Images from ShopBot Camp Austin, TX 2015

Some of the great work shown at our recent camp in at Wayne Locke’s shop in Austin, TX. We had a great turnout with over 60 attendees. We are still adding images to this gallery so make sure to check back.

Check our events calendar for upcoming camps and events near you.

Facet Mutes puts ShopBot 5-Axis to work making fine wood mutes

CIOMIT owner and instructor Dan Parker

CIOMIT owner and instructor Dan Parker


Daniel “Dr. Dan” Parker is a master craftsman with 42 years experience in the musical instrument repair trade.  His clients include top professional musicians from around the world, and eight years ago he founded and continues to run CIOMIT, the Colorado Institute of Musical Instrument Technology. It’s a professional trade school which offers classes online and in-person in Colorado. Dan’s students leave with a highly sought-after skill that can serve them for a lifetime.

Dan said that CIOMIT focuses on training for repair of brass, woodwind, strings, and percussion. This includes oboe, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, flute, guitar, violin, and more. He’s noted that technology is causing huge changes: “In the past few years, with CNC becoming a commonly used method in instrument making, I’ve seen some tremendous opportunities to make use of the technology in repair and in production,” said Dan.

Dan explained, “To become a master craftsman in repairs, part of your training is to be able to build an instrument from scratch. With CNC being commonly used to make guitars, clarinets and other woodwinds, as well as brass instruments, I felt it was important to add CNC training into my coursework.”

Students learning to repair a trumpet

Students learning to repair a trumpet


Making Mutes with the ShopBot: A Turning Point

The other opportunity afforded to Dan by growing adoption of CNC was in making and selling instrument accessories. In early 2014, Dan purchased a company called Facet Mutes, Inc., which designs and manufactures high quality mutes from fine woods, for trumpet, trombone and French horns. Some of the woods that are used are walnut, black limba (also known as corina), African rosewood, Spanish cedar, Sitka spruce, maple,  wenge and lacewood. In order to produce these mutes more efficiently and in preparation for selling them internationally, last November Dan made a purchase of a used ShopBot 5-axis CNC router.

To give you a sense of how these mutes look, and affect sound, here’s some video made by Facet Mutes artist Chad McCullough playing trumpet with various Facet Mutes. (If you don’t see the video below, you may need to click the link and watch it on Facebook).

Dan explained there were several reasons for integrating 5-axis CNC, and choosing ShopBot’s tool. “From the standpoint of production efficiency, I knew that using a 5-Axis tool was going to allow us to fully carve the inside and outside of a block of wood material all in one pass, rather than a more cumbersome process of the CNC lathe, where you have to flip the part as part of the process. The 5-axis tool has allowed us to triple the speed of producing the parts.”
Here’s video that Dan took of the ShopBot 5-Axis at work on a trumpet mute:

Along with efficiency comes greater safety for the tool operator. “In the past we’d have to hold pieces, some of them quite small, just inches from the blade of a table saw. Even though these are held in place by jigs, you want to minimize exposure to accidents as much as you can. The 5-axis CNC approach is a lot safer for the operator.”
So why did Dan choose ShopBot? “Well, from a bottom-line standpoint, there really was no choice. With some research, I learned that a pure 5-Axis CNC solution was going to be in the range of $250,000. This did not make sense for my business. I started learning about ShopBot’s 5-axis which offers what I needed for quite a bit less of an investment — a new tool costs about $40,000; as I was researching it I came across a post on their forum of a ShopBot 5-axis owner who was looking to sell theirs, and that’s the tool I purchased.”
And how has he liked working with the tool? “I’ve found that it performs well, and I’m seeing a lot of potential with it. One new item that I am introducing to my students is designing and making wooden bells for trumpets, using a solid block of cherry wood.”
Here are some close-ups of Facet Mutes:
"Bubinga" Trumpet Straight Mute. Great bright tone for the play it louder, higher faster type of trumpet players. Also known as an African Rosewood.

“Bubinga” Trumpet Straight Mute. Great bright tone for the play it louder, higher faster type of trumpet players. Also known as an African Rosewood.

"Limba" Trumpet Straight Mute. Good all-around tome made of Black Limba,  also known as Corina wood. Same wood used in the Gibson Flying V Guitar

“Limba” Trumpet Straight Mute. Good all-around tome made of Black Limba, also known as Corina wood. Same wood used in the Gibson Flying V Guitar

"CJP" This is the Orbert Davis Signature, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Trumpet Cup Mute. Walnut and Padauk wood combination. Tonal qualities are warm and full bodied with a nice staccato on the higher notes.

“CJP” This is the Orbert Davis Signature, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Trumpet Cup Mute. Walnut and Padauk wood combination. Tonal qualities are warm and full bodied with a nice staccato on the higher notes.

