An Experiment in the Next Industrial Revolution


Digital fabrication joinery is used in producing Handibot “Smart Tools”.


You can think about Handibot as ShopBot’s experimental platform for exploring manufacturing strategies for the “next industrial revolution”. In a recent blog post responding to a customer challenge about open collaboration, I’ve tried to lay out why digital fabrication will be the catalyst for new forms of manufacturing. In fact, we see our “open” design, development, and production plans for the Handibot Smart Tool as a good example of how the potential of digital fab might be used to create a an attractive alternative of distributed production in small shops.

Handibot's early evolution.

What’s fun is that the Handibot is itself a digital fab tool that can participate in its own replication and modification. READ MORE …

Production Support Projects

Custom Pressure Foot

Back in November, Production Support made a tune-up visit to Freedom Challenge Ministries in Balstrop, LA. After performing basic maintenance, a more advanced training on the software was done to help those in the shop become more efficient in getting from a customer order to cutting a file. One of the efficiencies they had already put into place was a way to make better use of their materials – putting small 1.5”-2” shapes they call “filler” into the unused sections of their MDF. While they already had large vacuum pumps in place for their regular cutting, these additional pieces were too small to be secured by the existing vacuum system. The Widget Works pressure foot they were using helped a bit, but since it was designed for material thinner than what they use, it wasn’t helping as much as it could. With that in mind, we left with the idea of creating a pressure foot that is better equipped to hold thicker material.

pressureFoot_2 pressureFoot_3


Quick Change Spindle

One of the requests we hear most often is for a faster, easier way to change tools. To accommodate this request, the ShopBot Production Support Team worked with our spindle manufacturers, HSD, to come up with a solution. The result is a 4hp quick change spindle. It uses a standard HSK C32 tool holder with an ER25 collet. The advantage of this system is that it allows the user to pre-measure the cutter length, which eliminates the need to zero the Z axis when changing bits. This allows for increased efficiency and helps eliminate mistakes. The 4hp quick change spindle is a great affordable option for any shop needing to speed up their production.

For more information on these or on ways to help your production team be more productive with custom solutions, jigs and fixtures. Visit our Production Support web page or call 800-680-4466 and ask for Production Support.

Pikes Peak Library features a ShopBot in its Maker space.

Patron using the ShopBot Desktop at Pikes Peak Library Maker Space

Patron using the ShopBot Desktop at Pikes Peak Library Maker Space


I caught up recently with the staff at Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) in Colorado to learn more about their 21st century Maker spaces. PPLD’s Travis Duncan said, “We want to be on the forefront of continuing to make public libraries useful for their patrons in the tech age. This means in part, rethinking the ways in which we’ll serve our community. We need and want to be more than a repository of information… and to become useful as a community lab where new content of all kinds can be created, providing public access to the tools and resources of content creation.”

PPLD’s overall $13 million renovation of three library facilities includes the creation of a business center, a job search and career assistance center, computer labs, children’s education spaces, community meeting spaces, and the Creative Computer Commons (or C3) at Pikes Peak’s Library 21c. As described on their website:

C3 is a combination of spaces and resources dedicated to building skills, developing content, and encouraging enterprise. C3 has a Business and Entrepreneurial Center, Public Media Center, Makerspaces, gaming labs, galleries, and a large venue. It is populated by the latest technologies, exceptional professional staff, and cutting edge materials.

Becca Cruz manages the daily use of the Maker spaces, which opened about one year ago to the public. “We have two spaces,” explained Becca. “Make I is intended for creative projects that do not require hand or power tools, and so there you’ll find equipment such as sewing machines, soldering irons, glue guns, knitting looms, a stamp heating tool, and a wide variety of crafting tools.”

Make II is intended for fabrication projects that require hand or power tools, emit fumes, or use advanced machinery. That’s where you’ll find the ShopBot Desktop CNC along with…
•    Epilog Zing 16 laser cutter
•    Makerbot Z18
•    Makerbot Replicator 5th generation 3D printer
•    Afinia H480 3D printer
•    Lulzbot TAZ 4 3D printer
•    and other power tools and hand tools

PPLD’s Dan Raffin assists patrons with the use of the tools in Make II. Dan explained, “In some cases, I may just guide the patron. And in cases such as the ShopBot Desktop, I’ll do some of the fabrication work for the patron. It depends upon how comfortable the individual is with using the technology.”

The Maker space hosts regularly scheduled demonstrations of the equipment to introduce the community at large to the technology and encourage trial of the tools. Asked to describe some of the people he has assisted, Dan said, “The overall space is open to people ages 9 and up (with adult supervision for the young people). In Make II, the users tend to be folks in their 40’s, 50’s and up, equally men and women.”

Dan described some of the work being done on the ShopBot. “A woman came in, needing to cut parts for toys she’s designed. Another came in to cut out a sign she had designed. And recently a man visited the space who had designed a waterproof plexiglass container for his scuba camera gear. He wants to place a monitor underwater; so he cut out the pieces of plexiglass on our laser cutter, and then, to cut grooves in that plexi for the rubber gasketing, I helped him use the ShopBot Desktop.”

