ShopBot Spotlight: Oak Branch Manufacturing

oak branch project 3d cut plant wall


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.


shopbot cnc router carving in 3d

As a start, the router made several passes on the material to get the majority of the design cut.

Next, the individual panels were assembled and more detail was added by hand, based on pictures of actual plant life and foliage.


detailing plants in 3d



detailed plant 3d carving



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.

counter backdrop by oak branch cnc

Early stages of installation at Starbucks Downtown Disney.




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.


welcome to starbucks carved into 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.



starbucks downtown disney welcome wall





a man holding up the fully cut starbucks wall installation

Much like the counter backdrop, the logo was cut in sections and assembled.

starbucks living wall painted

It was then painted to match the decor of the rest of the interior design.






starbucks living wall cut by oak branch

The wall was mounted and the inlays were filled with actual moss to create a living, breathing wall.




starbucks downtown disney patio wall

The final product: the living wall anticipates its first customers upon opening.




The Modify Furniture Design Challenge

modify furniture modular design


Modify Furniture is joining forces with ShopBot Tools to launch the first ever Design Challenge! Whether you’re a seasoned designer or new to 3D, here’s your chance to show off your creative side, get your name out there, and even win a cool prize in the process. Entrants will be designing an invisibin™ drop-in to add form, function, or flair to existing Modify furniture designs. To see how it works, check out the video below. For entry information, check out the instructions at the end of this post.




The Modify Furniture Philosophy

Anyone who’s ever had to furnish a space knows that there’s more to it than just picking out matching colors. There are careers, philosophies and entire disciplines dedicated to the placement and arrangement of furniture. Marci Klein of Modify Furniture is looking to rethink all of that through an engaging, collaborative, and fully customizable approach to furniture.

Solutions-Oriented Design

marci klein modify furniture

Marci Klein created Modify Furniture in the spirit of customization & simplicity.

The custom design elements made possible by Modify are the result of Klein’s time in medical school. While there, she was looking for a way to furnish her tiny dorm without sacrificing form, function, and space. Rather than purchasing a desk from Ikea and hoping it would fit, she realized that furniture comprised of smaller units could be modified without the purchase of entirely new products. In addition, things like color and texture could be changed easily to allow the furniture to evolve with the room’s layout. With these first designs, Modify Furniture was born.

A few years later, Klein and her husband were able to purchase a used 5′ x 10′ ShopBot from eBay, which has been invaluable in not only cutting furniture elements, but also the prototyping and production of new designs and products. The ShopBot has also allowed Modify to produce home decor and smaller products meant to complement existing offerings. Klein’s experience in the medical world still influences the way Modify operates today: the company’s furniture and designs are meant to benefit both the consumer and designer through simplicity, customization, and a solutions-oriented approach.


modify furniture cut on shopbot tools

The ShopBot PRSalpha has allowed Modify Furniture to explore accessories, prototypes, and complementary home decor items.


The Challenge

One of the unique features of the Modify model is the use of precisely cut areas that can customize the piece with minimal cost and effort. The standard dimensions of these cuts allow for a wide array of drop-ins that can be used for organization, aesthetic changes, or personalization. The 4″ x 8″ drop-in pieces can be cut on a ShopBot or CNC machine of just about any size. There’s no limit to what one can do with their Modify surface!

invisibin design options

The invisibin™ system allows for an endless combination of colors, ideas and uses.

Entering the Competition

Modify Furniture is asking designers of all skill levels to help get everyone excited about modular furniture through the first-ever Invisibin Design Challenge! To enter, simply email your design file (.swf, .swx, sketchup files, and drawings) to along with a short explanation of why your design should be picked. Then, post an image of your design on Instagram with the tag #mymodifydesign.

The chosen design will then be sold on the Modify website along with designer information. The winner will also receive four copies of their design and their choice of a cash prize or credit towards products on the Modify website.

The Design Challenge is a great opportunity for makers, ShopBotters and designers of all experiences and ages. Visit and enter today!





ShopBot’s Ted Hall Looks at the Future of Manufacturing

brian and lee handibot

ShopBot Tools founder & CEO Ted Hall has been keeping an eye on the role that digital fabrication is playing in the evolution of manufacturing. Through Ted’s Medium blog series, he touches on a range of topics, including how ShopBot has adapted not only to succeed, but to enable other businesses to grow and keep jobs from being shipped overseas.

