Jeremy Blum at Shaper Tools and the CNC Router Revolutionizing Hardware Design

Judy Warner
|  Created: February 20, 2018  |  Updated: February 5, 2021

Judy Warner and Altium launch The PCB Design Podcast OnTrack

Jeremy Blum is working at Shaper, reinventing hand held power tools starting with the revolutionary CNC router, Shaper Origin. Join Altium’s Judy Warner and Jeremy for a conversation on making tools for making things.

Listen to the Podcast:

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Show Highlights:

  • Shaper is a human in the loop company
  • CNC, or computer numerical control varies in implementation. Large CNCs can be Desktop size to warehouse size.
  • Shaper Origin created to be an affordable, portable handheld tool and the way The Shaper Origin works, computer vision based and real time motor control.
  • Precisely calibrated and sophisticated industrial robot that we are selling as a consumer device
  • “We’re both making tools to help other people make things”

Links and Resources:

Exploring Arduino: Tools and Techniques for Engineering Wizardry

Jeremy Blum’s Youtube Channel

Shaper and The Shaper Origin

How to take a chessboard with Shaper Origin

Shaper Projects - Forum

Shaper Instagram

Trade In Your Outdated PCB Design Tool & Unlock 45% OFF Altium today!


Hi everyone welcome back to Altium’s OnTrack Podcast. This is Judy Warner and today we have a special guest that I'm eager for you to meet but before we get going I'd like to make sure that you subscribe to our podcast and favorite us on your favorite RSS feed. You can follow me personally on LinkedIn which I would love or on Twitter @AltiumJudy and Altium is also on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

So today we have a young rockstar of engineering with us, named Jeremy Blum, and I'm gonna read a little bit so forgive me while my eyes leave the screen for a moment. On his website it says this my passion -  using engineering to improve people's lives and giving people the tools they need to do the same.

Jeremy is currently the head of Electrical Engineering at Shaper where they're using computer vision to reinvent the way people use handheld power tools. Prior to joining Shaper he was a lead electrical architect for confidential products at GoogleX including Google glass. He has his master's and bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University. He did a lot of amazing things at Cornell and he has an insatiable passion for building things: prosthetic hands, fiber optic LED lighting systems, 3d printers and scanners and on and on.

Some of his work has been featured not only in international conferences in peer-reviewed journal but in also popular media outlets such as the Discovery Channel, Wall Street Journal, and Popular Science magazine. He was also named Forbes magazine 30 under 30 as recognition for his work that has helped America make things and get stuff done.

He also holds several patents and he loves to teach. He has a YouTube channel with lots of video tutorials and his latest, well I guess I don't know if it's your latest, but he's writing a book called Exploring Arduino. He spends most of his time investing his talents and time at Shaper. So, Jeremy welcome that was a mouthful so thanks, really.


So you're awfully young to have such a pedigree so I want to ask you first after watching a few of your YouTube things since they go way back I noticed a couple t-shirts you had worn and those that said you were a geek but my first kind of tongue-in-cheek question is are you a geek or are you a nerd?

I think geek is the cool term now I think so I go with geek I think right, if you consider a nerd to be the person who is really into reading into like super in-depth topics and getting really in the weeds and stuff. I'm kind of guilty of all the above.

I would concur with that and I think geek is... that geek is like a cool term now. It used to be the uncool term like now you know nerd seems like this but nerds are like Sheldon Cooper like physics, chemistry, right?

Look smart guy, so tell us a little bit what your earliest memories were of sort of making and building things I mean most people like you remember some pretty vivid memories of taking apart home appliances are putting stuff together.

