Engineers Albert Vega and Brad Halsey are highly skilled real-life MacGyvers who've honed their skills on the field in challenging conditions. They understand that developing keen problem solving skills is much more than mastering any one set of tools — it's a mindset. To that end, together they cofounded Building Momentum, "a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) that provides science and engineering consulting and technology development and training to defense, education, corporate, and entrepreneurial organizations."
Vega and Halsey now "use their expertise to provide world-class professional training, focused high-tech development and testing, and advisory services for government and corporate entities." They've celebrated many successes to date and they're steadily growing, expanding, and indeed building momentum.
We're proud that one of their favorite teaching tools is the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine. We connected with Vega to learn more about the amazing work they're doing.
1. Tell us about the journey that led to founding Building Momentum.
Brad and myself have both spent time in war zones (Brad in Iraq and myself in Afghanistan) as scientists problem solving issues that arose with deployed US Army soldiers. We also helped run that program that embedded scientists with soldiers and developed a hands-on training program to prepare those volunteering scientists for problem solving on the battlefield.
We enjoyed the training aspect so much that we started Building Momentum with the idea of bringing experiential problem solving and rapid development training to more people. We have worked with a wide range of students varying from STEM teachers looking to develop curriculum for their students to Marines and other scientists/engineers who will be problem solving on the battlefield.
2. What types of workshops does Building Momentum offer currently?
Our flagship workshop is Innovation Bootcamp, which is a week-long course that exposes students to CAD, 3D printing, welding, basics of electricity and electronics, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, solar power harvesting, laser cutting, and more. We use hands-on learning though challenges/missions/competitions to drive home the learning experience. Our focus is not to necessarily teach just these tools, but to build confidence using any tool and to develop/sharpen problem solving skills.
Figure 1. Marines soldering and programming Arduinos during Innovation Bootcamp in Building Momentum's mobile training lab.
Since Innovation Bootcamp is a broad sampling of technologies, we also have several other courses that go into more depth, such as: building your own 3D printer, learning how to build UAVs (quad-rotor), making your own PCBs for custom electronics, learning how to make items in 3+ axes CNC milling machines, utilizing power storage and conversion in remote/austere environments, taking advantage of advanced CAD techniques to make models that are more resilient to changes for rapid prototyping, and many more.
Figure 2. STEM teachers programming and testing sumo wrestling robots during Innovation Bootcamp.
3. How did you first get introduced to the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine?
We first got introduced to the mill when building a mobile instruction lab for the Marines. We saw the great capability and worked to create an advanced class for the mill.
4. What was the learning curve like for you?
The learning curve for me was quite simple. The visual-based approach for PCB milling felt much easier to use than other CAM programs I have used for generating parts on larger CNC mills. The interface was simple and intuitive.
5. What did you like best about it? What did it enable you to do that you couldn't previously?
To me, the most impressive feature is the accuracy of the machine, which has allowed me to prototype PCBs with surface-mounted devices and create traces with spacing and width tolerances that are on par with standard services for PCB manufacturing.
6. How do you currently employ the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine?
We currently use the milling machine to make test PCBs to validate circuitry before sending out for low-quantity runs of boards. The ability to test an idea and the accompanying circuit in a day or two before committing the money and time waiting for a larger quantity of PCBs is amazing.
Figure 3. Example test board used to validate circuits before producing larger volumes.
We also use the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine in one of our workshops for teaching how to make your own PCBs. This can be especially useful for making replacements, updates, improvements of existing boards in scenarios where time and location are critical factors. We have taught this class to several Marines with the end goal to use the mill on a boat or any forward-deployed position to help with the time and location limitations.
Figure 4. Populated test board validating a boost circuit.
7. What is the reaction from your clients?
When using the mill to speed up the prototyping process, we generally get a reaction of surprise due to the speed that we turn an idea into reality. When applying the mill to the classroom environment, our students are impressed and amazed that they can easily make PCBs within minutes.
8. Tell us about your makerspace at Building Momentum and your plans for expansion.
The workspace at our current location is basic, gritty, but functional. We have most basic tools with a few extravagancies as certain projects and our finances have allowed. Our expansion is going to be driven by our next adventure. We are working to move to a 15,000+ square foot facility that will greatly increase our shop space and allow many small businesses and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the workshop capabilities.
9. What's the most important wisdom that you impart in your workshops when teaching folks to develop MacGyvering/troubleshooting skills in the field?
One of the most important things we try to impart on our students is to not completely rely on one certain tool (software or hardware). Products and technology are always evolving, and there might be a disruption in the availability of that tool. The focus should be on the problem solving. I might be stuck in a location trying to solve a problem with only a multi-tool and local resources, not the latest and greatest rapid-prototyping equipment.
10. What's next on the horizon for Building Momentum?
Next on our horizon is creating a co-building community in Alexandria called The Garden that offers small businesses and entrepreneurs a space to physically build their ideas and grow their business. Similar to co-working spaces, we will rent various spaces ranging from floating desks to large offices for 5–6 people, along with necessities such as internet, mail services, conference rooms, etc.
Our main differentiator is the 4000+ square foot workspace that will have various pieces of equipment for wood/metal working (welders, mills, lathes, saws, etc.) and rapid prototyping (laser cutters, 3-D printers, vacuum formers, Bantam Mills, and more) for people take their ideas to reality. We will also offer various services through The Garden such as graphic design, PR, videography, and IP/legal consulting through local professionals that are committed to small business growth.
We want to take the hurt out of small business growth and let entrepreneurs concentrate on what drives them. We also want to create a close-knit environment where people can feed off each other's energy and engage the community through events open to the public. Opening the doors to the community for technology and entrepreneurial events is critical for creating the next generation of strong small business growth.
Thanks so much, Albert! We're excited to see Building Moment grow and flourish!