Rob graduated college in 1999, taking his first job as an engineer later that year. After nine years travelling around the USA installing manufacturing machines in almost every state, Rob chose to settle in a place he grew fond of on his travels. In 2015, he set up his own workshop in the last remaining industrial area in San Francisco. Becoming an Opendesk maker shortly afterward, he’s been running the profitable Lucid Machine Art ever since.
Opendesk: Tell us about your time at manufacturing machine makers, C.R Onsrud, and how you got into engineering. How did you fall into running your own workshop?
Rob: After I graduated college the first job I took was an engineering role for a company specialising in manufacturing machines - C.R Onsrud. I worked for Onsrud for right around nine years. I wore many hats there: I did 3D modelling and design work, sheet assemblies, I was responsible for engineering drawings, and I also did software training. I did a lot of travelling around the country installing machines and was exposed to many industries on the way.
On my travels I met Gary, who owned San Francisco Victoriana, a moulding company in the city. He bought his first CNC machine from Onsrud in 2008. I ended up doing some programming for him remotely as I was still living in North Carolina. By this time I was growing tired of my work at Onsrud. It was 50% travel and trade shows. I guess after nine years on the road I grew tired of it. I wanted to settle down and do my own thing.
I worked for Gary from 2011 until he retired and closed San Francisco Victoriana. He sold me a bunch of workshop equipment at the beginning of 2015. I used the equipment and contacts I had built up while working with Gary to start my own workshop - Lucid Machine Art. We’ve been profitable every year since and this year is shaping up to be our best yet with help from some great Opendesk jobs.
Opendesk: Real Estate in San Francisco is in high demand. Where is your workshop in the city?
Rob: We’re in what’s probably the last industrial area in the city. Gentrification across San Francisco is widespread and this is one of the last remaining industrial areas where you can find warehouse space and do something like this, at a semi-affordable cost. We’re in the Bay View neighbourhood with Hunter’s Point to the south east.
Opendesk: What made you want to leave North Carolina for San Francisco?
Rob: So I lived in North Carolina my whole life but after meeting Gary, he kept trying to get me out to San Francisco to work with him. When the economy began to pick up in 2011 after the 2008 recession I decided to move. San Francisco happened to be one of the few places that I really liked along with San Diego and a few other areas. That was one of the benefits of travelling. I’ve been to virtually every state in the country and visited countless cities. San Francisco was one of the few places I wanted to leave home for.
Opendesk: How did you find out about Opendesk and why did you become part of our network of independent makers?
Rob: Shortly after setting up my workshop in 2015, Josh from Opendesk dropped by en route to the Bay Area Maker Faire. It was a pleasant surprise given the team is based in London. He told me about Opendesk and the mission of the company whilst also taking interest in my business. After a short conversation, we decided I should sign up and take on the maker onboarding process. Shortly afterward, I was up and running as an Opendesk maker. A couple of months later, I landed my first job, a big order for 18 Studio Desks for Ixonos [now Digitalist] not far from the Financial District in the city.
Opendesk: Do you find Opendesk furniture is designed to make your life as a maker easier with clearly defined, repeatable processes?
Rob: The digital fabrication files are all laid out in a standardised way making them easy to understand. A lot of assembly methods are also the same and designs use similar hardware such as quarter inch dowel. This makes it easy to prepare the workshop for Opendesk furniture production. By stocking a few key parts, it’s possible to make pretty much every Opendesk design.
Opendesk: What’s it like running your own workshop?
Rob: It’s only me and Rudy full time, with another part-time so we’re pretty small. One of the biggest benefits is in having the ability to be flexible with my own schedule. Some days I put in a lot of hours, but this morning I laid in bed until 7 o’clock, had a leisurely breakfast out on my deck and came in when I felt like it. Every once in awhile you can do that making it all worthwhile. I always hated micromanagement so the autonomy and flexibility work well for me.
Opendesk: San Francisco certainly has its draws! The city is beautiful with some of the most amazing nature and landscapes on its doorstep. Tell us more about life in the unique Californian city.
Rob: If you love being outdoors then this is a stunning place to live! I love climbing and with Yosemite National Park only a four-hour drive away I’m pretty much in heaven! Drive in the other direction and you’ve got endless coastline for surfing. But Mark Twain was right when he said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco - it can be incredibly chilly here, even in July. But you only have to drive 30 miles in either direction to find 85 degrees if you want it. The little micro climates here are nice and you can find just about whatever weather you’re looking for.