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PCH talks with Zaib Husain, Founder of

Makerarm

The first robotic arm that makes anything, anywhere

Makerarm is an all-in-one machine that can 3D print, laser, carve, plot, assemble and pick/place. The idea came when Zaib Husain and Azam Shahani grew tired of the complexity and cost associated with using so many different machines. We sat down with Founder Zaib Husain to discuss building an all-in-one device, feedback during Kickstarter, and the future of making.

What is Makerarm?

Makerarm is a factory on your desktop. It’s a digital robotic arm that has interchangeable tool heads that allow tons of functionality. For instance, you can 3D print with it. Then changing out the tool head takes you to laser engraving. You can put in the CNC milling tool head and go to that functionality. There are tons others as well. You can solder, pick and place items, glue, and so on and so forth.

Really, it gives you a ton of functionality for any project that you’re trying to do from cutting items in the shapes that you want and drilling, soldering, and going through the different stages to have a finished product.

What’s your background?

I grew up in Pakistan between two cities, Islamabad and Lahore, and came to study here in the U.S. I did my undergrad at UT Austin in Finance and worked for several years before doing my Master’s from London University, also in Finance.

My husband and I have a workshop in our garage where we build things and we’re involved with several Austin-based hardware meetups and other groups. My co-founder, Azam Shahani, is a computer engineer. We started chatting about different things and that’s where the idea of Makerarm came about.

What’s the founding story of Makerarm?

Azam Shahani, my co-founder, is a good family friend—I’ve known him for a long time. He was visiting us in Austin and we got to talking. Azam has been in hardware for a long time. He does hardware design consultancies and has worked with a bunch of tools, as have I.

We were just talking about the frustrations that we had with different products. 3D printers, for instance, you’re always fiddling with their heated beds, trying to get them just right so you can actually work on your own project. And also about how expensive it is to own a ton of different machines that you would need to get through an entire project that you’re working on.

We brainstormed about what we would like to see in an ideal product for makers. Once we had an initial concept, we did an industrial design and then took it to an expert to have it looked at and refined.

What made you ultimately want to make the jump into entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship runs in the family. My husband is a serial entrepreneur; he’s had many startups here in Austin, and his latest venture, SparkCognition, is in the AI space. It’s been the norm. You have a great idea, you think about getting it created, getting it done.

My background in Finance really helped focus on one of the very tangible benefits for a tool like Makerarm: affordability. For instance, I noticed that the closest competitor in terms of 3D printing starts around the $3,000 range, and then goes up from there, has a limited amount of space that you can work in, and only has one functionality. It was a very appealing concept to think that at a lower price point, you can offer a ton of functionality without compromising on any quality features. For instance, Makerarm prints just as well or better than other 3D printers in this space and has other benefits compared to them. That was a very attractive notion to me.

While we are working in hardware, my Finance background helped quite a bit in solidifying the concept and making sure that we were making something that is viable and affordable.

“One of the great things about Kickstarter is that it really draws an interested audience.”

Why did you want to make a machine that does so many things, rather than just focusing on one?

Our aim with Makerarm was to do everything as well or better than competitive products out there. For instance, a lot of makers love the 3D printing feature, and that would be the primary market and the primary space that people foresee using it in. As a 3D printer, it has better specs than most other machines out there. The work area spans 30 by 15 by 10 inches, and that is many times bigger area and volume than the other printers out there.

One of the other unique features is Makerarm’s ability to auto-level. Instead of users having to calibrate the print bed, Makerarm has built-in sensors to scan its environment to do that automatically. Plus, it can work on any flat surface—no special bed required.

A third benefit in terms of 3D printing is that there are printers dedicated to either filament 3D printing or resin 3D printing, and Makerarm offers both capabilities. Both types of printers individually can run into the thousands of dollars, upwards of $2,000 to $3,000 each and in this one machine, you can get the ability to resin 3D print, as well as filament 3D print at the same resolution or better than the other printers out there.

Just in terms of 3D printing alone, Makerarm makes a lot of sense for people who were considering getting a 3D printer. But they don’t have to stop at 3D printing, they can just purchase an additional tool head and try some of the other functionalities as well.

Another thing that we did with Makerarm was make it compatible with popular technologies. For instance, you can use Dremel tools with Makerarm so you don’t necessarily have to abandon the other expensive equipment you already own. Dremel Fortiflex drills are very popular with makers and you can use your Fortiflex with Makerarm.

We feel that it’s a versatile device, but we certainly have not lost any of the quality and functionality in terms of what it can do.

What has been your main focus during your Kickstarter campaign?

