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Emeryville, CA
Cutting, Grinding, And Welding For The Greater Good Of The World

By TJ McCueFriday, June 20, 2014
3D Design, Design, Digital Prototyping, Manufacturing

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Fun. Dynamic. Masterful. Effusive. Lively. Brilliant.

A few words that describe Jeff Tiedeken, owner and creator of a modern day machine shop called Monkey Likes Shiny. This is not a hobby shop, but a shop of a full-time tinkerer, a career maker, a master builder, a person full of ideas, laughter, passion and drive, who has so many ideas pouring out of him that he is in constant motion and most likely gets little sleep.

Like the writer who is always scribbling notes and keeps a notepad by his bedside, Jeff fills his rooms with his tools and machines within easy reach. Every nook and cranny, plus walls, in his shop is chock full of maker tools, projects and machines. It’s not messy or in disorganized piles, but when first stepping in as a guest, it is an overwhelming array of mind boggling stuff.

One of those mind-boggling creations at Monkey Likes Shiny

My mind tries to sort out what we’re seeing – a couple of artsy metal bikes in a corner, mills, metal press brake, desk, skateboards hanging on a post in the middle of the room, not yet finished motorcycle, something that looks like pieces of a metal sculpture maybe from a sci-fi movie, colorful garage sale posters covering the walls, glimpses of old fashioned shop machines in another room beyond. As we go through the grand tour of the shop, piece by piece each with its own bit of history and story, I recognize there is an organization scheme which makes perfect sense to him and allows him to make things at a rapid, somewhat alarming rate. 

His mom must have had her hands full.

The story of this 27 year old Minnesota farm boy turned aerospace welder/machinist starts like most kids having fun riding bikes and causing trouble, working in machine shops at age 16. This lead Jeff to building motorcycles with his brother Jason, which then lead to roles on Discovery Channel programs (filmed in Los Angeles) building motorcycles on camera as a lead fabricator for Exile Cycles. Not too much later, he got a call to work in the Clorox R&D department in San Francisco.

Somewhere in that chapter, Jeff somehow held down his business, developed some patents and went to culinary school to become a chef. After a few years developing concepts for Clorox, he decided to fly the nest and focus on Monkey Likes Shiny, his personal business. His motto and tagline for this prototype-building company is “Making It Happen.” With clients ranging from Google X, Red Bull, Oakley, as well as the small innovators, he credits Kickstarter for really opening people’s eyes to “making it happen.”

If you meet Jeff in person, unless you have hours for him to pour his passion about metal into you, then you might not want to bring up topics around sheet metal, airplanes, welding, or machining. Come to think of it: plastics, bicycles, sewing or anything that involves manufacturing probably qualify as well. If you do bring up one of these topics, however, you will get a wonderful education about bending metal or another of his passions. He describes himself on his blog as fabricator and developer for the future: cutting, grinding and welding for the greater good of the world.

Jeff is a craftsman. He enjoys building and making for the sake of the craft while using his imagination and skill to make it beautiful. One of the projects he had on the workbench during our visit was a Hydrogen fuel cell race bike he was working on using Autodesk Inventor to design. He had the hydrogen fuel cell and he had the wheels, and the way he went about connecting the dots was interesting. He explained to us that this is how he worked on concept bikes for Ducati and other major manufacturers.

“What I do is put the wheels, fuel cell or motor, mock up handlebars and other parts where I know they look correct in real life, then I scan them all in the mocked up location using the FARO arm. I then use that data as a reference to start laying out the bike in the Inventor software,” shared Jeff.

He explained that sometimes it’s more important to see something in real time, and then build off those references in CAD. He doesn’t call it reverse engineering, rather “parallel engineering building.” It’s designing as you go, using both CAD and machines. He describes it as “walking with two feet, one in CAD, and one in building,” and essential for getting the right look and function.

Thanks to fast turn times, Jeff has built a strong reputation for moving from concept to prototype to final product rapidly. To this, he credits his drive, tools and the latest 3D software. He has computers all over his shop running all the family of Autodesk products  like Fusion360 and Inventor. You see a variety of projects in development on his multiple screens.

Jeff also tips his hat to two men who have been important to him, “Anthony Graves, who is one of the big dogs on the manufacturing side of Autodesk, was on a TV show that I was also on, in LA, and we became friends. He later introduced me to the CEO of Autodesk, Carl Bass. If you want to meet a really good builder, talk to the CEO of Autodesk. That dude is a heck of a craftsman; he is Autodesk.”

One of Jeff’s main goals is opening the minds and curiosity of kids to science, math, and the makings of things. To this end, he spends evenings and weekends at the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s award-winning children’s museum on the waterfront, creating displays and exhibits for their young guests. If you don’t see him at the museum, then look next door at Instructables, where he is coming up with How To projects and fun things to add content to their website.

During our visit, he talked about the AIR (Artist in Residence) program that Instructables offers. It is an opportunity to really give people the edge to take their project to the next level by having Instructables sponsor and provide them open access to the soon-to-be-legendary Pier 9 workshop in San Francisco.

At Jeff’s personal shop, he hires high school kids to work in his shop as apprentices offering them the opportunity to get hands on experience and develop lasting skills, while dissolving apprehension of mechanical machinery. Jeff’s excitement caught the attention of my 10 year-old son, Joshua, during the visit, with his enthusiasm to create, think and build without limits. My son shares about his experience hanging out with Jeff on his mini3DRV site.

Keep your eye on Jeff. He is a creative force to be reckoned with. His drive to build the next generation of builders will likely be seen in his protégés, and hopefully, we will see more of Jeff’s wild ideas in the future, maybe even on Mars. His company ambition: Develop and construct some of the world’s toughest concept projects.... from Google to Boeing... no project can't be tackled.....

He shouts to us as we leave: “Start Making!!!”

Follow along at 3drv.com! #3DRV

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