In his latest entry, Ted discusses the concept of a company “eating its own dogfood” – for ShopBot, that means using the tools produced to help keep production simple and efficient. This allows a company to not only make great things, but to explore how those things can be better applied.

ShopBot Tools

To read more about the challenges, successes and lessons learned from over two decades of technology-based small manufacturing, follow Ted Hall on Medium. To discover more about ShopBot’s tools, community and support, visit

Professional Development for Educators in Pittsburgh: Carnegie Science Center

Carnegie Science Center is a popular spot for a play date, where children and adults can experience science first hand. It is also home to a Chevron FabLab, a digital fabrication laboratory for innovation and invention.  The Carnegie FabLab holds camps and programs for children 8 – 18.  Its mobile lab brings in depth digital fabrication experiences to schools and events.

carnegie science center

Early morning outside the FabLab

carnegie science center mobile fablab

The Carnegie Science Center mobile lab at Maker Faire Pittsburgh 2015.














One of the programs that Carnegie runs is their Teaching Excellence Academy.  In November, Sallye Coyle from ShopBot led a session in Digital Fabrication for Educators.

Digital Fabrication for Educators:

ShopBot CNC, Laser cutter, and 3D printer
Date: Thursday, Nov. 17 and Friday, Nov. 18;
9 am – 3 pm daily, with an optional open lab on Friday from 3 – 5 pm
Cost: $200 for two-day workshop
Audience: K—12 teachers and administrators
Fab Lab Carnegie Science Center welcomes Sallye Coyle from ShopBot as a guest educator for this two-day intensive training. For teachers or administrators with digital makerspaces in their schools, or those who are putting together makerspaces, this training is essential. Educators will gain experience with 3D scanning and printing, designing for the laser, vinyl cutter and ShopBot. Participants will be immersed in multi-platform CNC projects, experiencing first-hand the design and engineering cycle used in digital fabrication. With an optional open lab on Friday afternoon, participants will be able to move deeper into creative design for CNC machines and have some fun in the process.


A major focus of the workshop was to show that the work flow is the same for all the digital fabrication tools: use a form of CAD (computer-aided-design) software to get the “what and where” into the computer, set the “how” for the digital fab tool* and look desired, and then let the computer control the machine while it does its work. Since the large format (4’x8’) ShopBot PRSalpha CNC tool is often the most intimidating tool in a lab, we started there.  To give everyone a sample of the entire process, we used VCarve Pro, the CAD/CAM software shipped with a ShopBot, to:

  • design a sign
  • toolpath it to engrave the lettering with a V-Bit
  • generate the code for the ShopBot to follow
  • set up the ShopBot run the file

Creating the Files

Then it was time for everyone to create their own files.  First, the attendees had to measure the size of the various scraps of material they had to work with so they could input the data into the CAD software. Some chose simpler designs with text only, others downloaded bitmaps from the internet and traced them. Toolpathing options included engraving with a V-bit, and using an endmill bit to pocket or to profile along the vectors to cut out the designs. Giving the attendees time to design their own pieces rather than follow a set tutorial is labor intensive for the instructors, but it also allows the attendees to work through their questions while an expert is there to help them. They can also learn from other people’s techniques and mistakes.


measuring material for CAD

Tracy and Emily from New Castle High School measure their material to prepare for creating their CAD files. They will each claim half of the material for themselves.

shopbot hold down

Tracy’s sign is complete. Her hold down technique was to mark in the CAD file where it was safe to put a hold down screw through the board into the ShopBot table.












Alternate hold down on ShopBot

Emily’s work is on the same board, and required a bit more creative hold down technique since she did not want holes in her creation. She used Tracy’s hold down screws at one end, and a clamp at the other. Since the best place for a clamp was on top of one of her designs, she machined the concentric squares pictured above with a clamp in an out-of-the-way location. With the ShopBot shut down, she then moved the clamp to rest on the machined part and ran the remaining toolpaths.

