Author Archives: Lena Ross

MADE IN VANCOUVER: Meet a Sponsor, Zaber Technologies

Zaber L-R: left to right: Andrew "Bruce" Lau, Rob Steves, and Jesse Schuhlein.


In 1997, Andrew “Bruce” Lau (left, above) and a group of friends from engineering school dreamed of starting their own business. With diverse interests and knowledge of electro-mechanical systems, programming, and physics, the group formed Zaber Technologies. The company designed and manufactured a variety of products (a rowing machine and a 3D scanner to name a few) before settling on precision robotics.


In the late nineties, precision linear actuators used DC motors with gearbox and encoders. They required complicated motion control cards, bulky controllers, separate driver amplifiers and special power supplies.


In short: precision motion control was:
•    expensive
•    difficult to set up
•    and cumbersome to use.


So the group recognized the need for an inexpensive, integrated solution for motion control. They wanted to make motion control products that were easy to set up and ready to use right out of the box, so they created the world’s first precision linear actuator with a built-in controller. It was based on a stepper motor instead of a DC motor, gearbox, and encoder combination.


Now with more than 30 employees, Zaber Technologies manufactures motion-control products for a variety of uses, including bio-technology, optics, physics and industrial applications.


I sat down with Andrew to find out more about Zaber, what makes it an inspiring local company, and why they’re a strong supporter of the Maker community.


Who uses your products?


ABL: They’ve been used to find cures for cancer, for space-bound instrumentation, drug discovery, lab automation, a space elevator… even for tracking worms! Basically it’s a tool for people to use, like a very elaborate screwdriver.


Zaber - row of products on a shelf


You’re a Vancouver-owned and operated company. Can you tell us what this means and why it’s important to you?


ABL: We are fully employee owned, which means that all our shareholders are current or former employees, and all our employees get stock options. If you ask me, a business exists to support the people who work there — not the other way around. At Zaber, we treat everybody the same. Though we’re a growing company, we still have that small company feel, and in order to create this you need to care about the culture and the people.


Also, I think it’s really important to think locally when manufacturing products. Our customers are based all around the world, but the electronics we manufacture are created right here in Vancouver.  We don’t want to outsource overseas just because it’s cheaper. For example, when we work with a local supplier to manufacture circuit boards, we visited their shop to make sure they have high work-place standards. We understand every aspect of our process, and this includes the environmental impact.


Speaking of the environment, how important is sustainability to Zaber Technologies?


ABL: Very important. We do our own composting. We recycle everything. We have a secure bike shed. We’ve even won Bike to Work week for the past four years!


I think as a Maker it’s really important to understand the upstream and downstream of your products. You can’t ignore the fact that after you’re done making something, it will end up somewhere, so this is why all of our parts are replaceable. This means that a customer can return a product that was made 10 years ago and we will repair it and send it back to them. In fact, this just happened the other day.


Why did Zaber choose to sponsor Maker Faire?


ABL: The culture at Zaber is rooted in making things from scratch instead of accepting the status quo. Everyone here makes things in their spare time, and we all believe in DIY culture. We think it’s important to understand how things are made.


Also, at Zaber we think that Makers are really good employees. People who make things with their hands, they fit in well with the culture here. Vancouver Mini Maker Faire is a really good organization benefitting a lot of really smart, motivated and passionate people, so it means a lot to us to give back to this community. And we hope that in turn, Maker Faire will help us grow our community.


Zaber - Dave working with product


So visit Zaber’s booth at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire on June 1 and 2 to learn more about the work they do and the company they’re creating. Oh, by the way Zaber is always looking for passionate makers. If you want a job, don’t forget to tell them what you make!

Early Bird Tickets Available This Month Only

VMMF 2012 01 - low res


Vancouver’s biggest show and tell is happening June 1-2, and early-bird tickets are on sale through the end of April!

Vancouver Mini Maker Faire will feature more than 100 makers who will demonstrate skills such as puppetry, electronics, computer hacking, music-making, quilting, farming and virtual reality. It’s where art meets science, craft meets utility, and farmer’s market meets backyard forum.

If you’re in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island or the Fraser Valley, we encourage you to plan to spend at least one entire day, if not the whole weekend, at this event showcasing the ingenuity and creativity of people and groups from all over the area.

