MAE alumni cut path forward with innovative invention

Three MAE alumni are laying the groundwork for the future of the manufacturing industry with a new innovative invention intended to make CNC automation more compact and user-friendly than ever before.

Sam Marcom, Dario Muller and Josh Cooper, all of whom graduated with their bachelor’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering, met during the 2021 Fall Semester in their Engineering Entrepreneurs Program (EEP) senior design course. Over the course of the past two years, these three students not only became close friends, but also started their own business following the invention of a new manufacturing tool: the CN-Seamless.

Marcom, now an NC State Electrical Engineering Master’s Student, first saw the need for a new solution in CNC Automation while working at a steel mill in Virginia the summer before he began the EEP course.

“They were always fabricating stuff out on the floor, so there was stuff that would break all the time; and it was big, heavy steel stuff; and they spent hours marking stuff out with a pen and paper and a ruler and they’d cut it all by hand.” Marcom said during an interview in January. “I thought ‘well, they should have a machine to do this.’”

According to Marcom, many companies; like the steel mill where he worked; have large plasma table machines that can offer some support in situations such as these, but they large, immobile, and oftentimes unfeasible when a game-time fix is needed on the shop floor.

Enter the CN-Seamless, a lightweight and entirely mobile CNC oxy-acetylene torch cutting product that Marcom, Muller and Cooper believe could revolutionize the fabrication process. Complete with an electromagnet base that mounts directly to any steel workpiece, tunable gas control that streamlines finding the perfect fuel ratio, and a user-focused touchscreen controller; the CN-Seamless is intended to be a tool that anyone can learn to use and implement into their workshops or on the jobsite in a matter of hours.

Cooper, who has now also earned his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering, had reservations at first about undertaking the development of this new ambitious tool, and he was not the only one.

“I was skeptical because you have to look at feasibility as one of the categories,” Cooper said. “We’re basically going to take a plasma table, shrink it, make it better, and make it something anyone can use with a great user experience – the feasibility was questioned, and when we had to present in class, that was one of the biggest pieces of feedback we got: ‘this would be great if we could do it, but can you do it?’”

But do it they did.

In January of 2022, the team began building the first model of the CN-Seamless, and in about two months they had created a rough prototype. During a second prototyping phase, the team was able to solve several of the initial prototype’s shortcomings, and in September of 2022, the team began work on the now-complete and fully functional Mach 1 version of the CN-Seamless product.

The team particularly credits EEP Director Marshall Brain for his influence on the development of the CN-Seamless and for pushing the team to go beyond their comfort zones to develop a truly professional product that has the potential to greatly benefit the manufacturing industry.

“He’s the soul of that class,” Cooper said. “We wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are now without his guidance.”

Muller, who is also now an Electrical Engineering Master’s Student with Marcom, said that the user-friendly nature of the CN-Seamless is what sets it apart from the competition and positions it at a unique advantage compared to similar products.

“Whenever you pick this machine up, the first thing you’re going to touch will be the user interface, so we want to build a user interface that integrates with the rest of the machine and how somebody who does things by hand thinks,” Muller said. “That’s what’s really not on the market right now.”

In addition to its small frame and durable design, the CN-Seamless weighs in at approximately 25 pounds, as opposed to similar products on the market that can be 200 pounds or more. 

The idea is that fabricators and machinists will be able to reach for the CN-Seamless like they would a drill or a hammer, just another tool that helps get the job done quicker and better than ever before.

“The idea at the end of the day is to make this a seamless tool that helps workers in the field,” Muller said. “Rather than trying to replace them or completely change the market, we’re really trying to add something that people can rely on as their assistant.”

Now, the team is preparing to sell the CN-Seamless Mach-1 product program and eight companies have already signed letters of intent to purchase, including the steel mill where Marcom first began to develop the idea for the product.

The team hopes to have the Mach 1 units complete by March, when they will be sent to the companies to have on-site for six months, at the end of which they will be replaced by the complete final production of CN-Seamless units that have been fine-tuned by industry feedback during the Mach 1 period.

During the Mach 1 feedback collection period, the team also hopes to gauge interest in different attachments for the CN-Seamless to make it a truly modular experience where the user can go from using the original oxy-acetylene torch cutter to a plasma cutter or even a 3D-Printing attachment in just a matter of minutes.

The epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit, each of the three team members have all fully committed themselves to the CN-Seamless, and they continue to be laser-focused in making it the best product it can be, going great lengths and working long hours to ensure they are doing everything they can to perfect their design.

Cooper lives and works in Winston-Salem and commutes to Raleigh to work with his teammates, and he says what drives this endeavor to be successful is not only the drive, skills and knowledge that the team employs, but also the friendship they share between them.

“Sure, we’re coworkers at this point. We have a company, we have a website, we’re incorporated – we’re doing the thing – but we’re also really close friends,” Cooper said. “We hang out, we enjoy each other’s company, and this wouldn’t work if I didn’t like hanging out with these guys. That’s definitely critical to our story.”

To keep up to date with the CN-Seamless team and their work, or to find out how you can be involved with the CN-Seamless project, just visit the CN-Seamless website.