PPLD's Dan Raffin assists a patron with the use of their ShopBot Desktop

PPLD’s Dan Raffin assists a patron with the use of their ShopBot Desktop

“So far, the CNC tool has been somewhat underutilized,” continued Dan. “I think this is because CNC technology is not all that well known. I’m hopeful that our continuing demonstrations will change this. Events like Maker Faires are a huge boost to public awareness.”  To that point, last October, PPLD and the Colorado Springs Science Center co-hosted Colorado Springs’ first Mini Maker Faire, boasting more than 60 makers and 6,000 attendees at Library 21c.

Attendees at Colorado Springs Mini Maker Faire, October 2014. At the Pikes Peak Library.

Attendees at Colorado Springs Mini Maker Faire, October 2014. At the Pikes Peak Library.

The staff at PPLD report that interest and patronage continues to build for the two Maker spaces. They noted that there’s recently been interest expressed by an established manufacturer to support training there on the Desktop CNC and other digital fabrication tools for potential employees; as is often the case around the country, there are too few Americans being trained with the skills needed to perform 21st-century manufacturing tasks — and PPLD could help fill that gap.

We’ll close with a video that PPLD created to show off their new spaces…

Making the Leap

A typical project for us these days.

A typical project for Atlanta Closet & Storage Solutions

Sorry I haven’t been around much lately, but I thought I’d touch base for a minute while I finally have a chance.  I have been busy beyond belief for the last year or more, to where visiting the forum or writing has had to take a back seat to eating and sometimes sleeping.  My closet and storage business, Atlanta Closet & Storage Solutions, has picked up to where we have outgrown the home based shop, and we are in the middle of setting up a new shop with a new CNC machine a few miles away.  Yes, I will be replacing the Shopbot, at least for day-to-day production.  While my business has been Shopbot-based since my first foray into CNC, we have simply outgrown our current space and our current machine.  The timing is perfect, as I had already been looking at commercial spaces available in the area, and I’ve found a great space in a recently renovated building that not only allows manufacturing, but has a showroom area with offices up front.  It really couldn’t be much more perfect for us.

What has also been perfect has been the timing of each of my key employees contacting me at just the point in the growth of the business where I needed someone with their particular aptitude and personality to take over an aspect of the operation that was taking up too much of my time.  We now have on board a full-time designer/salesperson, who handles most of the in-home consultations and follow-up contact with the customers; a production manager who oversees the shop operations and does whatever is necessary to get the jobs processed on time; another full time person in the shop to handle the materials before and after parts come off the CNC; two full time installers, and a helper, and we recently added to the team a full-time CAD engineer to help get the jobs through the office and into production.  That’s nine including my wife (AKA the Vice-President), who manages the office and accounting functions, and myself.  It’s hard to believe that this has all come together at the same time, and that leads keep coming in and jobs keep going out on a daily basis.

Current Shop 1

Our current sheet processing setup – a bit cramped but we’re making it work.

So back to the machine.  My original intent was to just lease some space as reasonably as possible, and move everything over to the new space with the lowest expenditure possible for setup and new equipment.  The primary reasons for making the move included lack of access to a forklift for unloading our 3,500 pound bundles of 4×8 sheets of melamine, and lack of access to a dumpster for disposing of the 2,000 pounds of scraps, sawdust, and trash we somehow generate every several weeks, that we have to load onto our delivery truck and deliver to the local transfer station.  The fact is there is nothing wrong with the Shopbot, it keeps on cutting sheet after sheet after sheet all day long, and I’m sure it could have made the move without much more than a hiccup.  There are two game changers though – one is that our primary suppliers are bringing in more and more 5×8 sheets, including several new colors and textures, and stocking fewer and fewer colors in the 4×8 size.  Needless to say we have a problem cutting the 5×8 material on our 4×8 table.  Let’s just say it’s a good thing we still have the tablesaw and that it’s conveniently located inline with the Shopbot.  The other is that we finally reached the point where our machine simply can’t drill all those holes we need, and cut all those parts we need, as fast as we need them.  The breaking point could not have come at a more opportune time, as my production manager, William, and I were on a week-long tour to visit several machine manufacturers, including Shopbot headquarters in Durham NC.  I wanted to get an idea of what our upgrade options were, and it couldn’t be more fitting that that same week was the first week that I was genuinely worried that we might not be able to get all the material processed that would be needed to fill all the orders that had been promised by the end of the week.