CAD ShopBot

Liz from Carnegie and Raquel, and art teacher who supports STEAM at her high school, simulate Raquel’s design on the screen.

















filming shopbot

Raquel photographing the ShopBot in action.

sign cut on shopbot

Success!!! Raquel commented that she will now be spending all of her spare time using the CNC in the FabLab at New Castle High School.











designing in vcarve

Randy from ShopBot (right) helps Mark and Eric with their VCarve files. Although they use Inventor for CAD software as part of the PLTW program at their school, Mark and Eric found VCarve to be easy to design in, and terrific for creating the toolpaths for their 2D and 3D design files.

ShopBot gears and saw blade

Mark and Eric have an older CNC (not a ShopBot) with a router in their school. They loved the quiet of the spindle on the ShopBot PRSalpha in the FabLab.















While some were waiting for their turn to run their ShopBot project, Steve from Carnegie introduced the laser cutter and vinyl cutter. Using Inkscape, a free graphic software, the group designed a seasonal project that could be cut out of thin wood. Sallye pointed out that the 2D design files (.dxf, .eps, .ai, .svg, etc.) can be transferred into and out of VCarve to other graphic or engineering based CAD programs.



Steve from Carnegie helping Aimee with her files.

raster and vector on laser

Mark and Eric using the laser with thin wood. The laser etches (rasters) some parts of the design, then cuts through the thin wood by following the vector lines.



















The second day, the attendees worked on bringing 3D designs to life and preparing them for machining on the ShopBot. Since we had a Handibot visiting for the PD and the Camp ShopBot to follow, we decided to machine the 3D files on the little CNC machine. Attendees downloaded 3D files (.stl) from the web that would normally be printed on a 3D printer, and brought them through VCarve to create roughing and finish passes. Here is a link to the blog that describes the technique.

vcarve warrior

3D file (.std) downloaded from the web and imported into VCarve Pro for toolpathing. The roughing pass removes excess material in multiple passes, then the finish pass moves a ball nose bit simultaneously in 3 axes to create the smooth finish. The size of the ball nose bit affects detail (resolution) and time to machine the file.



Finish pass with a .125” ball nose bit. Handibot can machine wood, plastic and aluminum in addition to the machinable wax that some of the smaller CNC mills are limited to.



Roughing out the Aimee’s Reindeer Dog. We removed the dust skirt from the router head to watch the progress of the file, so Aimee is vacuuming as she goes. The 2″ x 6″ board is held in place side-to-side (X axis) by a jig that Randy and George whipped up in the AM. A screw through a hole in the frame of the Handibot and into the 2 x 6 holds the board in place on the Y axis.

Handibot 3D carving

Aimee with her finished Reindeer Dog. Both roughing and finish pass were done with a .25″ ball nose bit. Early on in the workshop, Aimee confided to Liz that they didn’t have a CNC machine at her K-8 school, and would never be getting one. The smile on her face after using the Handibot suggests she might rethink that.

















Jon, who runs the Carnegie Mobile Lab, and Liz, FabLab Manager, were intrigued by many of the features of the Handibot. Its resolution is so good that it is the perfect CNC machine for making PCB’s. Since the Handibot uses the same CAD/CAM software as the bigger ShopBots, making a circuit board and making a podium is just a matter of changing the size of the bit and the material. One of the apps for FabMo, Handibot’s Control software, allows children to draw on a touch screen and have it immediately translate to drawing with a pen or carving.

In this Handibot How-To video from August, Brian Owen shows how to cut a custom circuit board:



When Jon asked if the Handibot could be used to cut the cardboard for their Quadcopter project, we grabbed a .0625” bit from the mini mill inventory, imported an Inkscape file into VCarve, and set it to profile to cut through the cardboard. Jon added the motors, soldered in the circuitry, and flew the quadcoptor. He saw potential for using a Handibot rather than a laser to cut the parts on site at a school: easier to transport, no fumes to vent, and more fun for the kids to watch.  Cost is a factor, too: 4 Handibots would be cheaper than a single laser cutter.

quadcopter in vcarve

VCarve file for the base of the Quadcopter. Tabs were added to the profile pass to keep the parts from shifting while machining.

handibot cutting quadcopter parts

Handibot cutting a second quadcopter body. The weight of the Handibot holds the material in place while machining. A second layer of cardboard serves as the “sacrificial layer” to protect the surface under the Handibot.











quadcopter cutout

Wow, look at that! Less than two minutes to cut, and you dont have to cut down the cardboard first!

fitting quadcopter motors

Fitting motors into the frame.

installing quadcopter electronics

Adding electronics. Propellors are 3D printed.


