Mm-hmm, yeah so you know it makes a very perfect circle of my life if you will and that some might release memories building things are woodworking and no I work at a company making woodworking tools but the some of the early memories I have are my dad and his dad are fairly experienced woodworkers so it was spending a lot of time in the garage at home building stuff with him. I went to summer camp where they gave you all these outdoor activities and think you can do water skiing and hiking and all this stuff but I ended up spending as much time as they would allow me to in the woodworking bunk which is this little basically an 8 foot by 8 foot room with a couple of tools that, you know, I feel like it wouldn't let kids do this nowadays. But at least when I was 12, they let us use jig saws and band saws like that and I feel the liability issue is different. It's changed in the last decade or two, but when I was ten or twelve that's what I was doing, I was building furniture that was admittedly not great, but I think pretty good for like 11 years old right? And so those are some of my earliest memories.

Before that it’s the same thing you'll hear from most engineers, which is Legos and connects and things along those lines, taking apart stuff in my parents house and family’s. After I did that a couple of times I knew better about keeping track of what screws go where. It's like we put it back together but I've been taking things apart and building stuff for as long as I can remember. It started more on the mechanical side of things in this transition towards the electrical and electromechanical and robotic side of things.

As I've gotten older I saw a comment you wrote on your personal website that said you felt that engineering was sort of along the same lines as artistry. What did you mean by that exactly?

I think people use art to express themselves and to leave some kind of impact on the world around them. Convey an idea, convey a concept and I don't really think it’s any different than that. It's a lot more based in equations and math and physics, but at the end of the day, you're still kind of taking some input, some desire that you have and trying to generate an output that'll have some kind of impact on people, right?

So yeah whether you're building a spaceship or a car or some little doodad or trinket, the goal, at the end of the day, is you want to be able to give it to someone or show up someone, and have some kind of impact on them and affect the way they think. In some way similar to art in my opinion, it's funny that they've kind of come out with this new acronym. Right, there was STEM you know, and now it's STEAM right, because they've added art. I think the thinking is starting to change. I was raised by an artist and so I've always had that bug, but I like, you know, you and I were just geeking out about the Falcon Heavy launching. Like oh,  I'm just as happy you know - I'm thrilled as much sort of, being in the work I am with technology as I am with art, so I think there really is a connection there.

So you are good, that's a really good job of bridging the divide STEM was, so it felt like this other thing and you were like an artist or you're in a STEM field.

Yeah that's not the case, there's so much overlap. I work with designers and everything every day and right, I couldn't do my job without them.

Well I can tell you that for me, I'm a little bit more of a creative person. I write a lot and express myself through writing and speaking communication, but I was horrible at math but I loved making things and I took things apart.

But just because I didn't have that aptitude for math, or it wasn't encouraged and it made me feel like I was in no-man's land, so for me personally I'm with you. I like that it's sort of crossing over because I'm like, oh you know I am sort of in this you know? I'm like why have I spent the last 30 years you know, in circuit boards and you know, how did I get here? But I think it is that connection and that curiosity, right so  you will get up to talking about Shaper which is really what I wanted to talk to you mostly about today but I wanted to also mention that when you were very young you started this YouTube channel and you've recorded an awful lot of educational videos and really helpful stuff for makers hackers and different people have sort of used that as a jumping-off place and inspiration. So what inspired you to do that in the first place?

In the first place, well... so, I think the very first video I published was me building the computer and it was my first experience building a computer. I didn't really know what I was doing and I just thought I was really cool and I wanted to make a video of it and my friends and I were already hobbyist videographers. We really liked making short movies you know, like kids make short movies - action movies, things like that.

But we had already developed that into a business and we got pretty good at it. When I was 12 or 13, a friend of mine and I, from high school, started our first business which was doing video production and it was pretty successful for like weddings and birthday parties. Video montages, things like that. Now you can like press one button on your Macbook and it'll do it for you, but we lived in this golden age where people hadn't figured that out yet so we could do it as 12-year-olds and charge money for it.

And by the way, the 12 year olds were the sharpest people in the room. I mean, I still ask my 20-something kids, like my phone's not working you know, you guys really had an affinity and like there's, like you said; there's more than one but we're like, yeah. But it was really the rise of Technology and you were kind of right in the middle of that I suppose?

