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BuildYourCNC visits Proto Makerspace
Proto Makerspace logo
One of the most important things we do at BuildYourCNC is supporting our local makers and the maker community in general. We recently took some time to visit Proto Makerspace located in Spring Texas, (a northern suburb of Houston) and chat with the founders Evaristo Ramos, Andrew Toler, and Nancy Ramos. They gave us a tour of their place and showed us some of the cool things they keep around for their members to tinker with.

One of the most important things we do at BuildYourCNC is supporting our local makers and the maker community in general. We recently took some time to visit Proto Makerspace located in Spring Texas, (a northern suburb of Houston) and chat with the founders Evaristo Ramos, Andrew Toler, and Nancy Ramos. They gave us a tour of their makerspace and showed us some of the cool things they keep around for their members to tinker with.

Interview:

Where are you located?

Evaristo: We’re located in north Houston in the Spring Texas / Woodlands area. We’re right off Interstate 45 across from the Exxon Mobil campus.

Why did you open a Makerspace?

Evaristo: I was looking to get more area for a lot of my machines, and start on my robotics projects. My interest in starting a place was that some people would be able to use the equipment when I was out of town because I travel extensively because of work. The secondary purpose was to find creators and people who don’t have access to the tools otherwise or maybe need direction completing their projects. It also helps me find people who can assist me with making the electronics and/or software for the side projects I do on Kickstarter. My primary right now focus is on finding software programmers and software systems.

Andrew: For me, I realized that I’m not going to be able to own every tool out there, but I wanted a way to get a lot of people together with lots of different interests and I knew they would have things I wouldn’t have and we could all learn together better. I’d heard about the Makerspaces downtown and visited them and they’re awesome, but they’re an hour away and so we said “We’ve got to have something that is closer”, and that was my motivation.

Tell us a little about your background and how you got started?

E: I was primary researching locations where I could rent some space to move all of the equipment, and so I looked into moving possibly out of Houston and looking at the Makerspaces around Houston. I started meeting with the local groups in the North Houston area in hope of finding a group that was starting the process of opening a space and maybe I could partner with them. Out of the couple of groups, Andrew’s idea lab seemed to be the most furthest along in wanting to get a space started up immediately so that is kind of how we got together to get the space going.

A: My background is in Health Data Analytics and I teach that for Southern New Hampshire University online. I love doing personal engineering projects and we moved here from Vermont last year and I had been building a lot of stuff, a studio, a new addition to the house and all kinds of stuff on my own, and when I got here I didn’t really have a space to do that and you’ve got to kind of scratch that itch for making things and that was my early motivation for starting the Makerspace. So in February I started a Google group for people who were interested in starting a North Houston Makerspace and I ended up getting about 15-20 people interested in that. So I started scheduling events, and we had this 3D printing event where Shane Hooper presented his printers and his subtractive and additive processes which he does professionally and that is where I met Roo (Evaristo) and Nancy and they were ready to go. Roo said “At some point, you gotta do it! You can’t just keep talking about it you gotta do it!” So it went from there in around mid-July.

E: We opened officially on August 11th.

A: We spent a solid month looking for a place. It was nothing but searching, we looked at a lot of places, it was hard to find this place.

What resources did you want for your members (i.e. machines, materials, tools)?

E: We wanted them to have access to subtractive and additive manufacturing so Andrew has a 2x4 CNC for our subtractive management. For our additive we have a 1.75mm and 3mm 3D printers so we can build quickly. We also have the blackTooth laser cutter from BuildYourCNC. We have some other technologies like a Delta printer, a resin printer, and a vinyl printer. We try to have a different mix of machines so anyone from an artist to someone who writes books can come in and find an option that works for them.

A: We have 3D scanning, all kinds of computers for software and design. A woodshop, a full electronics shop, a glass shop, welders, everything for metal and wood.

E: We have a wide range of different radio technologies from Bluetooth to all of the available frequency spectrum here in the US.

You’re going through the process of putting together a scratch build CNC machine. How do you feel about the process? Would you rather have gotten an assembled machine or do you enjoy building it?

E: I personally like building the machines from scratch because it shows me more how the mechanical engineering works. It also helps in case anything breaks so I know exactly how the machine is put together. Most machines are to the point nowadays where once you have learned the assembly process you can either scale it up or scale it down based upon what you need to work on. For example on the CNC, once you learn how the steppers, pulleys, and belt systems work then you can take that to all kinds of different machines and different industries. I see us having these types of machines and allowing people to work on them giving them another tool into helping themselves financially or creating their own modification or design.

A: The number one reason I decided to build the CNC from scratch was cost. I built that thing for about $700 as opposed to buying one for $2,000-$3,000.

At this point Andrew decided to turn the tables and ask Patrick a question

A: “What type of feedback do you receive from people who build the kits as opposed to those who buy complete machines?”

Patrick: “Well, unfortunately since we sell kits predominantly we don’t see a lot of feedback from those who are on the complete side, but from the people we deal with it seems the majority of them love putting the machine together, especially educational institutions who are taking another step in teaching the student about every facet of the engineering process before they actually start using it, they are blown away with how much they learn just from putting the machine together and building a curriculum around just that.”