Flying the #Quadcopter cut on the #Handibot last week in #Pittsburgh @carnegiescictr!

A video posted by handibot (@handibot) on



*The digital fab tools the Carnegie Science Center FabLab has available include two CNC machines (ShopBot and Roland), a laser cutter (Epilog), 3D printers (Ultimaker), vinyl cutter (Roland) and a full electronics station. The Mobile Lab has a ShopBot Buddy with an 110v Desktop spindle, laser cutter (s), 3D printers, vinyl cutter, a mini mill and an electronics station. For those who are unfamiliar with how the various digital fabrication tools work, here is a chart that compares the various tools.


Wally Quanstrom: retired but very busy with his ShopBot

Arizona Cardinals sign made with ShopBot PRSalpha CNC

Arizona Cardinals sign made with ShopBot PRSalpha CNC

Wally Quanstrom retired as a senior executive at BP awhile back, and has thoroughly enjoyed his recent years designing and making any number of creative projects with the help of his ShopBot PRSalpha CNC tool. “My friend Harry Warren worked with an early CNC tool years ago. He worked 30 years as a machinist and CNC operator for John Deere. His experience inspired me with the confidence to go ahead and purchase my own CNC 6 years ago.”

Wally says he chose ShopBot for a number of reasons. “I like the fact that ShopBot is a USA company. Not just that it is based here, but that they make the tools here as well. I’ve been to Durham twice and enjoyed meeting Ted Hall and Sallye Coyle. I appreciate Ted’s concept of making the CNC accessible to anyone who’s motivated to put the technology to work.”

Harry Warren, Wally Quanstrom, and Jeff Brown; aka The 3 Amigos!

“I have a number of traditional tools made by Laguna. A bandsaw for example. I looked at Laguna’s CNC tools, and I’ll say that they may be ‘prettier’ from a looks standpoint, but the ShopBot is a more solid tool in my opinion. It’s rigid. It performs great. Six years in, I’m thrilled with my 4 x 8 ShopBot tool.”

Here are samples of his and his friends’ projects:

Eight-foot buffalo

Eight-foot buffalo

Some nice detail carving

Some nice detail carving

Impressive inlay work

Impressive inlay work

Wally says that he’s found Vectric and ShopBot’s tutorials to be very useful. “I notice that typically the tutorials have you set your zero/origin at the lower left corner; but I like to place it in the middle of the material. This way I can work on different projects at the same time.”

Wally’s friend Jeff Brown has been using the ShopBot to make violins. “I was using a Shark, but the tool gave me a lot of trouble; it was simply not rigid enough.” Jeff came by his interest in musical instruments honestly: his dad was a fiddler and his great grandfather a violin maker. Jeff inherited a dozen violins from his Dad, and set about repairing them. This led to an interest in making instruments.

“I didn’t want to try and duplicate someone else’s design. I wanted to start from scratch.” Jeff has a background in mathematics and computer programming, so he found an interest in “starting with the math, not the picture.” He creates wireframe designs in Microsoft XL, and then brings the wireframes into SolidWorks.



“I enjoy making violins in a number of different woods, from mesquite, to cherry and walnut. I’ve taken some of the instruments to a Violin Makers of AZ convention, and they received a lot of interest.” We’re excited to see what the 3 Amigos will make next!



Recognizing the Community in Colleges in Heartland America

ATEA Region 5 meets in North Platte, Nebraska

North Platte, NE often serves as a stopping place on the transit between the East and the West Coasts of America. The Original Transcontinental Airways that carried mail between Washington D.C., New York & San Francisco made a stopover at the North Platte Landing Field, which was the first lighted airfield in the United States. Union Pacific Rail Road operates Bailey Field, the world’s largest classification yard, where railroad cars are sorted and sent out along the tracks in 23 states.

