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Company makes good on promise to gift Las Vegas school 3-D carving machine

An off-the-cuff remark made by Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan cost his company more than $10,000, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

“I was at the White House for the National Week of Making, and the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy was asking what the maker community does to advance education in our schools,” Kaplan said. “A professor stood up and said he was really frustrated that the education and equipment was geared at the industrial level.”

The students were finding everything too complex and expensive, and he asked what could be done to bridge the gap and make the science and technology more accessible for the students.

“I stood up and said, ‘I’m Zach. I’m from Inventables, and we make free Easel software, and we have these tabletop 3-D carving machines,’ ” Kaplan said. “ ‘What I can commit to is that we’ll give one of these machines to a school in every state.’ It was totally off the hip, and it got a big response. It was one of those right place, right time things.”

The company has delivered more than half of the machines, and the one for Nevada recently arrived at Discovery Charter School, 8941 Hillpointe Road.

“My husband is actually the one who heard about the offer,” said teacher Amanda Kettleson. “I put in the paperwork, and our school was chosen. It looks like a very exciting piece of technology.”

Kaplan said that the school was chosen in part because it had a strong team of students that had competed in the Lego Robotics competition, and the company felt the students could build on that experience. The company makes two basic models of carving machines, and it let the school choose which one would be best for it. The machines retail for about $1,000 to $2,000.

“I picked the one with the enclosed casing because that seemed like it would be safer around the kids,” Kettleson said.

That model, the Carvey, is designed for a studio, office or school environment. It’s a quieter machine, and the cover contains the debris from the carving. It’s limited to carving objects that are 12-by-8 inches. The X-Carve is an open frame machine designed for a shop, and it can carve pieces as large as 3-by-3 feet. Both machines can carve a wide variety of materials including wood, plastic and metals with a spinning bit, similar to a Dremel tool. They can carve in the X, Y and Z coordinates, and the design is handled with the free Easel program.

“We’re trying to give the students hands-on experience with tools like this because there are a lot of out-of-the-box thinkers,” Kaplan said.

Initially, Kettleson’s thoughts for using the machine were fairly simple.

“We’re doing a greenhouse project, and the kids were going to use it to make signs,” she said. “The more I learned about the product, the more I hope to use it with the kids.”

She hopes that one of the projects that the Carvey will be used for is to create unique items, including jewelry boxes designed by the students to sell in the school store.

Other schools have already been using the machines to make items such as cellphone covers, signs and jewelry. Commercially, the machines have been used for those applications along with furniture, bowls, planters and even a very specific stand for the remote control used by Apple TV.

“That company set the machine up in a garage and had 1,000 orders on their first day,” Kaplan said. “There is a new class of products being made that are more customizable and maybe a little more (thought out) than something you would find at a big-box store. Right now, there’s a cottage industry of designers and artisans who are making these products. They really are coming from a place of passion.”

With that in mind, it looks like Kaplan’s impulsive gesture was offered in the spirit of philanthropy and education, but it may well turn out to be a very smart marketing plan. Kaplan doesn’t plan to stop there.

“Our goal is to put one of these 3-D carving machines in every school in the United States by the end of the decade,” he said.

Visit inventables.com.

To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email ataylor@viewnews.com or call 702-380-4532.

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