Inventables' new 3D carver wants to give the maker movement new life

By James Robinson , written on October 24, 2014

From The News Desk

The last time I spoke to Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan he’d launched the company’s new Easel software platform at SXS, a program designed to take the prohibitively inaccessible complexities of 3D design more manageable.

When I reach him this week, Kaplan is laughing. Inventables Kickstarter campaign for its Carvey machine, a tabletop 3D carving machine has shattered its $50,000 target, sitting close to $300,000. As I write, it’s sitting above $400,000.

Inventables popular Shapeoko CNC mills were kits that users assembled themselves. Kaplan admits that they are tools for a more technical audience. The Carvey is Inventables' first fully assembled product. He says that by choosing SXSW and now Kickstarter for its last two product launches, he’s choosing venues where he can launch maker tools out to a much broader audience.

No matter the audience Kaplan chose to launch it, Carvey is a tool that seems to cry out for mass consumption on its own. “When we started the project, our criteria was that it would be inspiring and easy,” he says. “I wanted people to be able to go through their first project in under five minutes. People thought I was crazy.”

Eighteen months of work on Carvey later, and Kaplan isn’t looking so silly. The machine is sleek, designed to fit within the confines of a standard IKEA table. It is clean. The door of the machine holds in all of the debris. Carvey can work with dozens of materials, so there are few limits on what can be made.

“These machines have traditionally been for the shop. I can’t run a Shapeoko in my apartment because the neighbors would wonder what I was doing. You could have the Carvey running on your desk in your office and still be talking on your phone,” Kaplan says.

The Carvey has a smart clamp, which cuts down on the need for calibration, and is built on Inventables’ Easel software, which runs right from a web browser, so it can assess default settings for designs and materials for you on the spot.

In Kaplan's words, with Carvey all you need is creativity, not technical know how.

Like with Easel, there’s a temptation with Carvey to write something off as simple, when it takes something that was previously a hard and complicated task and turns it into a plug and play exercise. Not so, however.

“It was a huge trade off between cost, simplicity and engineering complexity. We’re still a small company, we don’t have unlimited resources to own our own factory,” Kaplan says. The eventual machine will retail at around $2,000 when it ships next fall. He adds that Inventables came to a point in the production cycle where it couldn’t make Carvey any cheaper without it getting louder.

Having released Easel and Carvey in a short span of time, has Kaplan seen pushback from makers and hobbyists who want this to be hard? Who don't want the crowds coming in?

“My first 3D printer was a kit. It took three weekends to assemble and I sat at my kitchen table doing it. I felt a sense of completion. Computers used to be kits too. But these things go through natural progressions,” Kaplan says.

“Eventually the focus moves from building the cool tool, to using the cool tool.”

That still leaves Inventables in the standard Maker catch-22: you can simplify these tools to put amazing design potential at the hands of technical neanderthals, but as impressed as people are, they’re likely not rushing out to join a 3D printing club.

Kaplan feels the weird disconnect of being in an industry where everyone follows along like you’re making cool science fiction, but only a smaller group of manufacturers and hobbyists dip their feet in. He thinks it's generational. At SXSW, younger members of the audience wanted to jump right in, but older people held back more cautiously. “My first computer was an Apple II. I just had at it, but my Mum went to the YMCA to take a class,” he laughs.

Eventually a lot of people are going to want to join in here, Kaplan hopes, and he wants to position Inventables as making the sorts of accessible tools to encourage them.

“Normal people look at a 3D printer and think, they’d use it, but why? Think back to dot matrix printers. It didn’t look good. But then deskjet printers came and the laser printer came out and it was like, 'woah!' I think Carvey is like that transition, showing people this explosion of what you can do now.”

[image via Kickstarter]