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Q&A: Makerarm Inventors Want to Enable Creativity with an Inexpensive, Multi-Functional Tool

15 October 2015

After three years of development, makers Zaib Husain and Azam Shahani have brought to market the Makerarm, the digital fabrication tool that can 3D print, laser, carve, plot, assemble, along with a variety of other functions, in order to assist makers everywhere. Zaib Husain tells us more about how the system works and the inspiration for such a tool. With only a background in finance, Husain explains to us how Makerarm came to life.

Electronics360: I have read about Makerarm on Kickstarter. I understand the idea for the tool began about two years ago. Can you tell me a little bit about how the idea for Makerarm originated? Where did your inspiration come from?

Zaib Husain: Makerarm arose out of a garage project to create a multi-functional fabricator that was low cost and easy to use. Azam and I have worked with 3D printers, milling machines, carvers and other tools in the past, but were not satisfied with their performance. We were paying a lot to own multiple machines that had limited functionality and took up a huge amount of room in our workspace. We were also looking for a digital aspect where we would be able to import 3D designs and visualize outcomes before starting a project.

Electronics360: Do you have a technical/engineering background? If not, who did you turn to for technical expertise in developing your product?

Zaib Husain: While Azam has a technical background with a degree in Computer Engineering, my background is in Finance. As a team, we wanted to create a multi-purpose fabricator that was affordable, but did not compromise on functionality. Once we had an initial concept in mind, we worked with Josh Harris at Bolt for the industrial design. We then took the designs to Shenzhen and worked with Dragon Innovation to ensure the most compact and cost-effective product. After a rigorous review process, Makerarm is now 'Dragon Certified'. Dragon Innovation will guide us through the manufacturing process in the event that our crowdsourcing campaign is funded.

Electronics360: How does Makerarm work, exactly?

Zaib Husain: Makerarm features interchangeable toolheads that allow it to 3D print (with both filament and resin), mill soft metals and wood, laser cut and engrave, create PCBs starting with a blank board, pick and place and assemble components, solder....even ice a cake! We have a very detailed Kickstarter page with technical specs—please feel free to reference anything you need on that count!

Electronics360: Are you working on any other products at this time?

Zaib Husain: Currently we are focusing all our time and attention on Makerarm.

Electronics360: What does the future of Makerarm look like to you? How can the product evolve and expand?

Zaib Husain: We have a lot of great ideas on how to improve Makerarm and give it expanded capability in the future. For instance, we would like to increase the work area by allowing the arm to rotate around itself and also envision putting it on rails to really extend its reach! We are also developing additional tool heads for use with Makerarm, like a 3D scanner, and are working to refine the UI to allow an immersive and intuitive design and fabrication process. Makerarm base units will be upgradable so enhancements can easily be incorporated into existing units.

Electronics360: What is it like being a "maker"? What challenges come along with starting from the ground up in this field?

Zaib Husain: Working on a hardware project can have its frustrations! We put in a lot of work to refine initial prototypes and had to keep pushing and improving until we had a product we could share with our maker community. The time we spent on the ground in China was very valuable in terms of development, but was equally tough because of the language barrier. Hardware is inherently 'harder' than software and the development time is much longer so it is a little frustrating in the sense that it requires more commitment and more work.

Supply chain, shipping, packaging, logistics and customs are areas you cannot overlook when working in hardware and it can become overwhelming for a small team. For someone just starting out in the field, we would recommend getting help from experts like Dragon Innovation—working with Dragon has been a great learning experience for us.

Electronics360: What would you say is the best part of developing a new product?

Zaib Husain: The best part is getting to work with the finished product and think: “at one point, this just existed in my mind”!

Electronics360: Any advice for those trying to get a tech product developed?

Zaib Husain: Take your time to refine your concept and don't take shortcuts with product design. You may take longer to see results, but they will be infinitely better if you have been thorough in the crucial first stages of product development.

Electronics360: What are your personal thoughts about 3D printing? Do you think it has the potential to change the way things are created forever? Do you see a future filled with desktop 3d printers and at-home printing the same way you see desktop PCs in every household?

Zaib Husain: 3D Printers are being refined and becoming more mainstream—we do see them in homes, schools, labs and offices everywhere. 3D printing machines are enhancing their capabilities to include metal, pharmaceuticals and other materials and will have a definite impact on the manufacturing process by simplifying prototyping and allowing the cost-effective production of useful items that are not needed in large quantities. I look forward to even more complex printing that can combine multiple materials.

Electronics360: What is your personal vision in this market? Where do you see yourself, Azam, your company, in 10 years?

Zaib Husain: We see personal fabricators as huge game changers in the maker community. The idea is to enable creativity with machines that are inexpensive and allow you to work on all aspects of your project. Imagine the power of envisioning something and being able to hold it in your hands in a few short days—this is the power we would like to place at the disposal of all makers. In 10 years and hopefully even after that, we will continue to do what makes up happy, and that is design and deliver products that enable creativity and making!

Makerarm is currently on Kickstarter. The team has raised nearly half of its funding goal, with almost a month remaining in its campaign.

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