Yeah the timing was really good, YouTube had kind of just come into existence when I was building that first computer and we had experience making videos. But they were mostly you know, pictures of other people for their weddings and things like that and so we wanted to do something we were passionate about. So, a friend and I, we were going to build this computer. Anyway, they filmed it, we set it to music, people seemed really into it and then started asking us lots of questions like, oh, how did you pick this, how did you do that, and it just kind of grew from there and people seemed to really like it and appreciative and positive. You hear about all the terrible things that people say on YouTube comments right, but it was all positive. People were appreciating it and so it snowballs from there.

That's so nice - there's your creativity again right? The crossover of your creativity and your your scientific self. So, do you still keep that website up or are you pretty much tied up with the startup work?

I've been pretty damn busy with Shaper you know if I could I'd love to. The reality is it turns my YouTube stuff from the one-man show. I do all the writing, a lot of those videos involve me developing projects and all the documentation around the open source stuff you know. If a 10 or 15-minute video takes me, you know, many dozens or or more hours to produce, because I'm such a perfectionist. Like if I was less of a perfectionist and I could make just kind of slightly crappier, but still informative videos, I would do it. But I have trouble putting a thing that doesn't have high production value so I'd love to make more videos and I hope to get back to doing more. But I will admit the frequency of my postings has dropped off considerably especially in the last two and a half years or so that it that I've been in shape works.

I've been so focused here. Yeah okay, well it looks like you still have like a hundred and sixty thousand subscribers and a whole bunch so it looks like people are still engaging with your stuff even if you're not keeping up with it so yeah, kudos to you. So you did your Bachelor's and Master's at Cornell and what was your first job when you got out of school.

I had a bunch of cows, I was in school and I was also working on my own stuff overlapping with with a lot of that. My first real job, real full-time job I guess, was at Google after I finished my Master's degree but before that I had had a startup that I was working on for a while that ended up. Peter hangout, and before that I worked at MakerBot the 3D printing company for a few years. First as an intern and then I consulted for them remotely while I was in school working on their electrical stuff. But my first full-time job was that Google X.

Yeah, so... um, what kind of things did you work on at Google that you wouldn't have to kill us to tell us?

It's pretty out there now so I can talk about most of it now not all of it, but most of it, the majority of my time there was spent working on the electrical engineering and system architecture for what became Google Glass Enterprise Edition. So there was the first version of Google Glass that came out to consumers and I won't spend the time going into all the social implications of that product and things that were done poorly or things that were done well. My focus was on what became the Enterprise Edition of the products, just totally new hardware and is used by a variety of very large companies and medical practices around the country now as an augmented reality platform for basically helping with productivity. So that's a piece of hardware that's basically an upgraded version of Google Glass one most people saw, right um... all new processor and everything inside, everything's new and different but that's used by big companies like I think Boeing uses it on their assembly line to do cable assemblies. Things that they used to look at a manual for, they now see heads-up and they get feedback as they're doing it and they like cut their time in half. There's a bunch of startups building software on top of the enterprise version of Glass now for medical applications, so doctors use it in their patient interactions to pull up medical records and things like that in real time and make them more efficient and more productive. There's a bunch of other applications as well that's those kinds of applications are the things that originally got me excited about going into work on that project.

Don't get me wrong I have several pairs of glasses. I don't really wear them anymore but there was a period right, where I wore them almost every day and use them for all the mundane things. They showed in the original marketing videos like sending text messages and getting, turn-by-turn navigation and stuff and they were cool for that but the application that they ended up developing for the Enterprise Edition that I think were an augmented reality platform really shines so I'm from the department that worked on that.

That sounds like a pretty exciting project and company, a workforce you know. pretty much fresh out of a Master's program so that's exciting. So how did you go from Google to Shaper? And then let's start talking about Shaper because I've seen some of the videos and I want to run out. I want one when I go build some stuff. So tell us about that transition and then start filling our listeners in about this incredible new handheld CNC you guys have developed.

