It's Summertime, and the Automation is DIY

June 21, 2011
Modern and historic automation entertains the masses as hundreds get their geek on at Maker Faire 2011 in California.

Automation engineers get to optimize processes or solve complex motion control problems all day, every day—and have other people supply the tools and equipment. The less fortunate among us must make do with do-it-yourself (DIY) engineering projects to get satisfy our desire to create or run machines. The 6th annual Maker Faire, held at the end of May in the the San Mateo Country Event Center, south of San Francisco, let hundreds of DIY automation junkies geek out among friends and share their creations.

Started in San Mateo, California in 2006, and also being held in Detroit, New York and smaller cities around the U.S., organizers call it “the World's Largest DIY Festival, [a] two-day family friendly faire [that] has something for everyone—a showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness and a celebration of the Maker mindset.”

I didn’t get to go, but a reporter for Popular Mechanics magazine was there to report some of the highlights of the event, which attracted more than 7,000 spectators. 

• Kinetic Steam Works, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring steam-powered machinery, “takes stewardship over obsolete mechanical treasures, including decommissioned industrial equipment, metalworking hardware and retired rail engines,” according to reporter John Herrman. The group's main attraction at Maker Faire was a player piano driven by a massive, steam-powered industrial line shaft. Attendees could also see the group’s painstakingly refurbished 1943 Buffalo Springfield steamroller.

• MakerBot Industries, says Herrman, “is a pure example of the maker ethos: Not only has the company created an interesting machine, but its machine's sole purpose is to create things. MakerBot's Thing-o-Matic is the company's most affordable 3D printer, selling for $999. Provided with the right instructions, it can print just about any 3D shape into plastic. [The company’s demo] was a facial scanning system housed inside a 7-foot-tall dome built by maker Michael Felix, the joints of which were created with a 3D printer. Inside, fellow maker Kyle MacDonald uses the infrared camera bar from a Microsoft Kinect, along with software he wrote himself, to capture 3D models of attendees' faces, which are then printed into plastic statues. The whole process, from flesh to plastic, takes only 45 minutes.”

• In a walled-off arena filled with water and surrounded by spectators wearing heavy-duty safety glasses the ships of the Western Warship Combat Club did battle. Based on real ships built between 1900 and 1943, many of these remote-controlled working models “had already had been shot up in previous engagements and repaired—their splintered wooden hulls were covered in tape,” says Herrman. “When the battle commenced, the ships immediately open fire, blasting pea-size steel ball bearings across the water at about 200 feet per second. The 3/16-inch projectiles cracked loudly against the arena's heavy plastic enclosure, stopping 10 feet short of the crowd. The first ship sunk within 5 minutes.”

The next Maker Faire is scheduled to be held in Detroit on July 30-31, 2011 and in New York on Sept. 17-18, 2011. Mini Maker Faires are also being held in North Carolina, Kansas City, Vancouver and Fort Wayne, Ind.

Renee Robbins Bassett, [email protected], is Managing Editor of Automation World magazine.

Kinetic Steam Works (

MakerBot Industries (

Western Warship Combat Club (

Maker Faire (

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