Facet Mutes being demonstrated at a recent music industry trade show:
demonstrating mutes at show
You can learn more about Facet Mutes here,  and about Dan’s CIOMIT school here.
Find out more about ShopBot’s 5-axis CNC here.

SolidWorks, FabLabs and ShopBot

Santiago with Desktop at SWW2015Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS Corp. offers complete 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software that engineers, designers and other technology professionals use to create, simulate, publish, and manage their data. The FabLabs are an international community of over 300 fabrication laboratories, complete with an array of digital fabrication equipment, electronics components and molding equipment so that the community members can “make just about anything.” If there is a CNC machine in a FabLab, it is often a ShopBot. SolidWorks and the FabFoundation are committed to supporting the next generation in STEM (or STEAM) education, and announced a partnership at the Fab10 meeting in Barcelona.

To help celebrate the partnership, SolidWorks invited the Fab Foundation to bring a FabLab to SolidWorksWorld 2015 in Phoenix Feb 8 – 11. The SolidWorks Showcase (see video here) is the centerpiece of the Partners Pavilion at the annual meeting for those who use SolidWorks. In addition to the FabLab, participants in this year’s Showcase included  Myo, a motion control and gesture control armband that uses arm muscle activity and EMG signals to control digital devices. Pivot cycles use SolidWorks in the design of their performance bikes.  Advanced Manufacturing and Metals brought their flight simulator and a tag along camping system that can be pulled behind a small car, or even a motorcycle. GoldiBlox encourage girls to become engineers by combining stories and reading with building tools which expand their spatial skills.Flight Simulator Pivot Cycles

The FABLAB Display

A full FabLab provides a number of digital fabrication tools to allow people to make just  about anything, including laser cutters, CNC machines, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, plus an electronics lab and mold-making materials. While examples of items that had been created in a FabLab were on display, the only active machines were a Roland vinyl cutter and two smaller ShopBot CNC machines: the Desktop  and the Handibot.

Roland Vinyl CutterHandibot at SWW 2015 preview


SolidWorks Designs to 2D Drawings:

Designs created in SolidWorks can be exported or saved as 2D drawing files or 3D models/components. Kelly Zona from TIES imported 2D drawings created from SolidWork designs and cut them on the Roland. Many of the male engineers were familiar with the concept of a vinyl cutter because their wives/girlfriends had consumer models, but were surprised to learn that you can use the Roland to create soft circuits from copper sheets or stencils for etching circuit boards.

Kelly Zona designing for Roland Vinyl Cutter  Soft Circuits and Vinyl Cutter

Sallye Coyle from ShopBot created some examples of how SolidWorks designs can be prototyped and manufactured using CNC equipment. One design, a chicken pull toy with an internal cam to make its wing flap as the acentric back wheel turns, was machined using profile and drilling toolpaths that cut to one depth. The Solidworks files created beautiful parts, assemblies, and videos on how the project fit together and moved. After saving the design as 2D drawings (.dxf, .eps, .ai or .pdf format) Sallye used the CAM features in VCarvePro  software shipped with a ShopBot to set the origins, define the depth (thickness) of the material, chose the tool (router bit) and the strategy to create the parts. ShopBot Control software will read G-code, and many CAM softwares such as MasterCAM have post processors that will export to ShopBot CNC. Assembling the Chicken

During the machining and assembly of the chicken pull toy, Sallye discovered that what looks great on the screen sometimes needs some allowances and tolerances in real life (also true of 3D printing.) In assembling the chicken, Sallye used wood glue to hold some parts rigid (the dowel axles in the wheels and wings) and a bar of soap to reduce friction where things needed to slide past each other (the acentric wheel driving the cam to flap the wings.)

SolidWorks Designs to 3D Machining:

In many cases, the same SolidWorks file that can be sent to a 3D printer can be machined on a 3 axis CNC machine. As an example, Sallye took a propeller design created in Solidworks, and did two sided machining on the ShopBot to create the part in maple. Sallye used Vectric’s Aspire 3D CAD/CAM software to lay out and toolpath the 2D and 3D parts of the design. With each side only taking about 30 minutes to rough cut and finish cut, she was able to experiment with toolpathing strategies to achieve the smoothest cuts. Click here for more details on the process.  Also on display was a sample created with a Rotary Indexer, using DeskProto as the CAM software. Rotary indexer

SolidWorks Propeller Side 1   SolidWorks Propeller Side 2

The HeartFest

Before the show, the plan was to demo the 3D capabilities of a CNC tool by machining a 3D heart on one side of a laminated HDPE (white/red/white) material    then flipping the file to personalize the heart and cut it out for attendees. hearts 3D sheet preshow

During the first evening of the event, the ShopBot happily machined 26 3D hearts in about 22 minutes before the sheet was flipped for personalization. That level of complexity was abandoned after Marie Planchard, Director of Education for SolidWorks, introduced the partnership of FabLabs and SolidWorks during the General Session on Day 2. She spoke of fostering the next generation of engineers, and the need to bring more women into the fold. She then held up her personalized heart and announced…if you need a heart for your Valentine, stop by the FabLab booth.

