Automatic Arts provides precision robotic cutting and fabrication services for industry, technology, and the arts. They have years of experience producing a remarkably wide range of consumer products, architectural installations, event and display materials, and art projects – solving the most difficult technical problems and enjoying unusual projects. Their capabilities and services play an integral role in the local manufacturing eco-system, enabling makers, designers, architects, artists, and industry to outsource critical tasks to help keep their manufacturing domestic. We asked owner Josh Jakus to tell us about his business and services.
When did you start Automatic Arts? What is your background and what led you to starting the business?
I studied architecture at UC Berkeley and worked in that field for 5 years. Then I designed and manufactured my own product brand for about 10 years, making unusual handbags and household items. I started Automatic Arts about 8 years ago. I was tired and almost broke after 10 years of trying to promote my brand and was looking for a change. I had a lot of fabrication skills and a little bit of equipment, so I hung out a shingle, thinking that it would be an interim gig until I found something new. I was surprised to find that I liked the job and so I have stuck with it.
What services do you provide, and who are your customers?
We provide production scale laser cutting, CNC router cutting, CNC knife cutting, die cutting, and general fabrication. We work with wood, metal, plastics, fabric, felt, acoustic material, paper, cardboard, and more. Our customers come from all over. Our biggest clients come from office interiors, acoustics, and lighting. We also do industrial cutting of components that go into other products. Sometimes we don’t even know what the products are – for example we cut Aerogel, an advanced insulation material, but we don’t know what the end use is. Finally, we do work for small brands and artists.
“All our long-term clients first came to us with products they couldn’t get made elsewhere, and together we worked out a manufacturing solution and reasonable pricing.”
How big is your workshop? What types of machinery and materials do you use?
Our shop in San Leandro is about 6000 square feet. Our core equipment is three large format CNC machines (CO2 laser, fiber laser, router/knife cutter combo machine), and two industrial die cutting machines. But we also have a lot of support equipment: adhesive laminator, wide belt sander, metal press brake, welder, woodshop tools, etc. See above for the materials.
What types of projects do you work on? Any (past or upcoming) projects that are particularly interesting, innovative, or inspiring?
To be honest, for me the exciting part is figuring out efficiencies in manufacturing rather than admiring the outcome. We have done a lot of interesting creative projects: displays for SFMoma and the de Young, woven paintings for the artist Miguel Arzabe, a ceiling acoustic installation for the Gladstone Institute at UCSF. These are just a few that popped into my head but there have been hundreds of others like this. Don’t get me wrong – when I stumbled upon one of Miguel’s paintings out in the wild, I was thrilled. It was so cool to see what he did with all the strips we laser cut. But I am just as happy when I figure out a way to make what had been a two-person production task into a one-person task.
What are the advantages for Bay Area customers of working with Automatic Arts?
I would say that the main advantage we provide is that we can understand what clients need and we form a cooperative relationship with clients. Very few of our jobs have come from open RFQs that go out to multiple shops where the lowest bidder wins. All our long-term clients first came to us with products they couldn’t get made elsewhere, and together we worked out a manufacturing solution and reasonable pricing.
What would be your advice to manufacturers or designers for working with subcontractors like you?
It’s all about preparation and good organization on the client side. Clear and complete drawings, timely responses to our questions, realistic timelines. All these things help us do our best work.
Are you seeing any trends in the types of projects that are coming to you? More of some things and less of others?
We are a small company, so it’s hard to tell what is a trend vs. what is random variability. But I definitely see ups and downs in the number of startups or independent entrepreneurs. During the heyday of the maker movement, we got lots of requests for interesting prototypes and projects. Then that completely died out during the boom in social media and tech of the last 5 years. Now it’s starting to pick up again.
View the Automatic Arts profile