I figured I should probably give my audience some background on just who is typing all this crazy nonsense. What better place to start than the beginning? (TL;DR at bottom).
I have grown up in an entrepreneurial environment from age 5 on. My father started an aftermarket parts business for high-performance garden tractor pulling in 1995. Never heard of it? Don't worry, it's a small motorsport. My mother quit her job to take orders and manage the business in 2000, and my father in 2002. Throughout those years I was a little young to fully grasp all the business principles, but I helped in any way I could. I wrapped packages, moved things around, stuffed envelopes, etc. By age 12 I taught myself all forms of welding. My brother (Harrison) and I manufactured a couple products for our parents during our nights and weekends in school. We learned basic mill and lathe skills, bending, torch, and grinding techniques. Because the business was growing, our parents let us take the reigns on getting the products done. We told them what we needed and they got it for us.
Wanting a piece of the entrepreneur action, my brother and I (12 and 14 respectively), with help from our parents, started a small video editing business to capture the action at the pulling events and make educational videos for the main business. Our parents bought us a camera and a computer to get started. They offered to put our videos in their mail order catalog, but we were 100% responsible for making our product from start to finish.
In 2005 my parents were having supplier issues for sourcing the CNC machined products so my father opened a machine shop and started manufacturing all of our own products. In 2006 (16 years old) I worked part time learning more about machining and running parts through the CNC machines. I started doing more of the CAD drawing toward my senior year in high school.
The year I graduated high school (2008) oil prices were at an all-time high. Being frustrated with fossil fuels I set out to see what electric cars were all about. So I converted a Ford Ranger over to electric. The project was more for learning than having a practical vehicle to drive. I wanted to learn what was involved with doing something like that, and the dynamics of electric propulsion. I completed it by the fall. It wasn't pretty (sorry for the music on the video...), but I learned a ton. Seeing what Elon Musk is doing today at Tesla is super impressive after trying to build the cheapest form of electric transport I could, to go highway speeds. The batteries are everything.
After high school, I went to the local community college. They had a CNC Machining and CAD Drafting program (Two 2 year AAS degrees). I had already started on the CAD degree while in high school and finished both of the degrees in a total of about 2 years. Throughout this period I was doing a lot of machining and programming for our machine shop. In 2010 we had this crazy idea to build a fully billet aluminum engine block (those unfamiliar, take a giant chunk of aluminum and remove everything unnecessary until you have a finished, custom, engine block). After countless hours of programming, 40 hours in the CNC machine and a couple hundred thousand lines of code later I removed nearly 200 lbs of material and created a finished engine block.
The following year I dismantled my electric truck and decided to learn more about electric propulsion in a somewhat controlled environment. I decided to build my own pulling garden tractor. I did a lot more research since I would be in competition against internal combustion engines. I wanted to get it as right as I could. Turns out, my very first iteration was best suited for tractor pulling. I tried 3 different battery packs over the course of 3 years. My first setup was high amperage lead acids. My second setup was high voltage low amperage lead acids (similar wattage), and my third setup was high voltage low amperage lithium's (reduced wattage). The lithium's did well for being much much lighter. The value to performance ratio still was in favor of lead, at least for this sport. Maybe I will try it again when Tesla lowers the cost of lithium batteries...
Also in 2011 my brother and I discovered this thing called Bitcoin and became utterly fascinated with the technology. At that time we didn't fully understand what it was, but we had the basic understanding of what you could potentially do with it. I won't go into much detail here on Bitcoin (it will show up in blog posts from time to time) but needless to say, we did a fair amount of mining at this point.
In 2012 my brother and I got the entrepreneur bug again (while still producing tractor pulling videos on the side). My parents had a demand for a better tachometer in their business and could not source one for the odd application (garden tractors). So our solution was to build a solid state device. Instead of a mechanical needle and dial, we used 128 LEDs in an arc. My brother (at that time, 20 years old) had some experience with Arduino and a little practice with circuit design. Turns out, the circuit design was not the hardest part of this project. The trick was picking up the ignition signal using and inductive pickup on the spark plug wire. He managed to write a signal processing algorithm that worked in about 90% of applications (there are a LOT of variables and limited processing power). We were so unsure about how to build the tachometer, we actually ended up doing all the board assembly ourselves because there was quite a bit of hardware signal processing we were unsure about. We ended up learning a lot from the project. We had great customer response and sold them at twice the rate we were anticipating (which we were not ready for).
