There was a market for the laser cutter

Published November 15, 2012 by gridsolarsystem

Early on, it appeared there was a market for the laser cutter. Von Minden and Trester-Wilson noticed that many of their acquaintances in the architecture world were dependent on it and had a rude awakening when they graduated.

“They relied on the ability to rapidly fabricate almost any idea they could wrap their head around,” von Minden says. “And all of a sudden there was no 3-D printer, laser cutter or other equipment people were using in the world of architecture.”

So the two crafters began testing the market by designing and creating their own laser cut products from jewelry to bookmarks. Because they didn’t have the machine yet, they outsourced the laser cutting and sold their products at craft and holiday shows, eventually participating in the East Austin Studio Tour, which continues this weekend. The infectious enthusiasm for all things laser cut prompted a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the down payment of a laser cutter, which can cost upwards of tens of thousands, depending on the machine’s quality. Even before MakeATX opened, the workshop already had members signed up.

Making things in a collaborative environment extends to similar member-based workshops like ATX Hackerspace and the recently opened TechShop in Round Rock. “Sometimes I feel momentary panic at the threat of other fabrication workshops starting in the area or other opportunities starting online, but then I always come back to the idea that there’s so much room for this kind of thing.” von Minden says. “It’s kind of a budding world of crafting and entrepreneurship. We’re different than anyone else, and there’s so much room for people to do different things.”

Most MakeATX members come with a business idea, von Minden says, whether it’s designing a product or making a prototype, and then get it manufactured elsewhere. Some want to buy a laser cutter and do their own laser cutting some day.

“They’ll feel bashful about saying that,” von Minden says. “But ultimately that’s what this is about. “And that’s what we wish we could have had — a chance to test out our (design) ideas.”

MakeATX member Steven Mattern has gotten that chance. He has an online Etsy shop filled with the unique products he makes at the workshop — from wooden map puzzles to intricately-designed smoking pipes.

Mattern says he made early prototypes of the products while he was in school but wasn’t able to fully develop the ideas until he joined MakeATX. He was one of their first members who secured his spot before the doors opened.

Aside from teaching laser cutting basics, von Minden and Trester-Wilson also have some project-based classes showing folks how to make fun things such as laser-etched notebooks or customized luggage tags.

The duo plan to expand MakeATX beyond the laser cutter and get more high and low-tech fabricating equipment that will open the door for nearly limitless craft or artsy projects.

“There’s so much flexibility as far as how much (laser cutters) can do that I feel it’s not subject to trends really,” von Minden says. “Our business model will probably have to evolve at some point. Right now we’re on the cutting edge, but that will not be the case forever. The industry is still exploring what this equipment can do. And whether it’s this equipment or other equipment, the idea of making things will continue to be a popular idea as it expands into a computer controlled world. I sort of feel like we’re on the cusp of something.”

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