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College students design CNC machine for home user

Posted: July 2, 2014 4:37 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2014 4:37 p.m.
Makesmith CNC founders Bar Smith, left, and Tom Beckett, center, present their affordable CNC machine for home hobbyists. Makesmith CNC founders Bar Smith, left, and Tom Beckett, center, present their affordable CNC machine for home hobbyists.

Makesmith CNC founders Bar Smith, left, and Tom Beckett, center, present their affordable CNC machine for home hobbyists.

Makesmith CNC’s machine for home hobbyists. Makesmith CNC’s machine for home hobbyists.
<p>Makesmith CNC’s machine for home hobbyists.</p>

The makers of an affordable CNC - Computer Numerical Control - machine for hobbyists found themselves with a landslide victory when they turned to the Kickstarter crowdfunding site to raise $10,000 to launch their idea.

With 423 backers and $82,207 later, Tom Beckett, former Hart High and now University of California Santa Cruz graduate, and his partner Bar Smith are faced with the task of building 356 CNC drill machines for an October delivery.

The two young men formed their company Makesmith CNC after Smith, an engineering student, wanted a CNC machine for what he felt was an under-served market of students and hobbyists.

“The cheapest machine he could find cost $600 so he decided to make his own,” Beckett said.

The first generation Makesmith CNC machine sells for $195.

Smith, who was always into electrical engineering, came up with the idea of making a smaller, portable CNC machine for hobbyists and built the first prototype using a pizza box, he said.

During the past year, both Smith and Beckett put all their spare time into designing a smaller version CNC machine that they envisioned could be used by anyone from student engineers, to technically inclined hobbyists to artists, Beckett said.

People can buy a model airplane kit from a hobby store for as much money as their machine costs, Beckett said. But with the machine, a hobbyist can buy material and design their own planes.

“The industry is moving toward allowing consumers to use tools that previously only businesses could use,” he said.

The strength of their machine, he said, is that it can also work with wood, plastic, foam and other soft materials whereas typically the commercial machines cut metals. It can even carve into a brick.

“We’re excited to see what community of users will do with it,” Beckett said.

Smith wrote the software that accompanies the CNC machine. And Beckett with, with degrees in history and technology and information management, jumped in to help plan the company’s production timeline, marketing and assembly.

“Seeing our own Kickstarter campaign take off was very exciting for us and seeing it finish strong was a great feeling,” he said. “Before it started, we were certain that there was a market to serve here, but we were not sure exactly how large it was.”

The two men will use the funds raised from their crowdfunding campaign to buy the necessary equipment for ramping-up production and produce all the kits October. Anything leftover will be put towards transitioning the start-up company into a sustainable and growing business.

Since the campaign, and demonstrating their prototype at Maker Faire events, Smith and Beckett have been contacted by several people interested in their startup business and are currently looking at potential for partnerships, Beckett said.

“One of our early project goals was to find ways to employ talented friends which would allow them to create value for us, while at the same time allowing our business to create value for them,” he said. “With such an incredible opportunity like this, we want to see the others around us succeed as well.”

While CNC machines revolutionized the manufacturing industry, Beckett and Smith see their product do what 3D printers have done in the consumer world.

But even though Makesmith’s machine is protected for now with a provisional patent, surprisingly, the pair isn’t overly attached to their innovation. In fact they see their company as being able to design and create multiple projects which “tackle and solve problems.” They already have a couple other projects they want to pursue after they get the CNC machine off the ground. And they’re also looking for strategic partners to grow.

“The CNC machine will be open source and open hardware after we’re done so someone’s going to take it and make it better,” Beckett said. “We see this very quickly being approached by larger companies that want to get into the field. We don’t want to be in the ‘small realm’ forever.’”


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