This brings us to about 2014. At this point, I am slowly moving away from "learning" projects and doing product development for my parents business, and starting to take over all the manufacturing (running our machine shop).
One really neat product I developed was for the transmission used in the garden tractor pulling market. The original transmission was designed back in the 50's, it had 1 reverse and 3 forward gears. We normally convert it to 4 forward gears for more ratios to maximize performance. I was able to re-design how the main gears mesh and shift to allow room for a 5th gear. This was probably the most intricate assembly I have made, and it actually worked first shot. I even ended up using 3D printed parts in several places because it was more economical than machining. All the power ends up going through one ring which weighs only about one pound. It transmits approximately 600 ft-lbs of torque (more than some diesel trucks on the road produce) through the drive ring and into the output shaft.
From late 2014 until now I have been doing a myriad of things. My main time has been spent on getting the machine shop manufacturing processes better documented, and doing extensive expense analysis so it can stand alone as a machine shop if need be. I am also working on putting in place better inventory management on the other retail business. I have learned a great deal on cost accounting and have come to realize that for a small business, your product is probably about the easiest part of it. Running the business in a sustainable and growable fashion is the real trick.
In April of 2015, I married my wife, who is now a full-time artist. She does custom portraits in acrylic and is hoping to move to figurative work in the future. You can find her site here
My brother and I have been working on a few different projects lately. In late 2015 we built a waste heat recovery test rig. The idea is that one day we can build a Bitcoin miner that can meet all of your hot water needs and pay you to do it. Unfortunately, there is no data on sealed immersion cooling (everything previous is Open Bath Immersion), and we really don't have that much time to write the book on it. For more info, check out the BitHeat's blog here.
Earlier this year we started a makerspace in our hometown in Iowa. We are trying a new model for creating and sustaining maker spaces in rural communities. For creating it, we want to eventually build a specialized funding platform for creating a shared space. And for sustaining it, we are developing a special task system where anyone can post a task or series of tasks with requirements and a bounty. The idea is to create a way for ad-hoc businesses or products to be built in a free-lancer friendly way. The idea is that a lot of manufacturing is done in more rural areas, and they are always looking to improve processes and train new employees. A local maker space is a perfect place to do both. We are working with the local high school students to get them exposed to different things they can do with science and technology and what sorts of jobs use particular skill sets. For more info see the "Make a Space" blog here.
And finally, our newest project: Quoto. Quoto is a service to (eventually) instantly quote the cost to make a subtractively manufactured part. Because that is a very hard thing to do we are going to start with simple processes that we can handle. Primarily we are going to focus on waterjet cutting. This is the most easily modelable process and can cut the widest range of materials and thicknesses. If we get some traction with this idea we will quickly move to add laser cutting to our capabilities. The goal is to one day be the Shapeways of subtractive manufacturing. With the accessibility of machine learning becoming cheaper and easier we feel this will be a possibility in the future. Upload a 3D file and it will tell you how much it will cost to make for a given lead time. If you like the price you can order it. For more information please check out the Quoto Blog here.
I feel I am a pretty well-rounded individual. I have a strong background in manufacturing and been around (small) business my whole life. I have a very intuitive as well as an actual grasp of physics by way of doing garden tractor pulling for a very long time (it really is a great display of physics when you get into the details). I also have a good understanding of system engineering, not only from business design but from trying to build a better internal combustion engine. Most competitive motorsports are probably good ways to understand system-level design as there are 1000's of factors that have to work in concert to achieve the highest level of performance. And this performance is easily measured because of the competitive nature of sports (and a simple points/metric system).
I have a strong background in manufacturing and design. I'm interested in system-level thinking and Bitcoin. I'm currently working on making subtractive manufacturing more accessible to the average maker.