We recently launched our Kickstarter campaign (www.Handibot.com/fund) for the development of ShopBot’s new Handibot Smart Tool. We seem to be off to a good start in the campaign, but we have a number of goals for the campaign beyond just selling Handibots. The two most important to us are: 1) getting the understanding and utilization of digital fabrication to a broader audience – it’s amazing how few people (outside the circle of current CNC users, “makers”, and geeks; and despite the glitz of 3D printers) know about what can be done with either additive or subtractive digital fab, or about the kinds of services that 100kGarages fabbers might provide them; and, 2) generating enough interest, momentum, and sales to expand manufacturing to a distributed manufacturing network.
If you have viewed the Handibot Kickstarter project, you will know that our stretch goal is to move production beyond ShopBot’s facilities to the emerging community of digital fab shops … and, of course, we plan to do it through 100kGarages. More specifically, we hope we will soon be looking for a few good garages that are interested in jumping in and starting to manufacture Handibots in their locale or region.
Practically speaking, our current capacity to make Handibots here is Durham is in the range of 500-1000/year. We hope that “Handibotting” – on job sites, in DIY home workshops, in educations settings – will becomes a much broader phenomenon. We believe that a supportive infrastructure for applications, accessories, and other resources can make it happen. We see this as an opportunity to expand both digital fab and the practicality and efficiently manufacturing things in small, technology-oriented shops everywhere.
With increasing demand for Handibots, rather than trying to create a centralized manufacturing facility here or simply off-shoring production, we believe that the distributing manufacturing to a network of digital fabrication shops around the country (and around the world) makes sense. It makes sense from a logistics point of view – do the production near where the tools will be used rather than a remote factory. It also makes sense from a growth point of view because each small production facility can also become a source of support, training, maintenance, updates and upgrades, and emerging accessories and applications to support the adoption of “smart tools”.
We have designed the Handibot with 3 levels of components. Level 1 Components are the main structural elements: primarily these are the exo-frame and base plate assembly. These components are HDPE or acrylic parts that are all cut and machined on CNC routers like ShopBots. They can even be cut on a Handibot, though with less efficiency than with a larger tool in the case of making multiples. Level 2 Components are aluminum elements of the Handibot that are also CNC machineable, but are a little more challenging. Level 3 Components are motion system commodity items such as rails and motors, as well as the electronics.
Our concept has been to start distributed production with the Level 1 Components being fabricated and tools assembled locally through the distributed production system with ShopBot providing a package of Level 2 and Level 3 Components. As we move forward with production we would also shift Level 2 Component responsibilities to the local facilities. As we conceive it, ShopBot would continue to source and provide Level 3 items in an open and transparent supply chain in which we continually seek qualified and competitive vendors who we rate and reward for quality and delivery. (We would also like to discover competitive local manufacturers for Level 3 items. The primary Level 3 Handibot item being stepper motors with an integral shaft [linear actuators]; we are currently unaware of any such manufacturers outside of Asia.)
While we will need to develop a more complete financial model for production partners in the system, we believe that with the production of 50-100 Handibots a year, distributed manufacturing of Handibots could become attractive to local fabbers as an adjunct to their ongoing businesses. This would be the case in particular if the fabber also became involved in broader, value-added support of Handibots; providing training, service, accessories and other resources in support of local users. Further production of a couple hundred Handibots a year should support an appealing small business, serving a community and employing several people in good jobs.
Handibots are “open source hardware” and, before long, will be run by open source software. That means that anyone can take the plans and make tools and sell them, or modify the design and sell a variation of the tool. This may seem threatening, but we believe that the advantage of an open and collaborative development of smart tools will lead to better and more useful tools all around and will support a wider adoption of digital fab tools. We will all benefit.
Handibot” is, however, ShopBot’s trademark. Only tools manufactured within the Handibot production system (ie. including the distributed manufacturing garages) will be a certified “Handibot™”. Other tools and accessories will be able to describe themselves as “Handibot-like” or “Handibot-compatible”. This is much like the system employed by the open source Arduino microcontrollers. That system has worked well to energize interest of a wide community of users, well beyond that of just electronics geeks. We see it as a useful model. For Handibots manufactured within the distributed manufacturing system, ShopBot will collect a small fee for handling orders, maintaining the supply chain system, applying quality controls, and enabling and supporting the network of resources and Handibot collaboration.
It’s probably a bit early, but we would like to start by beginning to collect a list of 100kGarages interested in participating in the distributed manufacturing of Handibots. In addition, we would like to begin an open discussion of the specific challenges of distributed manufacturing of Handibots. We’d like to hear everyone’s questions, concerns, worries, and points of enthusiasm about this project.
For the moment, we suggest beginning this conversation with Fabbers, Designers, and Handibot developers in the Forum here at 100kGarages. I have opened a thread for these purposes and look forward to continuing the conversation.