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From Weekend Crafter To Entrepreneur, Pittsburgh Company Has A Tool For That

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA

Three years ago, Joel Johnson was thinking about getting out of contracting for a “more rewarding career,” but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. After a discussion with his brother Justin, they decided to focus on 3-D production.

They noticed that when it came to 3-D production tools, there was a gap between the stuff a weekend crafter would use and the machines a manufacturer would use.

That’s when the company Kinetigear was born and after spending some time in TechShop at Bakery Square, they had a prototype for a product that would soon be marketed as BoXZY.

BoXZY can be a 3-D printer, a laser cutter or engraver and a milling machine.

“BoXZY itself is a machine that kinda can build anything, anywhere, out of anything,” said Joel Johnson. “It is a machine that is a universal CnC (computer numeric control) platform and you add little cylinders into it and the cylinders transform that machine into a different kind of making capacity.”

Johnson has tested the device on materials as soft as cardboard and fabric to metals as hard as titanium.

But, who needs one?

“Small businesses that want to do their own manufacturing and people who are developing technology and need to iterate quickly,” Johnson said.

In other words, entrepreneurs who are creating prototypes in rented maker spaces like TechShop. 

Johnson said it’s also perfect for companies like architecture firms that need to build models and small business that can’t afford large manufacturing equipment or contracts.

“We want BoXZY to be the tool that they use to scale their company,” Johnson said.  “They don’t have any demand yet, they’re just thinking about building their product, they would buy one BoXZY, they’d start producing some goods, selling them, testing the market. And as they got more demand they would just build up modularly just using BoXZYs.”

The machine, with all three cylinders, sells for $3,899. It can create a product up to 6-and-a-half inches cubed, but can work on larger pieces of material.

“You can make everything from watch gears to car parts or you can make something that has never been seen before,” Johnson said. “In that way, the only limitation to BoXZY and what you can make on BoXZY is your imagination.”

The company is renting space in a renovated warehouse in Homewood where machines are being assembled. Johnson estimated that roughly half of the parts are sourced locally.

Right now, the warehouse shelves are a bit bare, but the company, which has never taken any venture capital money, has just secured a $500,000 loan from the Enterprise Bank in Allison Park that it will use to purchase new parts.

In this week's Tech Headlines: 

  • Humans have used bamboo as a building material for ages, but very little research has looked into the mechanical properties of the material and there are even fewer construction standards. The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineeringis teaming up with University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez to do the research needed to set those standards. The work is supported by a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant. Pitt researcher Kent Harries said the tube-like stalks are naturally good building materials, but only recently have engineers begun to look at the actually reasons why. Harries said in many areas of the world, traditional building materials such as timber, concrete and steel are too expensive or unavailable for everyday use, especially within developing countries.
  • Chinese authorities could freeze assets and take other actions against foreign hackers threatening the country's infrastructure under a revised draft of a new cybersecurity law. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the law has been submitted for its third and final reading by China's legislature. The draft would allow police and other agencies to freeze assets and apply "other necessary punishment" against foreign hackers, while also requiring expanded security measures for industries including public communications, energy and finance. Cybersecurity has been a top source of friction between China and the United States. Both sides said they suffer hacking attacks originating from the other. Silicon Valley technology companies also worry that the rules have a secondary motive of protecting the domestic technology sector by discouraging Chinese buyers in both the private and public sectors from purchasing foreign products.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.