Tool Tech Bio: Stanton Fernald

Teams have 48 hours to develop a product prototype, but they’re not alone in the process. Tool Techs are a major component at our Make48 events. Our tool techs volunteer their time, to help teams prototype their ideas using machines such as: 3d printing, cnc machining, laser cutting and molding/forming machines. Co-founder Richard Brull, brought together this group of talented professionals who are some of the competitor’s biggest cheerleaders. In the next weeks, we will be taking a closer look at our tool techs and how they ended up on this journey.

If you’ve been to a Make48 event, chances are you met Stanton Fernald. Stan has been a tool tech since the first Make48 event but it’s his engaging personality that he’s remembered for. Stan has an amazing life story including getting his Masters in design in Italy, working as a medical illustrator and teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. I spoke with Stan at his workshop where he operates his business, RetroDIODE, where he designs, manufactures and sells LED retrofit kits for vintage microscopes. His workshop is a maker’s haven. He has seven (!) 3d-printers, laser cutters, a .85 ton metal lathe, tools, bulbs, microscopes of all sizes and shapes and much more. “I started out targeting hobbyists, because I was a hobbyist. They can’t afford the big fancy microscopes but the old ones are still precision instruments but they can’t get light bulbs for them anymore.”

It was a perfect niche market for Stan. “There are competitors but nobody is doing it my way. If you’re looking for a quick buck, this isn’t the way. This is hard work.” It was being laid off at the medical center that made Stan and his family decide to commit to his business full-time.

Almost as soon as he launched, he started receiving bulk orders from microscope service companies as well. Companies would mail the microscope, and Stan would design it, and the part was now saved in his computer, which turned into a product line. Stan wore out his first Makerbot launching the business. Now that he has seven 3d printers, they don’t have to work as hard, but he makes a lot of modifications to his desktop 3d printers. “They’re desktop consumer 3d printers but can’t take the punishment I put them through. They perform more like industrial printers that can run all the time.”

As an original member of the Steel Table Group, Stan was introduced to Rich by a mutual friend. Rich told Stan that he was thinking about putting together a group of diverse people to work together and share ideas. Stan met future co-founders of Make48, Bob Coulston and Curt McMillan, at the first Steel Table Group, as well as Brian Hager and Dale Crook. “It’s radically changed my life, because I don’t think I would’ve started this business had I not had been a part of that group (Steel Table). When I was developing this business and designing parts, I’d bring it into the meetings and people would give their input. So I was able to start out with a strong product.” 

Thanks to technology and digital communication, and being able to 3d print parts and tools he’s changed the market. “An individual can take on an industry. My wife and I own this business and we have affected an entire industry. There are companies that are now going into used microscopes.”

Make48

Stan has been at every competition as a tool tech and every single one of them means something special to him. The first event was a favorite, “it was so grassroots and we didn’t know what we were doing. But hey we’re inventors. We’ll figure it out.” The first time we held the event at The Kansas City Art Institute was also special to Stan because he had just finished teaching there. In fact, Stan was the person who introduced Make48 and KCAI! “I knew they were making a fablab and thought, hmm this would be a good place and I asked Rich if they ever thought of going there.” Time went on and Rich asked Stan, who would we talk to? Stan made the introductions and “let them sort it out.” The first event at KCAI was surreal for him, “I knew the campus, some students, faculty. Two worlds collided, it was great. It made me very happy.”

I asked Stan what it is about Make48 that he enjoys? “(the) Spirit of Make48, everybody is feeding off of everybody else. Even if you’re competing with them, they’re also inspiring each other. And there’s also great sportsmanship there too which is something I’m really big about. You can be too competitive and self-defeat, this is about creativity, and creativity requires a lot of cooperation when its team-oriented. So the fact that some teams helped other teams out is something I really like see happen as opposed to other contests.”

“It inspires me, that’s why I got involved as a tool tech from the start. Everybody there is needing something you have to offer, and when you have multiple things to offer, its, well fulfilling. It also helps me in my business, because it keeps you inspired, ….alive with new ideas and motivated. These teams have inspired me and I’m looking forward to the next one.”

We couldn’t have Make48 without the tool techs. Their skills level the playing field when it comes to our teams. They provide the resources to prototype ideas of ranging complexity for competitors of varying building expertise. Everyone has an equal shot at winning Make48 and that’s due to our amazing techs!

When you’re watching Make48, don’t forget, tool techs are inventors too!

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