sign at north platte field

Display at the North Platte Landing Field

It would be easy to drive right on through North Platte on Interstate 80 on your way across country. But if you do stop in North Platte, you will find a thriving community. Two Community Colleges serve many populations in North Platte, from teenagers working to finish their secondary education while getting college credit, to work force development in technology or health care, to continuing education classes in art, music or entrepreneurship. A large Union Pacific diesel engine graces the North Platte Community College North campus, and serves to train engineers and mechanics.  That campus houses many applied technical programs such as building construction, HVAC, electrical, and automotive. Roger Fattig, who teaches building construction, ordered a ShopBot PRT alpha 4’ x 8’ a little over a year ago to introduce digital fabrication into the woodworking and building construction program.  An article on their website describes how the ShopBot quickly and precisely cut the arches over the windows on the house that the building construction, HVAC, and electrical students built to auction off this year.

In October, North Platte Community College, a division of Mid-Plains Community College, hosted the Region 5 meeting of the American Technology Education Association (ATEA).  The mission of the ATEA is to serve as the leading provider of professional development for postsecondary technical educators. Roger Fattig invited ShopBot to attend, and so I made the trip to America’s Heartland. It involved a flight to Denver, then a smaller prop plane to North Platte over golden landscape punctuated with green polka dots indicating irrigated crops.

center pivot irrigation

Center-pivot irrigation, or water wheels, allow farmers to grow crops.

North Platte is a friendly place.  I chose to eat dinner at the airport diner, and was perusing the photos of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh when an older gentleman came up to tell me about Amelia lifting his sister into the cockpit of her plane. When I described why I was visiting, he talked about the little machine that they took around to high schools and fairs to show people the capabilities they had at the college.  My first assumption was that he was describing a 3D printer…but then I really listened to what he was saying. Could it be a Handibot?!?  (It was.)

handibot on jig

Handibot on its jig, with blanks ready to head out for a demonstration about computer-controlled woodworking.

Early on my first full day, I met Roger and several other instructors at the North Campus, and got a tour of the house that had been built by students and staff to be auctioned off as a fund raiser.  NPCC started with a Handibot, then a local business suggested that they order a full sized tool so that they could train students to run the actual machines that are used in businesses in the community.  In the wood shop, I spoke with an instructor who wasn’t keen on everything needing power and computers, so taught woodworking using conventional tools. His rocking chair is a piece of art. But he saw the value of the ShopBot when he realized that one of his students could use it, rather than a hand sander and jigs, to plane her thick slabs of wood quickly and evenly.  Instructors from across the campus came to the classroom for an informal training, and we imported artwork from a book included with the new TorchMate plasma cutter to create files for the ShopBot, and vice versa. Faculty teaching theatre and other arts, as well as STEM education were invited to participate.


house under construction

House built by NPCC faculty and students in building construction, HVAC, electrical and plumbing. This house has been auctioned off and a new one started. The ShopBot fabricated the arch over the Pella window.


rocking chair in woodshop

Rocking chair made with traditional tools.

This year’s Region 5 of ATEA was a smaller than expected (see below), with 50 – 60 people attending.  As part of the conference, tours were arranged at local businesses. I grabbed a seat on the bus to Grain Bin Antique Town, where grain bins from the 1930s have been set up as storage units for carefully arranged antiques.  The part-time endeavor has turned into a destination in the sand hills of Nebraska. Another businesswoman who runs Feather River Vineyards set up a wine tasting among the ladders, furniture and street signs in the main building.  A former biology teacher herself, she noted the lack of younger people with the skills to continue the wine industry.  Ryan Purdy, President of NPCC, perked up his ears and asked for more information on how the community college could fill that need.  Roger Fattig raised the possibility of his woodworking program/ShopBot as a way to create customized gifts such as cutting boards for the Vineyard’s gift shop and wedding parties.


a row of old grain silos

Grain bins from the ’30s recycled into storage units for consignment antique businesses.


view from inside grain silo.

View across the Sand Hills from inside one of the bins.


roger fattig with yearbook

Roger Fattig finds an old yearbook with his picture from when he attended college in North Platte.


feather river wines

A selection of wines from Feather River Vineyards.


feather river wine tasting room

Wine tasting among the antiques.


signs wagons and assorted wood

Ladders, signs, wagons and leather.


