The quiet inventor: Local engineer builds complex custom machines from scratch |

The quiet inventor: Local engineer builds complex custom machines from scratch

Engineer Dave Cleveland looks over the panel that controls the automated assembly line machinery he has been building at the Sky-Hi News offices in recent weeks. Cleveland estimated he has built roughly 50 custom machines of varying sizes since striking out on his own.
Lance Maggart / Sky-Hi News |

What is Moore’s Law?

Commonly referred to as a “law” Moore’s Law is actually an observation and not a law of physics. Attributed to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors per square inch on an integrated circuit doubles every year. First observed in 1965, shortly after the creation of the first integrated circuits in the late 1950s, Moore’s Law has since been updated and today the rate of doubling is pegged at around 18 months to two years.

Over the past few weeks a new face has begun to appear at the Sky-Hi News offices on a regular basis, though his name will not be appearing on any bylines.

Dave Cleveland is a local resident and formally trained engineer who has spent recent weeks constructing, testing, and redesigning a large automated assembly line system inside the back bay at the Sky-Hi News office, in the space occupied by a printing press many years ago. The machine is not being built for the newspaper though. Instead Cleveland has been leasing space at our office to complete a contract with one of the globe’s leading manufacturers of automotive equipment.

Cleveland, who calls himself a systems integrator, owns and operates his own custom machinery engineering shop in Grand County where he designs and builds integrated systems of varying sizes. In the simplest of layman’s terms Cleveland makes automated machines, typically to perform repetitive or complex tasks. He is at the forefront of a rapidly shifting economic paradigm involving what is colloquially referred to as robots, though would more accurately be called automation.

“There are so many tasks out there that are either extremely repetitive, require lots of precision, or are just flat out dangerous,” Cleveland said. “My customers can’t buy something off the shelf to address those problems. Engineers like me do custom machine designs to address those problems. I am basically putting together a lot of really expensive toys.”

Originally from Bismarck, N.D., Cleveland studied engineering at the University of North Dakota and went to work for the prefabricated window company Pella Windows immediately after graduating. After five years with Pella Cleveland and his wife spent a summer touring the Rocky mountain west and portions of Canada before deciding to resettle in Denver. Cleveland then went to work for a Golden-based firm that specialized in the design and construction of custom equipment, often creating machinery for factories that produced airbags.

During the 1990s, Cleveland discovered the Fraser Valley and started spending a lot of time indulging what he calls his “skiing habit” — Cleveland helps coach the Middle Park High School Nordic Ski Team and is an accomplished cross country skier and bi-athlete. At around the same time one of his fellow workers at the Golden firm asked Cleveland if he was interested in forming a new company with several other engineers.

Cleveland spent 12 years as a co-owner of Timberline Automation before the Great Recession hit and lean times forced the owners of the business to go their separate ways. Cleveland decided to scale down his operations and become a one-man-show. Since then he has operated his own firm, Custom Engineering Solutions.

The assembly machine Cleveland is currently producing makes automotive parts. Because of the market competition that inherently drives automation Cleveland signs non-disclosure agreements with his clients, who also typically own the intellectual property rights to the work he produces. Cleveland could not divulge the name of his client, or specifics about the automated assembly he is currently building but did say the machinery makes automotive clamps and that he has built several other machines for the same client that also produce automotive clamps.

Cleveland said it was, “very likely” that most cars in the county have clamps inside them that were produced by the automated machinery he has produced for his clients over the past decade.

The future of automated systems engineering looks bright to Cleveland, who highlighted predictions that robotics and automation are expected to replace millions of jobs, and almost entire professions, in coming years.

“If you have heard of Moore’s Law, I think it applies to really any kind of technology. Even mine,” Cleveland said. “It may not be happening with the same exponent, but it is still growth. It is astounding the leaps we make every 10 years.”

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