Be a Maker!

ACE Program Success Stories

How ACE is Driving Creativity and Innovation for Knox Makers

December 20, 2022 – “Most people want to be creative, and they express their creativity differently,” says Billy Huddleston, board member and machining czar for a group in Tennessee called Knox Makers. He adds, “I work from home. I need that creative social outlet, or I’ll go crazy.” Billy takes to heart the need to Be a Maker and is hoping America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) will open new opportunities for creative folks like himself. That’s why seven members of Knox Makers have already enrolled in ACE, free online and in-person training on CNC machines.

Billy is one of 300 members of a community workshop in South Knoxville, Tenn., called Knox Makers. According to their website, they are “a technology and art collective dedicated to the promotion of creativity enabled and informed by science” that’s been thriving for 12 years. It works like a monthly gym membership fee for machine access, but also serves like a support group for skills. Every Tuesday they host Open Hack Night, a show-and-tell chance to connect and brainstorm ideas, which is free and open to the public. They’ve got the tools, the know-how, and the cheering section needed for budding artisans. Woodworking and laser cutting are very popular, but Knox Makers also supports 3D printing, blacksmithing, welding, metal fabricating, leather working, sewing, machining, electronics, and various arts & crafts. Most projects are just for fun by hobbyists, but they do get the occasional inventor wanting to prototype an idea for profit.

Encore Careers for Veterans

Retired U.S. Army veteran John Green could be one of those wanting to start a business. “I’m into cars and motorcycles. I’d like to make parts that I could sell–decorative nuts and bolts, taillights, or other auto components–to bling out a motorcycle. I’m also into drag racing. If I bust a gear on my transmission, instead of paying someone else hundreds of dollars to fix it, I could fix it myself.”

John has been a Knox Maker for 10 months and is intrigued by metal work. He’s been using the small tabletop CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine at Knox Makers and jumped at the chance to broaden his skills with ACE. In the military he was a certified machinist working primarily with manual machines like welding, but CNC has a language all its own. Though he’s found it a little tough learning the programming, ACE instructors at Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) have walked him through it. 

John joins another military veteran in the class, Jim Nelson. Jim works in an office now but considers himself somewhat of a Renaissance man. “I’m pretty close to retiring…again,” he laughs.” I like working with my hands and want to find something I enjoy or maybe an encore career. I’m not just going to watch the leaves drop.” Jim heard about ACE through his son David, who’s also an avid Knox Maker.

Next Generation Machinists

Both father and son are taking ACE because they felt it was too good a chance to pass up. David says, “ACE is an incredible value. It’s free! This could easily be a $1500 course. It’s a no brainer if you’re interested in manufacturing or machining. This will absolutely help me in my career because what I want to do is all based in CNC machines.” David is currently a student at PSCC looking to combine his experience in welding, robotics, and CNC, since several local companies are already moving in that direction.

Samantha Shumate, one of David’s classmates at PSCC and in the ACE class, shares his excitement about the careers waiting for them. “You can manufacture parts on CNC and then put them together with welding. It’s good to have both skills,” she says. Samantha is thinking about working on automobiles, hot rods specifically, but that might change. For now, she’s proud of her first creation at Knox Makers, an exquisite metal rose made with a welder, grinder, and a handheld plasma cutter. “I like taking something from nothing and making something out of it. It’s just satisfying.” She could say the same about the air engine she machined in the ACE class, her first experience on a CNC.  

Be a Maker

Knox Makers recently received a grant to purchase the mechanical portion of a CNC router. They’ll be adding the electronics, servo motors, and a high-speed spindle soon after raising more funds. Future projects could be carving images and text into objects, milling shapes from wood and aluminum, and milling wood slabs to make coffee tables. “Whatever it is will be creative and imaginative,” says Billy.

Supported by the Department of Defense and managed by IACMI – The Composites Institute, ACE is serving to inspire and educate participants with a wide variety of backgrounds and goals. Maybe it’s for fun, maybe it’s for a career, but both are important. David knows that between 3D printers and CNC machines, the possibilities are endless. “If you can envision it, you can make it, but it does take training.” Innovation thrives when imagination finds the right resources. That’s where ACE could have a tremendous impact on those choosing to Be a Maker.

With a smile and a spark in his eye, Jim affirms ACE fills a real void in this country. “Academics are great, but we NEED this. I would encourage anyone to try this. You might surprise yourself. It just might be your passion.”

More Success Stories

Your Future Starts Today

Take the first step toward starting or advancing your career in machining.