3D designer also creates sculptures with objects found at HGR

Matthew Beckwith, partner at Photonic Studio, and HGR Industrial Surplus customer

(Q&A with Matthew Beckwith, partner, Photonic Studio)

Why did you decide to go to school at Cleveland Institute of Art?

I originally wanted to be a car designer. CIA was a better fit for me than other schools focused on automotive design that were located in Detroit and San Francisco. After trying cars for a year, I decided product design was a better fit for me.

What is your best memory of CIA?

Some of my best memories from CIA came from classes taught by Richard Fiorelli. His classes had a hands-on approach to working with materials that delivered results I would otherwise not think to sketch out. This hands-on concept of “play” to iterate concepts is something that has stuck with me throughout my career.

Do you consider yourself an artist or a maker?

I guess I would say “designer.” For my day job (creative director /partner at Photonic Studio), I make things for other people to communicate and visualize their ideas. I suppose that I am a “maker” as a hobby because I love to tinker and experiment.

[editor’s note: Photonic creates 3D architectural renderings, product renderings 3D illustration, animation and interactive environments. These photos showcase some of their work.]

What do you make and with what types of materials?

With materials from HGR I have made some various sculptures. I have worked with everything from charts and thermocromatic graph papers, to conveyor belts and giant rubber bands. Often the bulk nature of materials at HGR lends itself to play and experimentation. I, generally, like to look for unique things that are on their way to scrap and can be purchased for as little as possible. I like the idea that we can upcycle things that were on their way to the landfill or scrapyard.

How long have you been an HGR customer?

My first trip to HGR was in 2005ish.

What have found at HGR that you incorporated into your work?

Unique chart and graph papers, thermocromatic papers, robot parts, conveyor chains, giant drill bits, refractory bricks. Too much to list, honestly.

Would you recommend HGR to other artists and makers?

Always. Aside from being super interesting to look around, it offers all sorts of things you just wouldn’t find at Home Depot or an arts store.

What do you do when you are not doing your personal work?

I am a designer at Photonic Studio. We are a creative and visualization agency that focuses on 3D modeling for animation and interactive. Lately, this means we are working on lots of exciting projects in augmented and virtual reality. Traditionally, we have worked with clients in design fields, as well as marketing and communications teams at all sorts of companies.

What inspires you?

I love being optimistic about the future. The ability to work with new technologies and create interactive experiences that could not happen in the physical world is exciting. I also have a love for manufacturing and find the process and tools of production to be beautiful. Often the limitations of a process or technology give me something to reach for as I develop concepts. Also science. I love NASA, SpaceX, JPL, LHC, NIF, and all sorts of amazing machines built for science.

Where can we find your work?

My day-to-day work can be seen at www.photonicstudio.com.

Ford truck rendering by Photonic Studio 3D illustration by Photonic Studio 3D illustration by Photonic Studio 3D architectural rendering by Photonic Studio 3D architectural rendering by Photonic Studio motion graphic by Photonic Studio

Fourth-generation metalworking shop works to generate student interest in manufacturing careers

Beverage Machine & Fabricators machined part
Part (convector plate) before machining
Beverage Machine & Fabricators part being machined
Part during machining
Beverage machine & fabricators finished machined part
Part after machining

In 1904, George Hewlett founded Cleveland Union Engineering Company in Cleveland’s Flats area. The company handled industrial metal manufacturing, welding, fabrication and steel erection. Hewlett’s daughter married John Geiger, who is the grandfather of the current owner, also John Geiger, and great-grandfather of Jake who also works for the company. In the 1920s, it began to develop and build equipment for the distillery and brewing industries to clean and pasturize milk jugs and beer bottles, hence a name change to Beverage Engineering. In the 1940s, it moved to its current location on Lakewood Heights Boulevard and transitioned its focus from beverage machines to machining for the war effort, and in 1957 it found its current incarnation as Beverage Machine & Fabricators, Inc. What do these changes signify? Adaptability! And, Beverage Machine has found its niche.

Though the company no longer is part of the beverage machine industry, it has continued its journey in the metalworking industry and now machines (cuts or finishes) hard-to-machine metal parts made from inconel, monel, stainless steel and titanium. It also has larger machines that can handle bigger, heavier pieces (up to 10 feet in diameter and 24,000 pounds) for the steel, energy, power, mining, nuclear, aerospace and defense industries. For example, it did a project for SpaceX last year, a company that designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. Beverage Machine also only handles one-off pieces and smaller orders rather than high-volume production. Its orders range from one to 25 pieces at a time. Five years ago, it added waterjet cutting to its capability, which broke the company out of traditional metal machining. Using the waterjet, the company has done work for sign and glass companies and machined the glass awards for last year’s Tri-C JazzFest. With one piece of equipment, it expanded capacity and its customer base.

All of Beverage Machine’s customers are regional, and they are served by only 16 employees. The company mainly employees machinists and is looking to and is willing to train a suitable candidate. Josh Smith, Beverage Machine’s waterjet technician, says that the impact on today’s labor problem started years ago when schools did away with shop programs and put the focus on college prep. He’s worked for the company for 16 years, and his dad has been the plant manager for 25 years. He says, “When I went to school, the perception was that JVS [joint vocational school] was where the stoners and illiterates went and that everyone who can think goes to college.” He says that in five years everyone in the industry will be retiring, and there’s going to be a shortage of skilled labor. He adds that the industry has to reach students when they are 11 or 12 to show them that jobs in manufacturing are cool and innovative. To that end, he has started “ThinkSpark,” a grassroots movement to create a foundation in Lorain County to inspire and mentor youth to consider careers in manufacturing, to partner with schools and connect children with technical programs, to develop a makerspace for youth in the program, and to create a robotic competition similar to AWT’s RoboBots that takes place every April at Lakeland Community College.

John Geiger relates that the manufacturing industry in the area is healthy, but that his biggest challenge, which is the same for all manufacturers, is finding skilled labor or even unskilled labor who are interested in technical training. Recently, he met with representatives from Lorain County Community College about bringing students in for an apprenticeship training program.

From Founder John Geiger to his son, John Geiger, a machinist, to his son, John Geiger, a history major and sales specialist, to his son, John, aka Jake, Geiger, a business management major, the company has stayed in the hands of this capable family for four generations. John says about his business, “There is enough domestic need, and our niche gives us enough work. China can’t serve these industries because customers have a part dependency and need it today.” He shares, “I get satisfaction in seeing what we create every day. It’s a tangible result.” His son, Jake, adds, “It’s rewarding to have a part come in and see the finished part leave the shop.” As Josh Smith sums up, “What sets John apart is that he can see the greater good and a need. He sees what we can do for the next generation. It’s not about making money. It’s about family.

Beverage Machine & Fabricators shop with gantry crane
One of two shops and the gantry crane used to lift heavy parts