The latest ShopBot PRSAlpha CNC with automatic tool changer

The latest ShopBot PRSAlpha CNC with automatic tool changer

In addition to Shopbot we visited three other manufacturers that are all located, or have major regional facilities, as close or closer to Atlanta than Shopbot’s headquarters in Durham, NC.  The size and level of sophistication of the respective sales and service departments range the gamut, and frankly ShopBot is (by design?) at the small end of the spectrum.  (For a very boring but more detailed report on our trip see here).  When you start looking at the larger (i.e. more expensive) machines, you start talking in multiples of the cost of a fully loaded ShopBot, and the maintenance costs over the life of the machine will likely add up to the cost of yet another ShopBot.  (You also have to consider much higher requirements for compressed air, dust collection, and electrical service, potentially making the total investment enough to buy a fairly decent house in many parts of the country.)  However, when you compare the production capacities of the various machine configurations, versus the cost of ownership, including the cost of the operators to load, unload, and maintain the machine, there is a point at which buying the more expensive machine makes sense.  I find myself approaching that point, and with a new shop to set up, there is a lot to be said for building for the long term and not having to go through this process again in a few years.  So I have decided to invest in a dedicated, nested-based, through-feed CNC sheet processing and machining center, complete with automated sheet in-feed, and automated part outfeed onto a giant conveyor belt.  Once a bundle of melamine sheets is loaded onto the infeed station, the operator will stand at the other end (45 feet away!) and pick up each part as it arrives, ready to be placed into the next machine (in our case, the edgebander).


Sounds simple, but it takes a lot of machine to make all that happen.  Still, it seems to be the direction many manufacturers are taking, automating as many of the unpleasant tasks as possible, and minimizing the need for relatively low-paid people doing repetitive jobs (or worse, having to pay relatively highly-paid people to do repetitive or otherwise unpleasant jobs).  Of course the same can be said about investing in CNC machinery in the first place, but once we are talking about thousands of sheets a year, the sheer volume of material to be handled becomes an issue.  In our case, the new machinery, combined with the space afforded by our new, larger shop, will allow us to produce several times the volume we currently put out, without having to hire any more people.

Atlanta Closet & Storage Solutions Production Cell

New Atlanta Closet & Storage Solutions Production Cell

In fact, the first question most people ask when I tell them about the new machinery, is whether I plan to let any of my employees go, and the answer is no, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have great employees that I can count on to make the move with me and learn how to operate the new equipment.  We’re going to need at least as many people to handle the flow of parts coming from the machine, and the flow of designs ready to be cut, that having such a beast necessitates.  Our one full-time shop employee, who was the most concerned about being replaced by a machine, will now have time to help with the deliveries and installations, making him all the more valuable.  The alternative to investing in automated equipment, for a growing company, is to hire additional employees, but if you compare the monthly cost of leasing and operating the equipment vs hiring another skilled or semi-skilled employee or two, there’s not much difference.  There are a few other reasons for making the leap to more fully automated machinery, not the least of which will be the ability to offer almost immediate turnaround times for most orders.

The old shop fits inside the new shop with room to spare.

The second question I get from most people who know me is ‘are you going to sell your ShopBot?’  The answer to that is also no, it would never occur to me to sell the ShopBot.  Even though I could probably get most of my money back out of it (if you don’t count my labor), I have a feeling I’m going to appreciate having a machine I can use for custom pieces or personal projects, where I can leave something set up on the machine for a while without interfering with daily production.  Not to mention it might be good to have a backup – just in case the inevitable happens.  The ShopBot is going to stay right where it is, in my soon-to-be home shop/man cave, hopefully to enjoy a long second (third?) career doing the kinds of projects it used to be known for, and I hope to maintain my place in the ShopBot family, albeit possibly with a less prominent presence on the forum.  I have to give credit to ShopBot, and my little machine in particular, for getting me in the game, and to the point where I can consider a larger machine.  I have to admit, while no one was watching, that I did a little ‘Rocky’ dance when I realized that I now own two CNC machines.  This could be interesting.




CNC and STEM (STEAM) Education: 1

Collection box for Relay for LifeIn 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. pit-crew-at-work-300x224


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.” Blair Evans Incite Focus   s20-sketchup-graphic 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. beekeeping from Valldaura 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.personal recycling center 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. compost from CNC waste


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

How to start up a micro-factory in your garage.

phone w my hue

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.

lens 1

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.)














lens 2












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.


Mike Annetts’ students learn STEM subjects and gain confidence by making with a ShopBot.

Teacher  Mike Annetts

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 table project. Faces blurred for privacy.

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

Testing the shape for guitar design with the ShopBot











Student shows off finished guitar

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:

girl w twi table

girl w chair

girl w cabinets

Bam! Pow! Zowee! "Holy Industrial Arts class, Batman!"

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 that she worked on

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

game board 1

boy w game table

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.

Bennett Harris is “Reinventing Science” to inspire kids.

That's Ben Harris grabbing a selfie with Bill Nye "The Science Guy" at the first ever White House Maker Faire, Spring 2014

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.Screen shot 2014-11-18 at 1.31.46 PM












“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.

Screen shot 2014-11-18 at 1.32.04 PM

















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.


The new EV Challenge Electric Circuit Troubleshooting Simulator by Harris EducationalBen 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

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 roubleshooting wiring issues on an EV

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

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.

Calling for: CNC’d Seasonal Décor

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 with any questions.

Freedom Challenge Ministries serves more people in need, thanks to their growing ShopBot-based business.


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.”

IMG_2166-sm IMG_2299-sm

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.

IMG_2084-sm IMG_2125-sm

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: