WHITEFISH — The only indication that a laser beam was slicing through the blue foam was a small red dot visible on the foam’s surface as the computer program worked along the design’s blueprint, and then the sudden appearance of a perfect robot claw.
Nearby, Jack Minnich of Arborvitae Woodworks watched the final seconds tick down on the computer as the robot claw finalized. When it was done, his 6-year-old daughter popped the claw from the rest of the foam, and they brought it to Minnich’s woodshop, where he was designing signs for the upcoming Making Montana two-day event, featuring the Manufacturing and Technology Expo and Kalispell Mini Maker Faire.
Minnich plans to bring the signs to both events, which take place Feb. 15 and 16 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds, to show students and the general public what a piece of tech can do for his woodworking business.
The laser made an appearance last year, engraving a message of the recipient’s choosing onto a pencil.
“I went through 800 pencils,” Minnich said, laughing.
The Manufacturing Technology Expo and Kalispell Mini Maker Faire feature makers and manufacturers performing demonstrations of what it is they do, all for about 3,000 visitors who wander through the fairgrounds over two days.
The events, which combine into Making Montana, are a collaboration among ImagineIF Libraries, Flathead Valley Community College, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Job Service Kalispell, and Montana West Economic Development.
On Feb. 15, the Manufacturing and Technology Expo will feature manufacturing and technology companies offering hands-on demonstrations to engage with students. It’s a way to introduce students to the companies operating in their valley, but also a way to show that manufacturing jobs are no longer the dirty, dark, and dangerous jobs they’ve been in the past.
“It’s all about hands-on learning opportunities and highlighting opportunities in this valley and out in the world,” Megan Glidden with ImagineIF Libraries said.
While the expo is open to the public, it is geared toward students, and many area schools will be sending busloads of kids to the fairgrounds that day; Glidden said at least 1,000 students are registered to visit.
The Kalispell Mini Maker Faire, taking place Feb. 16, is on a Saturday and geared toward the general public, especially families. The maker faire celebrates the people who embody the do-it-yourself spirit and want to share their creations with an audience. As with the expo, these exhibits will be interactive and highlight the process of how it was made.
“You never know what you might find in the community,” Glidden said.
Glidden said the Making Montana event is a continuation of events last October for Manufacturing Month, when members of the public were given tours of local businesses to see what and how everything is made.
“It’s high tech and exciting,” she said. “It’s amazing what they can do.”
Connecting with teachers, students, and their families about where technology and manufacturing could take someone, or could be used, is one of the main goals, Glidden said.
Both the expo and maker faire are totally free to the public, thanks to sponsors and collaboration, providing access to technology and projects like those of Minnich.
He said he likes interacting with the kids to show them what’s possible, and to watch them light up as they get to actually make something. Glidden said previous maker faires have drawn 1,200 people, and expects at least that amount of people this year.
“I think we’re building momentum both with the public and the schools,” Glidden said.
For more information on Making Montana, visit https://kalispell.makerfaire.com.