Maker Movement Mania

Makerspaces: Build it Better With a Little Help from Our Friends

PSFK Labs iQ Content Partner
3D-printed shoe

The explosion of Makerspaces around the world means that we’ll tweak, refine and ‘make’ it better, all with a little help from the creatives working alongside us.

Austrian composer Marx Augustin’s greatest work, the 17th century hit, “Oh du Lieber Augustin,” doesn’t get much airplay anymore, but a hundred years ago the tune was hijacked by British folk musicians and became the oh-so-recognizable children’s song … Your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends

Augustin’s tune and simple sentiment (and distressingly repetitive melody) could easily be pressed into service as a theme for the explosion of new Makerspaces around the world. Collectively, these workshops are putting tools and inspiration into the hands of anyone with a bit of curiosity and vision, but more importantly, they bring people together to share ideas, pool skills and advance each other’s projects.

It’s no wonder that at the first-ever White House Maker Faire in June, Obama delivered a speech saying, “Today’s D.I.Y. is tomorrow’s ‘Made in America”,” anticipating how dedicated spaces can aid in skill training and become a springboard for entrepreneurial manufacturing. This week, we’re looking at these community studios and their recent, rapid proliferation in a trend we’ve called ‘Collaboration Hubs.’

workers in tech shop

Probably one of the best known of these community workshops is TechShop. Co-founded in 2006 by Jim Newton, former science adviser to Mythbusters, and his buddy Ridge Mcghee, TechShop started as a single space in Menlo Park, California, but has now grown to eight locations nationwide with more in the works.

Packed with high-tech equipment and designed to breathe new life into American entrepreneurial and manufacturing spirit, the space immediately drew attention from tinkerers and creative explorers who recognized the potential for projects they could never manage in their own garages.

TechShop prides itself as being the beating heart of the Maker movement (CEO Mark Hatch penned “The Maker Movement Manifesto” in 2013) and provides not just powerful machinery for every kind of creative endeavor, but also a range of classes and even one-on-one services via their ‘Dream Consultants’ to coach Makers through the creative process from visioning to production-ready prototypes.

Hatch said in an interview with the Washington Post, “When you move something from $1 million in development costs, or $250,000 in development costs, down to $2,000, $5,000, you now enable anyone in the middle class to innovate. And that is new to the world.”

Ford, BMW and GE are all counting on TechShop to promote innovation within the workforce, partnering with the network of high-tech studios to give employees a place to hatch their own big ideas and nurture their creative spirit. Even the Department of Veterans Affairs has teamed up with TechSpace, providing one year of free membership to vets so they can build new skills and participate in the camaraderie of a creative outlet.

workers on factory floor

The Idea Foundry in downtown Columbus, Ohio, exemplifies the Makerspace as community institution. Members pay a monthly fee and hourly use rates to access complex, high-end machinery for woodworking, metalworking, 3D printing, ceramics, even an Ardruino/Raspberry Pi workspace with room for coding workshops. With the help of economic development funds and foundation grants, the Idea Foundry moved into a 100-year old shoe factory, becoming the self-titled ‘largest community Makerspace on the planet.’

Innovators with an eye to building an enterprise can even pay the facility to produce a prototype or use the equipment themselves to do small production runs. Many members cite the collaborative vibe as essential to the spirit of Idea Foundry, describing how artists and tinkerers trade skills, provide advice and even barter amongst themselves for materials or assistance.

library bus

Overseas, the Maker movement has spawned communal workshops that go where the hackers are, instead of vice versa. Frysklab is a digital Makerspace on wheels that brings tools and materials for digital fabrication to rural communities in the Netherlands. A collaboration between Fryslân province’s library service and the global network of Fablabs, Frysklab occupies a decommissioned bookmobile and gives students access to everything from CNC machines to Arduino circuits to explore the fundamentals of electronics, hardware development and open design. The intent of the project is to empower young people with technical and entrepreneurial skills while they tackle local challenges related to energy, the environment and more.

Countless Makerspaces now operate around the country under a variety of models — non-profit, for-profit, municipal and institutional. They support woodworkers, jewelers, welders and programmers. Some of the do-it-yourselfers who frequent these spaces come to develop new skills, while others come to build a business; all, however, inevitably experience the Maker equivalent of a runner’s high — the satisfaction of laboring in a roomful of peers to create something utterly your own. Happier together, right? Soundtrack courtesy of Marx Augustin.

 

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The “Maker’s Manual” spotlights the do-it-yourself Maker Movement and how new computing technologies are helping democratize the creation of things once limited to craftsmen and professionals. This 10-week series from PSFK and iQ by Intel will explore trends and feature interviews with artists, inventors and entrepreneurs who are turning their ideas and dreams into reality.

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