Sherry Lassiter, Executive Director of the Fab Foundation, and Sallye went into production mode: redesigning the files, add more hearts to a sheet, taking lists of names. Attendees got into the act, helping to cut out the heart machined in red/white/red ColorCore. By the second day of the heartfest, two computers were running simultaneously: one for putting names in the hearts, one for running the tool. Once one sheet was filled/cut, the computers would be switched around to keep the design and fabrication process going. Rumor has it that there was a farm of 6 – 8 MakerBots  3D printing out personalized keychains, but they probably didn’t do as many samples as quickly, and with as much excitement, as one DeskTop CNC machine.


SolidWorks, FabLab and ShopBot in the Real World

Attendees to the conference included engineers, educators, and artists. Exhibitors in the Partners Pavillion: demonstrated using SolidWorks in their business. One company, Driveworks  has an interactive software for designing furniture and products, as well estimating material costs and creating quotes. To make customers more comfortable trying out their product at the show, the Driveworks crew created a high display table and an interactive terminal for their booth. They designed their show furniture in SolidWorks, and cut it out on a ShopBot PRSalpha at the FabLab in Manchester, England.

DriveWorks table

Driveworks terminalDriveworks back of terminal




While most attendees were working engineers, the final day had its share of future engineers visiting the show. SolidWorks and FabLabs are perfect partners for encouraging STEM (or STEAM) education at all levels, from early education through graduate programs. Local High School students visited SolidWorks World 2015, and Educators/Administrators from all over the country picked up information on creating a FabLab in their schools. Students were able to design their files on screen, then observe them being machined immediately. A few students went home with an unexpected prize…the remainder of the ColorCore sheets after the hearts had been cut out. (P.S. For those concerned about sustainability, the waste from cutting process and leftover sheets that don’t find another home can be recycled.)

Future engineers at SWW2105



Appalachian Signs’ 3D Artistry is Enhanced with ShopBot

airplaneSarah Evans and Laura Shoemaker are the owners of ten-year old Appalachian Signs in Boone, North Carolina. Appalachian State University is where they’d both earned undergraduate degrees in 2000 — Sarah in music and business, Laura with a fine arts degree in sculpture. They loved the area and wanted to find a way to start a creative business there, and by 2005 they’d opened up Appalachian Signs.

The company designs and builds a variety of custom signs, from combination CNC’d and hand-carved wood signs, to custom-cut lettering and logos, to printed vinyl signs. They split the responsibilities to a degree, with Laura handling customer service and administration (as well as most of the printing), and Sarah running their ShopBot CNC and doing most of the hand woodwork as well.

I caught up with Sarah recently to learn more about their work. “To us, this business is about art and design,” Sarah said. “Our job is to express the essence of a unique company. We strive to make things of beauty as well as functionality.”

By about 2008 they knew they wanted to be able to do more creative and technically complex dimensional work for their customers — this meant stepping up and purchasing a CNC tool. To Sarah the ShopBot was the natural choice because of its smart design and reputation for reliability. “We knew ShopBot meant quality — it’s kind of like, if you want an iPhone, you have to buy an iPhone.”

Sarah said that they didn’t have much knowledge of working with CNC at the time of purchase, but with a background in vector drawing and working with plotters, things came together quickly for them.

“The ShopBot tool has met and exceeded expectations,” noted Sarah. “You really find that with CNC, the world is your oyster — the possibilities are endless. For us working in the sign world, CNC allows you to come up with whole new engineering concepts.”

“Even at a basic level, it’s a game changer for us. For example, a lot of customers will come to us looking for sandblasted signs; they really like that look. Well with the ShopBot, we can program the tool to essentially cut so that it creates a sandblasted look without the intense labor of traditional sandblasting technique. This is just the beginning of the tool’s capabilities for us — and we’re also creating non-sign work such as cutting out guitar bodies, making massive Christmas yard decorations, creating all kinds of materials for carpenters…and we even built a whole new kitchen using the tool.”

So yes! Sarah and Laura are big fans of ShopBot. Here’s some of their eye-catching work:


Carved and sandblasted


lettering and logo

Custom lettering and logo


bread company

Carved and sandblasted


vinyl sign

Vinyl printed with dimensional accents


wood and blasted

Hand painted

To learn more about Appalachian Signs and see more of their work, visit  You’ll find more information about ShopBot’s full size tools here.

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.