Weekend passes are $20 for adults, $14 for students and $10 for children. So grab one for you and your family to take part in the city’s biggest skill swap!

And, if you want to help make the event happen, volunteer signup is open too.

“There’s something for everybody at a Maker Faire,” says VMMF Creative Director Emily Smith (pictured above). “It brings together all of the local community groups to share what they are doing, while immersed in a spectacle of fun and excitement.”

See you all at the Faire!

Vancouver Mini Maker Faire + Mom = Bliss

Vancouver’s second annual Mini Maker Faire witnessed a sea of smiling faces two weekends ago, as local makers shared, entertained and inspired the city’s hungry minds.


Being a volunteer, I was eager to share the experience, so I invited my parents along.


There was plenty to see and do — but what first? 3D printer village? Perfume mixing? Soldering? Painting with bikes? Felted beads? Mushboo? Disaster Area?


More than 100 makers were busy tinkering, weaving, hacking, playing handmade horns, drawing with robots, and carving faces out of sand.


It was a thrill for the senses and a feast for the mind.


During a short break, and in between bites of scrumptious pakora, I asked my mom what she thought of the event.


“It reminds me of the mentality we had in the 60s and 70s, you know, getting back to the garden,” she mused. “Everybody wanted to make their own things — clothes, macramé, growing their own food, working with leather. Only people would do it in small groups. Nobody would have put an event together like this.”


Right on! A gold star from my mom! And she’s right on too. The event is organic. It’s educational. It’s loopy and it’s kooky, but most of all it’s fun. It’s a nerd’s paradise, no matter what kind of nerd you are.


As I listened to my mom speak, I looked inside my purse full of little handmade trinkets, some of which I made myself onsite. I felt so inspired.


“It’s the beginning of something,” she said. “I’m not sure what exactly. It feels like Circle Craft, deconstructed.”


Meet Your Makers: Al Roback of Grass Frame Works


Ever wanted a bike frame that’s completely sustainable and totally unique? Vancouver’s Grass Frame Works has just the thing: a bicycle made from bamboo.


Al Roback spent time researching the varieties and uses of bamboo and had the inspiration to start building bamboo bicycles when he was studying in Asia.


When he’s not on the production line, he spends his time finding materials and parts for Grass Frames’ bikes, sourcing them as locally and sustainably as possible. In fact, sustainability is one of Grass Frames’ top priorities. Their frames are manufactured from bamboo poles, hemp fibre, aluminium fittings and plant-oil derived epoxy. They constantly source out the most ethically grown bamboo and most eco-friendly products on the market, while also cutting down on waste in the production process.


Driven by a need for local, innovative, and sustainable manufacturing, they also offer a course teaching others to build their own frame. Here’s what Al had to say about his influences, the bike-making process, and what he plans to bring to this year’s Maker Faire.



How did you come up with the idea for making bamboo bicycles?


I was studying in Asia and noticed the way they used bamboo in construction of buildings and furniture. Being a cyclist and a woodworker, it got my mind going. What started a a side project ended up being a really great bike.


How important is sustainability to you, and how does this influence your product development?


Sustainability is one of Grass Frames top priorities. We constantly source out the most ethically grown bamboo and most Eco friendly products on the market while cutting down on waste in the production process.  It really results in better quality bikes in the end.


Are you the first company ever to manufacture bamboo bikes?


I wish I could claim that! Bamboo bicycles have been around for a long time. They were making them in England at the turn of the century and now in Australia, Asia and the USA there are companies that have been making them for a few years. But we’re proud to be the first company in Canada to making bamboo bicycles.



I gotta ask, how durable is a bamboo bike frame, and how much does one cost?


The bikes are incredibly durable. Because they are bound at each end, the bamboo will keep its structural integrity even if it were to crack in a situation like being hit by a vehicle. We do offer a 10-year warranty with each of our bikes. We’re extremely confident on their durability. The frame alone is $2000 and a full bicycle starts at $3000.


What do you plan on bringing / demonstrating at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire this year?


We will have the bikes out with us, be doing some fun demonstrations on the durability of bamboo, and showing people how we build our frames. We might even build a frame at the Faire to show our process.




Meet the Grass Frame Works team at Maker Faire tomorrow, or visit their website for product and ordering info.