Many people associated with the Community College have formed lasting relationships in the town. Roger and his wife, Melanie, moved to Oklahoma for a time, but moved back “temporarily” to help his father twenty years ago. They, two of their three children, and their grandchildren, love living in North Platte.  The woman who runs the vineyard is married to the physician who is the family doctor for the Fattig family. While grabbing a quick lunch at a local fast food place, Roger caught up with a former student (the one who first mastered the ShopBot) as he went through the drive-through line. The head of the local museum (Buffalo Bill Cody settled in North Platte, World War II troops traveling by rail passed through the canteen) is really excited to hear that the ShopBot can carve topographic maps for displays for the museum, or create reproductions. Ryan Purdy, President of NPCC, has lived here all of his life, and can’t imagine living any place else. He is welcoming to newer industries in town, such as the breweries that are crafting beer. He was interested to learn that a makerspace in Portland, OR, ADX, has a fabrication group that takes on custom jobs, such as using their ShopBot to fabricate the pulls for the taps of many of the breweries in the city.

On the trip back to the college I asked President Purdy a few questions about the business of running a Community College. In the five years that he has been President, he has overseen a $3Million investment in the resources of the college, including updating the equipment and technology such as the ShopBot in the woodworking/building construction program and a TorchMate plasma cutter in the welding program. Funding for the college comes from three main sources: About 45 percent from the state, 35 percent from local taxes, and the rest from tuition.  When I asked how he felt about Community College being tuition-free, he shook his head and said that the students “needed some skin in the game.” If they didn’t have some personal investment, they were more likely to start something and not complete it.

Region 5 of the ATEA includes colleges from 8 states, from Montana to Minnesota, and south to Kansas. The state of the economy affects the Community Colleges and the vendors who attend the meetings. For example, the drop in price in natural gas has resulted in South Dakota having their budget cut, and there were no travel funds to attend the ATEA meeting. Thus, there were few visitors to the vendor who was displaying equipment to train people to work with natural gas. Roger’s invitation to ShopBot to give presentations in how to use CNC equipment for everything from creating circuit boards to 3D milling brought faculty, administrators and students to the building construction area. It would appear that Community Colleges that have digital fabrication tools that can serve multiple audiences can respond to changes in local and national events.

Manufacturing Heroes: Do We Need a New Type?

assembly3Nowadays, we can all appreciate the chorus for re-shoring American manufacturing and hope that it may bring some jobs back to our communities. Yet there is an irony that, despite the wide recognition of our declining manufacturing base, proposals for manufacturing start-ups only grab attention when they are so compelling, so promising, that they can quickly scale to mass-production in China.

Current Heroes

The outsourcing of mass-production has become emblematic of success for our manufacturing entrepreneurs. Many of our institutions make heroes of those who scale to off-shored success. Venture capital PR, media hype, and government stimulus programs have helped spread a message that entrepreneurs should be valued for their visions of “high-impact products”, high-impact being little more than investor-speak for “high potential return”. We have created a counter-productive choice for our would-be manufacturing heroes that now hampers re-energizing local manufacturing.

New Opportunities

Affordable digital and robotic technologies for production are making small- and medium-scale manufacturing realistically competitive again. An enthusiastic case for a renewed manufacturing around these digital fabrication technologies has been called the “new industrial revolution” — by which small, digital-technology-based-businesses are seen as a possible core for a new manufacturing economy.

As an enabler of small operations, digital fabrication is more than a reprise of the hand-made, more than a sort-of super Etsy. Etsy does benefit from digital networks and logistics — the internet of wide-spread marketing and good shipping. But, the new-industrial-revolution concept takes networks and logistics only as a starting point, before more powerfully engaging digital design, digital product development and prototyping, digital control of machinery, digital collaboration, and digital data management to make small shops competitive again.

Less than half as many Americans are working in manufacturing today as in 1960. It is increasingly appreciated that this shift is due at least as much to technology and productivity efficiency as it is to offshoring. So it is unreasonable to expect that we’ll ever again have a large middle class supported exclusively by manufacturing jobs. More realistically, what we can hope for is some attractive new jobs in technology-based manufacturing — while we also re-embrace the importance of doing value-creating, innovation-spurring, production in our communities.