Yeah happily. So when I was at Google, one of my tasks in addition to kind of leading the system architecture for some of the products we were working on, but in addition to those responsibilities one of the other things I did there was kind of always be scouting for external technologies that might be relevant partners for things that were doing things in the computer vision space, things like that. So I go to a lot of conferences for this and me and my colleague from Google, Joe. Joe is now the CEO at Shaper. Me and Joe went to this conference called Solid-con in San Francisco where we met Alec, who is one of the two co-founders of what is now Shaper, at the time it was still called something else and so into this conference and Joe and I walked out, and everything in there was like eh, but man... did you see that one booth that auto correcting hand tool thing? That thing was so cool and so one thing leads to another. Joe ends up leaving Google and going to what is now Shaper to become the CEO to join Alec and align co-founders and shortly after Joe left I also left to come over to Shaper to lead up the electrical engineering efforts here and to basically be responsible for taking a prototyped product that was not manufacturable at all, and making it into a manufacturable piece of hardware that we can mass produce and sell to people at a reasonable price. It would perform well and be reliable and all the things that you want a power tool to do right?

So let me now explain what Shaper is. So Schaffer is a handheld robotics company. We like to call ourselves a human in the loop robotics company and our first product shape or Origin just started shipping to customers about three or four months ago.

Uh-huh and the Shaper Origin is a handheld CNC. For listeners who aren't familiar with CNC or computer numerical control; CNC machines are what you can imagine a company like IKEA might use to mass-produce furniture. They can range anywhere from desktop size for several thousand dollars, to the size of a warehouse basically, you know, going up to millions of dollars. The way a CNC machine works is, you say, I want to cut X design, you throw in some sheet material.

Normally you pre-program all the paths that a cutting bit is going to take and it moves around and cuts out this material, so CNC machining is basically the opposite of 3D printing; 3d printing as an end of manufacturing technology. CNC machining is a subtractive technology - you start with the material, you cut stuff away until you have a solid item that you want in the right shape. So what shape or Origin is; it takes that concept and basically shrinks it down to a portable handheld power tool. So we're trying to bridge the gap between capabilities what you can do with hand tools and the capabilities of what you can do with, you know, multi-tens of thousands of dollar CNC machines, kind of in the middle, that gives a lot of versatile capability. So the way Origin works is, it's computer vision based. We use computer vision and real-time motor control to basically scan your workpiece.

We have this stuff called Shaper tape, you put down on whatever it is you're going to cut. It can be a piece of sheet material, like you can cut on a CNC machine, or it can be an already fully-built table and you want to make a particular feature, and if you want to put a mother-of-pearl inlay in it or something.

Okay you scan and you put your clamp down or whatever that cut is,  you scan it in and the tool now knows, based on tracking vision off of those partners, exactly where it is in 3D space. You load in a design file - the tool is connected to Wi-Fi or this USB port, so you can make your design totally CAD agnostic. You can make it any 2D or 3D CAD program you want.

Yeah so like AutoCAD, like what kind of tools?

Anything in the 3D realm. The most tool that our users use is fusion 360 okay, but in the 2D world the most is Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator. Really anything that can generate an SVG or vector file format and so you can do some color coding of that design in advance to instruct it to how you wanna put it, or you can do it all on the tool but basically the gist is, you make your design advanced, get it to the tool, it flies magically over your Wi-Fi.

You put the design in your account online, it just appears on the triple click of the design. You move the tool around your workpiece like a cursor, click to lock the design as its workpiece and now that design is like virtually locked to wherever you chose on your workpiece. At this point it's like a video game, the screen is a capacitive five inch, capacitive multi-touch screen. You move the tool around the workpiece - the tool is basically auto correct for your hands. So there's a corrective region on the tool, there's motors that compensate for the movements in real time so do you do the rough cuts and the machine does the precision.

