HARWICH – What do a handful of robots, a 3D printer, and the Harwich Cultural Center have in common? They're all integral to the Cape Cod Makers organization, since members can now utilize a 3D printer to build robots and other cool creations in their new Cultural Center space.
What are the Cape Cod Makers? In layman's terms, it's a group of people who get together to, well, make stuff. Of course, it's way more technical than that. According to Jim Sullivan, president of the group's board of directors, the Cape Cod Makers is a non-profit organization created roughly five years ago to support the growing maker movement on Cape Cod.
Makers are yesterday's tinkerers, but with better equipment, often in the form of robotics kits, lathes, all manner of tools, and the aforementioned printer. While robot building is a popular pastime of many makers, who often create them for competitions, makers lend their skills to myriad projects of the do-it-yourself nature.
Sullivan said the local group was inspired by Artisan's Asylum, a massive community workshop in Somerville.
“It's this huge maker space,” Sullivan said. “It has 3D printers, welding, wood shops, all kinds of stuff.”
Sullivan and his fellow makers felt the Cape should have something similar.
“That started us on this journey,” Sullivan said. “For us, it's about trying to get as many different types of makers together.”
As the group searched for a space that would work well for its various members, they held meetups wherever they could, anywhere from Falmouth to Dennis and beyond. They moved into the HCC about two months ago, which Sullivan said has been a big plus for the organization.
“Eight of us out of the group said, 'OK. We're all going to chip in,'” Sullivan said. “Now we can start storing equipment here.”
That's especially important regarding technology such as 3D printers, which require specific calibration to operate properly. Moving them regularly means having to calibrate them often. The new space allows the group to house their printer, along with other equipment, so they can set to work right away during weekly meetings.
Each year the group holds its annual Maker Faire, this year slated for April 28 at Mashpee High School, an event that allows area makers to shine.
“At the first Maker Faire we had the Experimental Aircraft Association come, and also somebody that made a duct tape kayak,” Sullivan said. “They had a big conversation about making the kayak and what type of techniques were used.”
Sullivan explained that one of the benefits of makers groups is the interactions between members that allow them to share their unique skills. Sullivan said an example would be someone piloting model airplanes as a hobby, but struggling with broken parts as the result of crashing. At a makers group the pilot might connect with someone with 3D printing savvy who could print replacement parts, likely designed by yet another maker with such skills.
Where other groups, such as the one in Somerville, are well established, Sullivan noted that the Cape Cod Makers are just getting their footing, something having a set space has helped with tremendously, particularly regarding the purchase of tools that will allow them to grow the group.
“We'd like to buy a laser cutter,” Sullivan said. “But first we have to raise the funds for it. And even once you get the tools you've got to have instruction on how to use it. We've gone from meeting people along the way, to having the Maker Faire, and now we have a space, so we're on the next level of learning how to have a maker space.”
With each of the group's members working, Sullivan said the biggest challenging facing the makers is finding time to get together, though Saturday evenings are proving promising, along with the occasional weeknight, with members coming from nearly every town on the Cape.
Right now the group has roughly 12 members, but it is Sullivan's hope that having a central space will allow that to increase.
“Once we get more organized we can attract more people,” Sullivan said. “Because now they have just one place to go. Before we were always moving around. Now we can set some open hours when anybody can come in, and we can share what we're doing.”
Doug Butler is a maker from Centerville and is thrilled to have the new space in which to improve upon and add to his fleet of small robots.
“I'm more mechanical. Jesse (Craig) is more software,” he said. “I for years was a member of a model train club, but they're more interested in history and I'm more into the machinery.”
Most of Butler's career as an engineer involved working with the lamprey robot, which is used to keep track of wear and tear on large ships, which fueled his passion for building bots, including a deceptively cute machine outfitted with a spinning blade, the sole purpose of which is to oust opposing bots from competition.
Jerry Thiboutot is an architectural designer by day, and comes to makers meetings to expand his creativity.
“For me personally, I want to get more involved in 3D printing,” he said, adding that he's excited about the possibility of a laser cutter. “You can do different models, and for me that's interesting stuff. I want to learn as many different things as I can.”
Thiboutot said finally having a set space for the makers is a dream, and one that happened because of tireless efforts of Cape Cod Makers members, as well as a good deal of community support.
“We've been promoting ourselves so much, it's gone a long way toward making this happen,” he said. “After five years of hard work and effort, it's beyond imagination.”
For more information on the Cape Cod Makers and the annual Makers Faire visit capecodmakers.org.