New technologies and our renewed engagement in DIY-making mean that there is an opportunity for re-invigorating manufacturing in our communities. Being productive does not need to be only about profit. Hands-on work that is rewarding, fulfilling, sustaining, and a source of value … that’s the spirit that we share with the makers and community blacksmiths of our history. Yet, the re-establishment of production in our communities is not inevitable. If we hope for it to re-emerge, we will need to be supportive of it. We will need to cultivate new manufacturing heroes.

This is an abbreviated version of the first in a series of articles on our manufacturing future and new fabrication technologies. Please see Full Article.

Camaraderie continues at 6th annual Michigan Camp ShopBot


Randy Johnson (upper left) greets the group as John Oliver (lower right) from ShopBot tech support looks on.

The annual Michigan Camp ShopBot started in 2011 when a new privately-owned makerspace opened in Ann Arbor, MI. So many attended that it was easy to say, let’s do this again. Fast forward to 2016 and the Camp has become a yearly reunion for many, with 50-60 people in attendance. Though attendance was slightly lower this year, one could still feel the camaraderie in the room on Saturday, October 15.

The Camp now rotates between Maker Works in Ann Arbor and TechShop Detroit in Allen Park. And like most Camps, some were new to CNC and some were 10+ year converts. And since we were at TechShop Detroit, there was a great group of TechShop members, too.

Randy Johnson began the day with an introduction to ShopBot Tools Inc. and defined the CAD to CAM to machining workflow to give everyone a shared vocabulary. Thea Eck then lead several presentations including a new Understanding Nodes and Working with Text presentation. Both included how design (CAD) errors can lead to toolpath (CAM) errors and how to alleviate them. Randy’s Machine Maintenance presentation shined the spotlight on John Oliver from ShopBot’s tech support. John’s presence was a bonus to those troubleshooting their machines or design files.


An attendee and TechShop member showing off numerous plaques he created for a friend using a jig design he learned in an Intro to CNC training ShopBot lead at TechShop Detroit in 2014.


Show and Tell Session during lunch














After lunch, attendees took the lead during Show and Tell. There were a few good examples of 3D carving. Randy then continued with a Textures presentation showing the import and trace bitmap commands and a little outside the box thinking to add textures to one’s projects. Thea wrapped up the day with Practices in 3D Carving. Attendees left not only with overloaded brains but they also received PDF copies of the presentations plus a few extra that weren’t covered due to time restraints.

The Camp season wraps up in mid-November with the Pittsburgh Camp. This year we traveled to 8 different locations around the U.S. Check our events calendar and also the TalkShopBot forum’s training/camps thread for Camp updates and announcements.


Another TechShop member discusses his machining process to create his wife’s new product.


The high density foam pieces are used as molds for vacuum formed packaging.



Great example of 3D carved clock.

Charlotte Mini Maker Faire Weathers the Storm for New Audience

rain at charlotte world maker faire


On October 8, the 2016 Charlotte Mini Maker Faire was held at Discovery Place Science. From audience to venue, the event played a number of roles. Local makers who had previously attended the event and others like it saw another opportunity to exhibit the things they were creating. For newcomers, it showcased the things that can be done with technology, art and everyday tools. In addition to these groups, the venue of Discovery Place proved more than adequate shelter from the wind and rain caused by Hurricane Matthew, which meant not only something to do for locals on a rainy day, but a great destination for those who had to evacuate from areas to the south and east and would otherwise be stuck in a hotel.


sticker mural

Sticker art installation at the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire


The final project for the Charlotte Makerspace, a dragon made combining CNC and 3D printed parts.


From ShopBot’s stance as exhibitor, this year’s Charlotte Mini Maker Faire was also different. Not only did they have the help of Eric Schneider, a local maker and Handibot owner from nearby Davidson, NC, but had to improvise the setup since the booth had been moved indoors (ShopBot’s was one of the stations originally planned to be outside on Tryon Street). The new location was Kids U, a multipurpose room that usually houses bugs, snakes and other critters, which were cleared out to spare them from the noise and crowd. The space was shared with Southern Piedmont Woodturners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the art and education of woodworking.

room at discovery place science

Kids U, before ShopBot & SP Woodturners takeover.

handibot printmaking at mini maker faire

Eric poses with Handibot-made jack-o-lantern prints.









wooden t. rex at mini maker faire

Discovery Place’s T. Rex shepherded traffic to Kids U.

al with handibot

Al poses with the Handibot and his Handiwork












printmaking at charlotte mini maker faire

New technology meets a centuries-old process with Handibot-cut printmaking.

