By Eric Peterson | Jul 17, 2020
CNC, prototyping, and other services
Keefe and Weaver met each other on one of Purdue University's Rube Goldberg Machine Contest teams in the early 2010s.
For the uninitiated, the late Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist whose name has become synonymous with absurdly complex gadgets that perform simple tasks.
Purdue's inaugural Rube Goldberg Machine Contest took place in 1949, and it later became a national competition. Organizers select a different task every year -- 2020 was "turn off a light," 2008 was "assemble a hamburger," and 1999 was "set up a golf tee and tee up a golf ball" -- and teams compete to make a machine that completes the task in at least 20 steps in two minutes. Judges determine the winner based on the machine's ability to complete the task, as well as theme, teamwork, and "Goldberg spirit."
Keefe and Weaver participated in a total of six contests between the two of them at Purdue, then even built Rube Goldberg-like machines in Euclid's early days for the set of a SpongeBob SquarePants musical in 2017.
But the niche was too narrow, leading Keefe and Weaver to take on a number of other prototyping and low-volume production work.
Following a stint with a company that was upcycling spent coffee grounds into charcoal, the duo started Euclid in Indiana -- naming it after the Greek "father of geometry" -- then moved it to Colorado six months later.
Keefe and Weaver found 3,400 square feet of affordable shop space in Brighton that fit the company's needs. Both founders are mechanical engineers; Keefe's forte is machining and Weaver focuses on CAD programming and fixtures.
"Most of the work that we do is low-volume fixturing and prototyping," says Keefe. "One of our customers does air-quality monitoring for clean rooms, another does physics research. We're not really targeting one industry over another. We just take the work as it comes over."
Euclid's inventory of equipment includes three CNC mills (including a Haas 5-axis machine), a CNC lathe, a CNC router, cutting saws, a plasma table, and a Mig welder. "We're set up for low-volume, quick turnaround machining," says Weaver.
Orders typically range from "one or two" units to 2,000, with standard delivery times of two weeks or less. Another Euclid specialty, adds Keefe, is "design review for manufacturability."
He spotlights a part that was initially designed as a custom extrusion, but the 5-axis mill brought a number of benefits. "It was supposed to be extrusion that we'd cut to length and then drill some holes in, but [for] one reason or another they couldn't get the extrusion, so we ended up machining the parts from solid," he says." [W]e think the parts we machined from solid look nicer, will have better tolerances, and are definitely faster for the customer."
Since its move to Colorado, Euclid has plugged into a local network of vendors, including Westminster-based JB Precision Coatings for anodizing and ALRECO in Henderson for aluminum. "Most of the work that we do is aluminum," says Keefe. "They have all of the aluminum you could imagine."
The company has also helped a few inventors with prototyping and low-volume production, including Andrew Klein of In-Kleind in Denver. Euclid built him 200 units of "a jig for woodworkers to make their own pencils," says Keefe.
While the business has largely been industry-agnostic, there is one market that's a target in the long term. "Personally, I've always thought it would be rewarding or fulfilling to do more work with green technology, but that's not something we've got a good connection with yet," says Weaver.
Euclid has grown sales every year of its existence, and Keefe forecasts a flat 2020. "We've plateaued out right now," he says.
"We're happy with the size we are," adds Weaver. "We're not looking to become a huge shop and just be managers. We like having a lot of different responsibilities."
While Euclid hasn't built a Rube Goldberg machine in the last three years, Weaver and Keefe have drawn on that experience to build a few ball machines for a hospital in New York and another for KidSpace, an "indoor playground" in Broomfield, Colorado.
"The kids can go up and turn cranks or levers to lift a ball through elevators, then drop it down to different tracks," says Weaver.
And building Rube Goldberg machines helped foster many useful skills for contract manufacturing.
"There's always the creativity aspect, especially when we get a weird part, trying out how we can fixture it efficiently and easily," says Weaver. "That's the biggest thing: the problem-solving aspect, since we're always doing different types of work."
Respectively 30 and 29, Keefe and Weaver are on the younger side of machine shop owner-operators. "I don't know how much it is people talking and complaining, but the other owners will be like, 'It's so hard to find a good machinist now,'" says Keefe.
Challenges: "For me, it's business-y stuff," says Keefe. "We went to school for engineering, and kind of wandered into owning and operating a machine shop. Business practices and that sort of thing, there's always something to learn on that front."
Opportunities: The 5-axis mill is becoming a calling card. "We've taken on a lot of work for that," says Keefe. "I see that as an area for growth."
The plan is to keep focusing on CNC machining. "We operate under the philosophy: You can do anything, but you can't do everything," says Weaver. "Find what you're good at and do that, and try to not spread yourself too thin."
Needs: "We're trying to find a building we can afford to buy," says Weaver. "We had a scare at one point where the current building we're in was up for sale. We thought it would go to new owners and we'd get kicked out. That's something we'd like to have more stability with: having our own shop."