Oh, see when I was watching it you know you could see the image on the screen like you were following a pattern, say you were cutting out a rectangle and I was trying to get my head around, yeah wonder if you slipped? To me what the human was the problem in that equation so after you do the rough cut how do you literally handle it?

Okay it all happens in real-time, automatically.


Oh, okay, I see.

Let's say you want to cut a perfect square you cut mostly a perfect square but you're human so you're moving back and forth you you're making micro adjustments as you go your shaking back and forth whatever, it doesn't matter any movement that you do that's contrary to the design you've placed on the tool virtually is compensated for in real-time. So if you want to cut a perfectly straight line you're moving the zigzag you get a perfectly straight line because the tool is moving opposite to your zigzag direction in real time that's internal, so what you end up with is the cut that looks like it came off of a $10,000 or $100,000 CNC machine that might take up an entire room and so it opens up a tremendous amount of possibility. With CNC machines you work with sheet goods. With our tool you can work on any existing work surface you have, you can inlay designs into your existing wooden toys you can go to your kitchen countertop installation and cut out the opening for your sink without any jigs or fixtures. You're really thinking about it at all in advance and most of these things you can even do without ever involving a computer in the process because we have on tool design capabilities as well so you can design things directly on the tool, lock them to your workpiece and then automatically cut.


So what kind of materials, like what stuff - obviously wood, say plastics what kind of other types of materials can it work on?

Yes so at the heart of our engine is a 720 watt trim router motor and so you can really cut anything that you would cut with that. We do hardwood, softwood, plastics composites, soft metals like aluminum and brass. We've done our fair share jewellery - dog tags, things like that with our tool. We’ve done composite Corian countertop material, soapstone; really anything that you can imagine cutting with a traditional router you can you can cut with our tool. We're not changing the physics of cutting we're just making it a lot easier and guaranteeing you get a high quality cut with a handheld tool instantly regardless of experience level.

Which is so great like I've always thought it would be so great to work with wood but I know the learning curve I'd go through would totally discourage me, but when I saw that - there is, I think it was a recent video that came out basically creating an outdoor chess-board on what looked like a tree stump right? The kind you'd find in the park, I think that's what it was anyways. and cutting out each square and then laying it with the darker wood and it was stunning. And I was watching the screen and just this interactive thing I was like: I think I could do that with a little training.

Yeah, you totally could, so no computer was ever involved in doing it, they literally got a slab of wood, said they want to make a chessboard with the tool because it knows exactly where it is in the scale of everything. You can lock and grid to whatever you're gonna do, so lots of grid to it you know. Say I want a one by one inch square grid, andI want to cut out every other square to put an inlay in for my chessboard and and you're done.

And the the learning curve on it and you know - you don't have to take my word for it. If you go to the Shaper Tools Instagram or anything like that or, if you search Shaper-made on Instagram there’s  just a lot of people getting them and unboxing them and you can watch this pretty funny progression. Someone just posted a video on Instagram yesterday and they're like, oh my god I got Shaper Origin and in 30 seconds they'd be like, oh my god I'm opening the box. 30 seconds later, like I'm doing my first cut with shape or again 30 seconds later, I already figured it out, this thing is so easy like I cant’ believe how easy it was for me to figure out how to do this! And that's that's part of what we're trying to accomplish.

Well I love that, I can't wait to see I'm sure you guys are excited to see too because I'm sure your imaginations have run wild with what you can do with it but once you start shipping it and getting it in people's hands what they're going to come up with is gonna be phenomenal.

Right, oh yeah absolutely, and we've been beta testing various versions of the prototype of this product for going on two years now - more than two years I think, so we have a lot of data about how people use and abuse this tool and we've tried to design all of those workflows and eventualities into it. But people continue to surprise us every day and it's great they love it, it's so fun.

