MADE IN VANCOUVER: Meet a Sponsor, Zaber Technologies

Zaber L-R: left to right: Andrew "Bruce" Lau, Rob Steves, and Jesse Schuhlein.

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In 1997, Andrew “Bruce” Lau (left, above) and a group of friends from engineering school dreamed of starting their own business. With diverse interests and knowledge of electro-mechanical systems, programming, and physics, the group formed Zaber Technologies. The company designed and manufactured a variety of products (a rowing machine and a 3D scanner to name a few) before settling on precision robotics.

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In the late nineties, precision linear actuators used DC motors with gearbox and encoders. They required complicated motion control cards, bulky controllers, separate driver amplifiers and special power supplies.

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In short: precision motion control was:
•    expensive
•    difficult to set up
•    and cumbersome to use.

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So the group recognized the need for an inexpensive, integrated solution for motion control. They wanted to make motion control products that were easy to set up and ready to use right out of the box, so they created the world’s first precision linear actuator with a built-in controller. It was based on a stepper motor instead of a DC motor, gearbox, and encoder combination.

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Now with more than 30 employees, Zaber Technologies manufactures motion-control products for a variety of uses, including bio-technology, optics, physics and industrial applications.

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I sat down with Andrew to find out more about Zaber, what makes it an inspiring local company, and why they’re a strong supporter of the Maker community.

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Who uses your products?

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ABL: They’ve been used to find cures for cancer, for space-bound instrumentation, drug discovery, lab automation, a space elevator… even for tracking worms! Basically it’s a tool for people to use, like a very elaborate screwdriver.

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Zaber - row of products on a shelf

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You’re a Vancouver-owned and operated company. Can you tell us what this means and why it’s important to you?

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ABL: We are fully employee owned, which means that all our shareholders are current or former employees, and all our employees get stock options. If you ask me, a business exists to support the people who work there — not the other way around. At Zaber, we treat everybody the same. Though we’re a growing company, we still have that small company feel, and in order to create this you need to care about the culture and the people.

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Also, I think it’s really important to think locally when manufacturing products. Our customers are based all around the world, but the electronics we manufacture are created right here in Vancouver.  We don’t want to outsource overseas just because it’s cheaper. For example, when we work with a local supplier to manufacture circuit boards, we visited their shop to make sure they have high work-place standards. We understand every aspect of our process, and this includes the environmental impact.

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Speaking of the environment, how important is sustainability to Zaber Technologies?

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ABL: Very important. We do our own composting. We recycle everything. We have a secure bike shed. We’ve even won Bike to Work week for the past four years!

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I think as a Maker it’s really important to understand the upstream and downstream of your products. You can’t ignore the fact that after you’re done making something, it will end up somewhere, so this is why all of our parts are replaceable. This means that a customer can return a product that was made 10 years ago and we will repair it and send it back to them. In fact, this just happened the other day.

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Why did Zaber choose to sponsor Maker Faire?

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ABL: The culture at Zaber is rooted in making things from scratch instead of accepting the status quo. Everyone here makes things in their spare time, and we all believe in DIY culture. We think it’s important to understand how things are made.

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Also, at Zaber we think that Makers are really good employees. People who make things with their hands, they fit in well with the culture here. Vancouver Mini Maker Faire is a really good organization benefitting a lot of really smart, motivated and passionate people, so it means a lot to us to give back to this community. And we hope that in turn, Maker Faire will help us grow our community.

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Zaber - Dave working with product
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So visit Zaber’s booth at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire on June 1 and 2 to learn more about the work they do and the company they’re creating. Oh, by the way Zaber is always looking for passionate makers. If you want a job, don’t forget to tell them what you make!