In true maker fashion, the experience was defined by improvisation. With the new location, people would have a hard time locating both groups. Luckily, Discovery Place had a five-foot-long T. Rex they had cut on their in-house ShopBot. The dino was put to work right away to help guide visitors over to the station. Immediately outside the room, Eric set up his printmaking station. He cut a set of letter and character stamps on his Handibot, as well as a series of layered pumpkin prints that, when used in a certain order, created a striking glow-in-the-dark print that anybody could make. The stamps proved not only popular with kids, but made parents and makers wonder how they were cut and drew them into Kids U, where they could see the Handibot in action, cutting names and figures drawn in SmoothSketch with FabMo, ShopBot’s wireless interface software.




handibot at minimaker faire

Kids and parents who had made prints outside were interested to come in and see how the Handibot worked.

handibot names and pictures













Despite all the last minute planning and changes, the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire was a huge success. Rather than prove a hindrance, the rain and wind actually drove a new audience into Discovery Place Science. Makers from all over the Charlotte area and beyond were able to share all the creative and interactive things they were doing, which provided a day full of welcome distraction from Hurricane Matthew and its effects.


Showing, Sharing, Empowering: World Maker Faire NY 2016

al showing handibot operation with phone at wmf16

One of my favorite things about attending Maker Faires (large or small) is the moment you witness someone make the connection of how something is made—and then see the leap they make to quickly translating that new information to something they want to make. Maker Faires are ripe with individuals and organizations ready to show and share what they know to empower others to learn, discover, and participate.

The Maker Ed event on Friday, September 30th kicked off the 7th Annual World Maker Faire in NY. The event gathers educators together to grow hands on learning, create makerspaces, collaborate on curriculum, and more. Education spaces, from science centers to libraries, from hospitals to schools, to administrators and educators, are working with students of all ages and abilities to create environments that engage and activate young minds. During Maker Ed, we heard example after example of success stories: kids who were disinterested and checking out of school that undergo a change—they lock in on things like music, electronics, construction—finding their voice, interests, and talents. Events like this are encouraging for the future of education.

ShopBot had two booths this year for the Saturday/Sunday, Oct 1st & 2nd, event and a team of 6 ShopBot staff on hand. One of our booths highlighted the Handibot® Smart Power Tool Adventure Edition and its accessories. Our Smooth Sketch app brought out the artist in kids and adults alike. ShopBot’s Al-Solo Nyonteh and Clarke Barry had visitors draw with a finger on the tablet or phone, press “go,” and the Handibot carved out drawings while they explained what CNC is. It’s a quick way to make the connection between drawing on the computer (CAD) and having the machine cut, carve, mill, or drill your file (CAM).

clarke barry and handibot at world maker faire in ny

Brian Owen, our lead engineer on Handibot, demonstrated using a jig that comes with the Handibot, to extend the work area by tiling and showed off the plotter pen attachment – a crowd favorite!

The second ShopBot booth was home to the ShopBot Desktop MAX. You can go from product idea to full production manufacturing with a ShopBot Desktop MAX. Its cutting area of 36”x24” makes it a great fit for everything from guitar making to signs to full size furniture parts. Our very own Bill Young created a couple of jigs to make skateboards, many which were cut throughout the Maker Faire. He showed the whole process from glueing up 1/8” baltic birch, to forming the wavy shapes in custom jigs (created on the ShopBot of course!). Every hour or so, he and Kevin Putvin, our lead engineer who designed the Desktop MAX, cut one of the boards profile on a special jig made to replace the entire table on the MAX. People flocked to see the boards come to life. We had several artists decorate boards before the event that were meant to draw lots of people to our booth—and did!

bill young making skateboards at world maker faire 16 shopbot desktop max at world maker faire 16

What an amazing playground for our future leaders, inventors, academics, and creatives. I’m glad ShopBot is a part of this movement and that we can play a role in helping people make their future.

See the World Maker Faire official slideshow.

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Would you like to participate with ShopBot at a Maker Faire or event near you?
Event Participation.