Well you know, like I was just saying, for me personally it’s, oh that sounds fun but all that work ugh, the barrier would be the learning curve. The other barrier is good lumber tools are a bit expensive so you don't want to screw them up right? So I would think that to sort of have this sort of foolproof once you've learned it to feel really confident going to buy a piece of really beautiful wood you know. I think that would take away that sort of barrier to entry for people to try that, pretty confident.

Yeah, I mean to give you context I think one of my co-workers is is doing a test today where he's over at some guy's house doing straight-up inlays into like a wooden floor.

Right, so that's brave.

Yeah, there’s just room for mistakes there yeah,  and and this is not the first time we’ve done that. In fact there's a there's a bunch of patches on the floor in our office here. We're in a pretty old building in the Mission District and in San Francisco and the the wooden floors here have seen better days. We ripped out the carpet when we moved into this office and some wooden floors were not in good shape. And you know we found all the halls we did live inlays for them and patched them up and that's great.

That's so cool, so you just said you just started shipping,  how long ago?

So the first units started shipping out in October.

October okay, so what's the feedback you're getting from these early shipments?

I mean it's great people are getting them in using them and doing all kinds of amazing projects and they're posting them online and we have a forum on our website with a lot of people posting projects but also lots of people post on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and I've been sharing what they're doing and it's been a very exciting, nerve-wracking and exciting, experience to see people getting this tool in their hands finally, that we've been working on really hard for several years the and the anticipation. We started doing pre-orders for the tool at the end of 2016 so a lot of these people have been waiting for well over a year to receive this this product that they put their faith in. We told them we're gonna make this, here's the pedigree of a team we know what we're doing, we know how to make stuff but still, as with any pre-order, we didn't use Kickstarter or anything similar to that you know. It's an amount of risk and you don’t want people not receiving it. You want them getting it and saying, WOW the build quality is excellent and this thing works exactly the way you said it would, and it's intuitive. It's very heartening to see that.

That's so great, so what is next to your shipping Origin? I'm sure you have some things in your back pocket perhaps, you know future dreams for your next iterations or other types of tools? Don't tell your secrets I'm not asking your secrets - no IP spoiling.

We've got for the future - the key focus right now, is we're still catching up to pre-orders right, so we've been ramping up our manufacturing capability and just are now kind of getting up to full speed, you know. The maximum output that we can expect from our factory it's still gonna be a little while before we finished filling those pre-orders, especially since more and more orders come in every day and so we have to keep keep adding more and more to what we're going to be manufacturing since that's the key focus right now. Yeah it’s making sure that it goes smoothly and where we're generating a high quality product that meets a lot of very exacting quality standards. I mean we really are building a precisely calibrated and sophisticated, basically industrial robot that we are selling as a consumer electronic device. And so making sure that everyone that comes off the line is identical and works the same way and we know exactly how it's going to behave and it's gonna work with the accuracy and precision that we've promised. This is a big focus right now, yeah that's what we’re focused on and there will be more things in the future for us too.

Now one reason we became acquainted with you Jeremy, as we know with every startup you have to wear multiple hats and it sounds like you're wearing multiple hats but one of the hats you've been wearing is as an electrical engineer. Electrical engineers and PCB designers who will be the bulk of our listeners here. So can you give us a little insight to your electrical design and I know that you've been using Altium and I know you've used some other tools in your lifetime but I know you're using Altium now. So tell us a little bit about what's under the hood and what it took to to get Origin running from an electrical and electronics standpoint?

Absolutely, I mean I'll leave some of the exact details but yeah we use Altium for all the design of the rigid and flex PCBs inside the product of which there are many like I mentioned, since it is effectively an industrial robot. The electromechanical requirements of the tool and where the physical electronics are for different things is complicated. So, it's a large multi board system; there's the camera that’s used for doing the workpiece, there's the capacitive multi-touch display, there's the application processor and the microcontroller that's responsible for all the motor controls, there's the boards that are out controlling the correction motors and the z-axis motor that that moves the actual cutting bit up and down.