One of the great things about Kickstarter is that it really draws an interested audience. All the comments, suggestions, and messages that we’ve received on our Kickstarter campaign page have been phenomenal. People like the design, they like the idea, and they have tons of suggestions for tool heads.

What we’ve been trying to do is create as many demos and videos as possible to showcase the varied functionality of Makerarm and also to talk to the folks who are backing our project and make sure that their ideas and suggestions are heard. We want to give people the features and functions that they are asking for, as opposed to the functionalities that we feel are most useful.

We have a laser-cutting tool head in the works. We’re testing it and it’s almost finished, but we had not planned on revealing it while our Kickstarter campaign was going on. Due to popular demand, we will be doing a demo for that functionality and will hopefully be posting it to our Kickstarter campaign page in the next few days.

“We want to give people the features and functions that they are asking for, as opposed to the functionalities that we feel are most useful.”

Is your target market more hobbyist makers, or is it people trying to do prototyping?

It’s such a varied tool. It’s like having a miniature factory sitting on your desktop or in your work space. We’ve had queries from very diverse spaces. Several firms have reached out from the aerospace industry. That is a space where the iterative prototyping aspect of Makerarm would really be useful. Expensive projects are sometimes on hold waiting for that one part to be perfected and additional days spent on prototyping can be very costly. It’s very necessary to speed up the prototyping process, and that’s certainly an area where Makerarm could be very useful.

Another area that we did not foresee a lot of interest from is the medical instrumentation industry, and also medical testing labs. We’ve had a ton of interest from that space where companies want to make their medical instruments work with Makerarm to automate processes. CDCs have reached out and they want to automate processes that have the risk of infection, if people are involved in those tests. Also, medical instrument manufacturers have reached out to automate certain processes that take many hours to perform, like filling vials of liquid up to a certain level over and over again.

We’ve also had a ton of interest from schools, maker spaces, and universities, and that excites me a lot, personally, because I would love for students and makers to be able to build new technology with Makerarm. Especially kids in schools, I would love to see them make technology instead of just using it and playing with it.

Makerarm is able to make PCB boards from scratch and that is a very unique ability that I think students should be exposed to. They learn how the innards of their technology work and that it’s very possible to create their own. We’ve had interests from hobbyists and small businesses as well. We spoke to someone who does jewelry prototyping for high-end clients and wants to use Makerarm for that purpose. And we also have one client who makes metal goods and is interested in the laser engraving tool head that Makerarm offers.

Two or more Makerarms can also work together to really cut out a lot of hassle when you’re making the same thing over and over. You can train the arms to pick and place items, work on them, and then pick and place them in the “done” pile. Once you train the arm to do that, you’ve automated a lot of the work and it could save a ton of time.

What do you think is going to be the future of prototyping and making hardware in general?

I’m very excited by additive manufacturing like 3D printing, even though it’s still in its early days. Just the fact that people are working with different materials, that’s very, very thrilling to me. The bio-printing aspect, for instance, I feel has a lot of promise and potential.

In terms of how to make hardware manufacturing easier, I think tools like Makerarm will certainly be very appealing for processes that you would typically need a lot of money to get into and we can consolidate that, make it affordable, and put it on your desktop.

For instance, with resin 3D printing, you can get the same quality of resolution that you would with a factory tooled item. That’s a very exciting notion. It really makes it affordable for people to work on their inventions and you really don’t need a ton of money to build a product before you figure out if it’s viable.

It enables people and allows them to test their creativity before they take it to market.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice would certainly be to wait to take your ideas to market. Work with smart people to build and refine your product and don’t take short cuts to production. Taking the time to work through the complexities of industrial design at the beginning will save you from delays and additional costs later in the manufacturing cycle.

What’s your current state of mind?

Relaxed.

When and where were you happiest?

With Amir and the boys watching a Star Trek episode.

What is your greatest regret?

Not going into a more scientific field, along with finance. I would love to study organic chemistry someday. It might happen.

What is your greatest fear?

Anything bad happening to loved ones.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Bringing up compassionate, kind boys.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Chocolate.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

"Absolutely"

What’s your favorite quote?

What Mr. Spock said a few days before he died, “Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved. Live long and prosper.”

What is your idea of misery?

Being anxious.

Which living person do you most admire?

Abdul Sattar Edhi

What’s next for Makerarm?

We’ve made Makerarm upgradable and we will continue enhance its features and functionality. We will also work on additional tool heads that we can offer to our maker community. In the future, perhaps we’ll work on other ideas, but at the moment, we are very focused on Makerarm and making it a high-quality product that our users will enjoy for many years to come.

The Blueprint talks to

Quantum Bakery