What demographic and age group do you try to attract to your Makespace?

E: I think the age range we look at since we are starting a program for kids is as young as 4 years old. We don’t have a max age range, it is just dependent on what that particular person wants to learn how to do. As far as gender, I know from personal experience on the technical and engineering side of things I’d like to attract more females into the Makerspace since there aren’t a lot of them in those fields. We’ve seen improvement over the past few decades, but there still isn’t a large percentage of females in the industries so we want to start a female engineers group that we could maybe get meeting in our space.

A: For our grand opening, we had a bunch of activities out. In a moment of impulse I grabbed an old machine and put a sign on it saying “take this machine apart” and it was actually one of the most popular things at the event. A lot of younger junior-high aged kids were taking it apart with screwdrivers.

E: A lot of young people aren’t involved in the industry right now because maybe it was deemed too dangerous, so we like to show them that you can use things like a circular saw.

So you’re thinking that because these schools don’t have woodshops or metal working classes any more, that this can kind of fill in that gap.

E: Right, recently that is what Makerspaces have been doing, filling in that gap.

A: We have this simple little plastic robot arm, and we had this little boy who came up and asked “how does this work?” and I said “I don’t know you have to figure it out” and within five minutes he had figured it out so it is all about experiential learning.

Tell me about your memberships and fees.

E: We have a $50 monthly membership level which gives you access when we are currently open which is Thursday, Friday evenings and all say Saturdays. The rest of the time we’re closed to the general public but we’re open for the members so if the members have a project they need to work on they can do it. Between the three of us we’re always dropping by so being open more hours is not an issue.

A: Eventually we’ll be open more hours as we get more members.

Do the members get a key or somebody has to be there during those times?

A: Somebody is here.

Do you provide training on the actual machines themselves?

A: Yes. Let’s say somebody comes and says they have knowledge of how to operate a machine, all we ask is that they demonstrate they can use it safely.

E: We haven’t moved into formalized classes yet but that is on our shortlist.

Do you plan on certifying them on their machines?

E: That is another side project we’re looking into, Andrew has been working on a system like a web login where eventually if people login and get certified at any of the worldwide makerspaces they can register online and we can see who they are and what certifications they possess.

A: It is like a passport system and the reason for that is Makerspaces right now are rare and spread out, and we really should be working together more. There may be some equipment some makerspaces have and we’d love to be able to collaborate with other Makerspaces so members from different Makerspaces could do things at other locations.

Give me your view on profit vs nonprofit and what you’ve established for your Makerspace.

E: We’re for-profit and the reason we’ve decided not to be non-profit is that it gives us the ability to make changes quicker and not having to wait for a group to meet and reach a consensus for every decision that needs to be made.

A: We’re more of a corporation than a for-profit. We just felt the flexibility of being a for-profit organization gives us the ability to be able to make decisions amongst ourselves and not have to go through the long process of donation drives. I knew that we had enough funds to get everything bought and started.

What are your future plans and equipment you are looking at getting?

E: Our future plans are once we have new machines that are in process of being delivered, we want to help people get started on their projects or people who want to get started on making a product and we can start to be an incubator for them. Maybe they don’t have the mechanical knowledge or software knowledge to get their ideas off the ground, so we want to be involved with helping get your projects and ideas off the ground.

A: I think in addition to hobbyists and individuals, we want to be a resource for small businesses to do rapid prototyping and getting their ideas into 3D form and working through their process. Someone can just come on an open house night and share their ideas and talk to us and we can be a resource for them.

What do you have planned for acquiring to help with rapid prototyping in the future?

E: Right now we have the ability to reflow circuits, so between the various machines that we have here we can create solder masks and very shortly we should have the ability for them to etch their own PCB (Printed Circuit Boards).

A: That is only one piece of equipment, we’ve got over 400 things we’re looking at getting.

What are they?

A: Well we want to make something like the greenLean, a 4x8 vertical CNC but I’m going to build it so it can do a little bit more than that like a plasma head for plasma cutting.

Where do you come up with the idea for doing that?

A: Honestly I did think of it myself due to our own space restraints, and then I saw it on your website, so I decided I would base it off what you have designed. I’m going to build the frame on my own, but when it comes to the gantry I’ll come to you for advice on that.

E: I’m a very big believer that we live in a 3D world and we need to be taking advantage of 3D space.

Any other comments you’d like to make?

A: One of the dreams I have is to make Mokume-gane it is fused different types of metal that have been forged for jewelry making.

A: As far as classes, I want to do a 3D modelling class for open SCAD as opposed to sketchUp or Solidworks. Nancy’s classes are junior makers from ages 4 to 8.

E: I don’t have classes right now because of my schedule and I’m more of a hands-on type of person. I need to get to the point where I can get my projects done so other people can use them instead of trying to tinker with them all the time. We’re still in the process of figuring out the structure.

A: I think hands-on learning is better than lecture learning. We’d like to give them all the available options for putting together say a robot, rather than just a kit with instructions so they can learn everything about the process.

You can continue watching the rest of the video to see the tour of the Makerspace.

To find out more about Proto Makerspace and where you can sign up, please visit their website here here

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