There's a sensor in the base that's that's used to do Z touch draw so that the bit knows where it is in space so there's a lot of boards in there. Boards and flexes, all designed with Altium. One of the things - and as you mentioned - that I've used many CAD packages in the past, basically any major one that you can think of, and one of the first things that I was tasked with when I came to join Shaper is there was no real electrical or formal electrical design before I was here. There were prototypes and one-off boards that were used to simulate and test certain aspects of the design, but the whole architecture has been new over the last two or three years since I've been here to make the product manufacturable.

So the first thing I was tasked with was I had to decide, okay, in the past that mostly been dictated to for one reason or another like here's the CAD package you have to use and I'll say something that was difficult for me at Google as I was working in Altium for some of our work, and then for reasons that I won't go into, it had to use a competitor product to Altium’s and I did not enjoy the experience. So, it was a pretty easy choice when I came here but one of the driving factors of that was we're a very lean team here, as you said I'm responsible for a lot more than just the electrical engineering and the PCB design and so the 3D capabilities of Altium have been super important. We have really tight tolerances inside of this product we have to meet a lot of requirements because it's a lot. And we want things put together perfectly to make sure that it's performing the way we expect it to.

So a lot of that ends up playing back down to the PCBs and understanding exactly how much space things are going to take up and exactly where every component is, and how big it is, and which things are touching off to thermal pads or which things are gonna have a certain amount of clearance.

There's AC power; where that comes in from the raw, we have to meet certain clearance requirements and make sure those distance are, not just in 2D but in 3D, also correct and acceptable to ship this product. So the 3D capabilities of Altium have been incredible. You saw actually, with the new release of Altium 18 I just started playing with the multi board assembly feature which is already been very useful for some of our rigid and flex assemblies that go together and seeing how those fit together has been super useful and a really important part of my job and makes it faster to go from an idea to something that fits. We can build into the mechanical CAD model of the tool and know that everything is going to assemble together the way that we expect it to and designed to do.

Well, looking at Shape or Origin it does have a really, for all the capability that it has you know, it really doesn't appear to be terribly larger than a typical hand router like you’re saying it has so much more capability so there's got to be a lot crammed inside and including that display in the sensors and all of this so it kind of reminds me actually, coming from the board industry, is like drones where you have to fold everything up and fit it mechanically - weight, power, that's the mantra you know. In military - weight and power - to keep things in that really tight but super functional footprint and be able to stand the thermal stresses of being in a small package and the vibration and all these other things so I'm sure was not an easy design?

Yeah we were a startup, we're a  lean small team of engineers here doing this so we've built a lot of our own testing equipment and fixtures to stress test this machine so it's working in a dusty environment and we want to know. is this machine gonna be tests proof okay. So we used Shaper Origin to build a dust chamber for itself stuck an air compressor to it… there's videos of this online. Plastic talcum powder and sawdust for you know, running it for days straight with all the motors cycling. We're going to do that to analyze different configurations of our z-axis assembly and how the PCBs are sealed and things like that to protect them. We've done all that; same thing goes for our spindle motor and building systems to test the functionality and lifetime of that. All things that we've developed in-house to make sure that the design works the way we expect it to and is gonna stand the test of time and be a reliable tool that you can use in your shop for many years.

Well it sounds like wonderfully brutal work you've done in the last couple of years. Really rigorous engineering standpoint. Now are you manufacturing it but you know, short term and long term - I don't mean to say that in a loaded way - but are you manufacturing it now locally and in-house or are you contracting out? I mean how will you handle the manufacturing challenges over time?

Well Origin today, like basically any product that you buy, to say the whole product is quote-unquote ‘made anywhere’ is sort of deceptive because come from all over the world.

This is true.

In one country in the motor comes from Germany, extrusions and plastic come from another country,  the final assembly currently happens in the United States. I won't go into more detail than that but yeah you know that's the final you'll see on most products now if you really dig into it, it's made everywhere!

