practice and develop CNC related skills in 8 areas: CAD/CAM Design software, ShopBot Setup and Maintenance, ShopBot Control Software, Tooling, Hold downs, Materials, Finishing and Accessories.

The ShopBot Certification class at TIVA will qualify teachers to certify their students at Level I.

Randy Johnson, ShopBot Director of Education Outreach, will lead the training and will be assisted by Brett Dickinson, Construction Tech Teacher – Georgetown, Texas ISD.

Brett is a veteran career and technical education teacher in Texas and is a strong proponent of using CNC as a teaching tool and as a way to make students career and college ready. He has been using ShopBot tools in his program since 2006 and has conducted a number of trainings in this area at TIVA summer conferences. Brett noted, “ShopBots are wonderful motivating and teaching tools. Students are learning skills in an area that are in high demand in industry. This equipment is perfect for teaching math and science concepts at which many students struggle by providing them hands-on learning through the designing and building of physical objects.”

Randy Johnson added, “At ShopBot, we want to do all we can to support the revitalization of technical education and manufacturing here in the U.S. We’re excited about ShopBot Certification because it means that we’re helping create well-trained, employable young people for 21st century jobs. Whether it’s training students for well-paying jobs right out of high school, or preparing pre-engineering students for college, this is a great way for us to help get American manufacturing back on track.”

Space is limited. Get more information and sign up for the Level I Teacher’s Certification Class here.

(Teacher certification for Levels 2-4 will be offered in the future.)

What can your students learn from making a sign?

If you’re a teacher making use of digital fabrication in your classroom, this may not surprise you. A relatively simple project can help you teach quite a number of topics. Check out Sallye Coyle’s blog post at 100kSchools.org, and you’ll see how making a lighted acrylic sign can help you instruct lessons about… CAD and CAM, the physics of optics, electricity and electronics, materials science, project management and documentation, and business topics such as quality control, cost analysis, market analysis, intellectual property….

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Handibot Smart Tool now available at Handibot.com!

We’re thrilled to announce that the Handibot® Smart Power Tool Developer Edition, first introduced by ShopBot Tools in a 2013 Kickstarter campaign, is now for sale at the Handibot.com online store.

The Handibot Smart Power Tool Developer Edition is a portable, digitally-controlled power tool for cutting, drilling, carving, and many other machining operations. You can cut woods, plastics, composite materials and soft metals with the power and precision of larger CNC tools.

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 9.15.09 AMDavid Bryan, Handibot’s Head of Development, said, “Last Fall we put 150 Kickstarter Handibots into the hands of makers, DIY’ers, educators, and small manufacturers who are at work on all kinds of projects. Now we’re hugely excited to get the tool out into the larger world.”

Ted Hall, President of ShopBot, noted, “Handibot is really two tools – at least conceptually: It’s a small CNC tool that you can put to work right now on construction jobsites or DIY projects, and it’s also a new kind of “Smart Tool” that in the near future you’ll be able to control with job-oriented apps.” Unlike ‘traditional’ CNC tools that require you to place your material on the tool, you easily bring the Handibot to wherever your material or work is located — the floor, ceiling, walls, etc.

Randy Johnson, ShopBot’s Director of Education, added, “Because of its size, portability, and affordable price ($2,795) the Handibot is useful in classroom settings such as vocational, technical education and STEM programs. It allows for hands-on ‘teaching by making’ — without an investment in larger CNC tools.”

Ready-to-make classroom projects can be found at 100kSchools.org. Here’s a father-and-children weekend design and cutting project where everyone enjoyed some hands-on learning (starring ShopBot’s Head of Production Support, Ryan Patterson, and his daughters…

The Handibot Developer Edition ships with a user-friendly CAD/CAM software suite for PCs or tablets running Windows. This software enables you to go from idea to making tangible objects using your Handibot with relative ease.

The Handibot Team is working on creating a suite of task-specific apps that will allow the tool to be run from multiple platforms and devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Submit your app ideas at handibot.com's "Apps HQ"

Submit your app ideas at handibot.com’s “Apps HQ”

World’s first “origami” kayak sets sail out of TechShop SF

Designer and Oru Kayak founder Anton Willis grew up in rural Mendocino County, with easy access to rivers, lakes, and the ocean. In 2008, a move into a small San Francisco apartment forced his fiberglass kayak into storage. Inspired by an article on new advances in the art and science of origami, Willis sketched a few ideas for a folding kayak. Sketches turned into countless paper models, and over 20 full-scale prototypes built with the help of the full-size ShopBot CNC at TechShop SF.  After user-testing on dozens of bays, lakes, rivers and oceans, Oru Kayaks are ready to explore the world. Read the full story and see video at our 100kGarages.com blog.

The Oru Kayak

The Oru Kayak

2014 Camp ShopBot Winter/Early Spring Lineup

Our Camp ShopBot season kicks off tomorrow, and we are sure excited about our winter/early spring line up! Our host Andy Redding from San Pasqual High School in Escondido, CA leads the way with his Camp on Saturday! This Camp filled up within a few days! (There was an attendance cap of 40 due to space limitations.) As teacher of Woodworking and Drafting, Andy is actively involving his high schoolers in digital fabrication and design. Randy Johnson, ShopBot’s Director of Education and past editor-in-chief of American Woodworker magazine, will be presenting to two of Andy’s classes on Friday before the Camp.

Georgia State University’s Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design hosts the Atlanta area Camp on Feb. 22. They are proud new owners of a 4×8 PRS alpha. This art school is known for its iron foundry program. They will be utilizing ShopBot’s 3-D capabilities for creating molds in Assistant Professor Mike Wsol‘s new course this summer! Though it is only 1 week away, you can still register for this Camp. We have over 50 people attending so far! Sign up using our Google Form HERE.

Wayne Locke of Locke Designs and Woodworks has hosted the Austin, Texas Camp for over 10 years! This 2-day Camp, held on February 28 & March 1, is like a yearly reunion from many ShopBotters. This year we already have over 70 people registered! Randy will be bringing the Handibot with him and there will be multiple guest presenters, and of course plenty of time to mingle and share ideas with other ShopBotters. Register for the Austin Camp HERE.

Our Northern Florida Camp is at Florida State University’s School of Theatre’s Technical Production Department in Tallahassee on Saturday, March 22. This should be a great camp as they just moved into a new huge facility, which was an old middle school. There are a few ShopBot models in the building including a 4×8 PRS Alpha and a Desktop with spindle. Registration is open so sign up using our Google Form HERE.

We end March with a new Pittsburgh area Camp at TechShop on Saturday, March 29. This is one of the first TechShop based Camps we’ve had! If you haven’t visited a TechShop before, you are in for a treat. They have lots of toys to play with besides a ShopBot. Our Pittsburgh hosts will be giving tours for anyone interested in seeing their whole facility. Register HERE for that Camp and stay tuned for further details.

Students and teachers are welcome at all Camps, as are those who are looking into purchasing a ShopBot. Other Camps in the works for April and May are TechShop Chandler in Arizona on April 26 and North Carolina in May. We will also have Camps  in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, NYC, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Virginia, Seattle and more later this year. Stay tuned! If you want to make sure you are on our mailing list, drop us a note at CampShopBot at g mail dot com.