© Otherfab General | June 12, 2013

'People want CNC machines'

Now and then you see a product, or gadget, that you just know you want – some of them just because they fit you, they suit your needs – and with some, you just see possibilities.
Otherfab is a US, Bay Area company that is taking garage/DIY manufacturing to a whole new level, with ready to use products that will enable most people (if not all) to create a great arsenal of things. What's the catch, you might ask. We know there's always at least one. Well, to be honest, it is you. You're now the creator – you set the limits.

Here you go, here is the Othermill (a desktop CNC mill) and the Othercutter (a CNC cutter), and now it is time for you decide how to use them.

I touched based with Danielle Applestone, CEO of Otherfab, to talk about the product, the success of their Kickstarter project and the direction of the company.

So will we see a take over of the prototype industry? Will the Othermill be the first choice for the new start-up companies that are experimenting with new solutions? – possibly – but that would more likely be a positive side effect as that is not really the aim of the company. But a revamp of the home/garage manufacturing businesses is something that is highly likely, that we'll see.

The idea for the Othermill came from Jonathan Ward, the company's machine designer, while he was at MIT.

“When we were at OtherLab however, we started working on a different machine as a part of an education project. We called the new machine Othercutter; designed to be a low-cost alternative for laser-cutters. And it cuts soft sheet materials, as it was primarily designed for classroom activities. So kids could be exposed to CNC-machines.”

“So we started there. Jonathan wanted to make his own guitar pedals (for guitar effects). So he just made a mill to cut the cutom circuits and the enclosure. I mean we have a big shop and he likes to make machines. And it just worked. The Othermill was so much closer to being commercially ready than the Othercutter – so we decided, why don't we just 'kickstart' this.”

And they did, and within 22 hours of the Kickstarter launch – the Othermill had met their mark for being funded.

“The $50,000 goal was the minimum we were willing to make machines for – but we definitely hoped that we would earn way more than that – and we thought so. We sold more than we thought we would. We were thinking that 50 machines is good and as long as we can pay for 50 machines that's great – and now, we're at 205 machines, which is really awesome.”

And selling four times as many machines as the company initially thought, really says something about the market. And now they also had some intel on what the market actually looks like.

In the meantime, the company has worked on a few additions to the Othercutter – such as a milling head – so that the user can cut both soft and more rigid materials.

“I think that there is a pretty broad range when it comes to our customers – definitely electronics, definitely in the garage – but I think that one of the ways that we are going to bring it from the DIY/garage crowd into the tabletop, craft room crowd is through the software.”

© evertiq
“It is really easy to use, you don't have to be technical. You basically just make a drawing digitally of what you want cut out. And then you drag it to the software and tell it how big your workpiece is, how thick it is and what kind of drillbit you're using. And that's all you have to do. Our software does all the processing for you.”

“We want to exist in this ecosystem, where people have their own businesses and they make whatever there is, custom jewellery, custom guitar pedals – I mean, there is so much.”

So a revamp of the DIY/garage manufacturing businesses might not that far away, with accessible and easy to use equipment, more people might be inclined to actually try that home-business dream.

“We're at the very beginning of what I think is a revolution of desktop machines. Because for the first time, motor control is cheap enough to make high quality machines for less than a USD 1'000 or USD 2'000.”

This might also amp the risk taking when designing your own products, as you have the opportunity to try out your own designs. People might be a bit more daring.

“So, if I envision what is going to happen, when a person can go out and make their own circuits – rather than having to mail away for them – I think that people will be willing to take more risks with their designs, and tinker a bit more.”

“I mean, if you have to mail away for it and pay, you are not going to be willing to take risks, because there is a cost, not to mention every time you mail away your design – there is a cost of intellectual property leakage – it will happen, and the cost is not 0.”

And if we were to look into the future, what will we see from Otherfab? What will be the next desktop-machine to roll out of the factory space?

“Imagine this; any power tool that you have to use with your hands, you can figure out a way to make it CNC controlled, and if there's a demand for it – and we think that is a reasonable assumption – we're going to pursue it.”

“It will be great once there's a full suite of machines – which is what we're going for.”
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