They really are, it's a really good answer and it really is a global economy and that's never more true than electronics because we source our from all over. So yeah, that and when you're in the startup scrappy mode especially right? You have to be able to get it to market affordably and reliably and do all these things. Well thank you so much Jeremy I I have really enjoyed this conversation especially the part about the electronics and we love supporting startups here and and I hope soon we’ll come up and shoot a video at your plant and be able to show our audience some of the neat things you've been able to do with our tool, to make your tool and and we love that we support companies like Shaper and engineers and designers like you. It's what wakes us up in the morning so thank you so much for telling the story.

Yeah, my pleasure. You know, Shaper and Altium have a lot in - we're both making tools help other people make things.

Exactly that's what we that's what we do we wake up in the morning and that story of Altium started from it's very beginnings from a couple of university students that were teaching and you know, they thought the young hungry startup minded population should have tools and at that time they weren't available. There were many computers and large expensive engineering stations and they weren't available, and so our two scrappy founders said, to heck with that we need tools. And so they started making them on a PC and haven't looked back since. So that spirit still kind of lives in our building and I think, that's what people kind of still relate to that to. So that spirit we do share that in .

So, my last last question is - and I hate to ask this of you because you work so much I'm sure you don't have any spare time - but I have noticed because of the overlap of Arts and Technology a lot of people I know that our design engineers usually have really incredible hobbies like woodworking or painting or music or you know, some kind of really interesting hobby life and so I always like to ask at the end of this program. I call it design after-hours and so I want to ask you what you do after hours but I'm worried you don't have any hours after hours.

I do still try to try to make time to work on personal projects and I have the great fortune of working in a fully-featured wood shop so that is definitely some of what I do. A lot of things in my apartment are made in the wood shop here mostly using Shape Origin, so various pieces of furniture in my apartment and game boards, Chinese checkers set and organizers for my kitchen. Simple things like that - just fun projects and when I'm not doing that stuff, for me my hobbies are the same I'm very fortunate that I really like things I work on so my hobbies aren't the same things I work on but when I'm not working on the electronics for Shape Origin. I do other software and electronics projects, I document them on my website and on github and in other places.  The thing that's been really interesting for me has been home automation and this has kind of been an ongoing project for me for the last couple years, building a natural language voice controlled home automation system. Something along the lines of how Amazon echo works. The first version that I built - just to get the record straight - was working long before Amazon Alexa came out. I will cede and say that the current products manufactured by Amazon and Google are way better than anything I've made. But still a fun learning process and it is a system I use in my house everyday. It's a natural language voice control system that I have hooked into my lights and my music and I had hooked into the shades of my old apartment but not anymore, and I have it pinned to my phone. My number one most used feature is…  because it's still like kind of weird to talk to an imaginary computer thing to ask it to do stuff and so I still don't feel super great about that but I do do it because it's an interesting engineering problem too. It was interesting to learn how to write those natural language processing software and I've been doing a bunch of that. My most used feature is still just like at night when I'm ready to go to bed and I have my phone, I just like give it a shake and it turns off all my lights.


So simple.

But I want one I haven't got, I have two Echos in my house and still I'm not using them for half the stuff that they could do but they are super fun. Well again thank you Jeremy it's been great to have you and so great to learn about Shaper. Give us your website real quick and then we'll share some links below with our audience.

Yeah if you want to learn more about Shaper go to or just Google shape Origin on Google and there's tons of YouTube videos, lots to see what the tool is capable of and if you want to know more about what I'm doing I’m at

Very good. Jeremy thanks so much, you're really fun to watch and we'll keep keep our eyes on you and keep our eyes on Shaper and we look forward to talking to you soon.

Thank you this has been Judy Warner with the Ontrack Podcast. Thank you for joining us for our talk with Jeremy Blum. Please remember to subscribe and we'll see you next time and remember to always stay OnTrack.

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About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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