Makerspaces may well determine how we survive and thrive as a nation.
If you remember high school wood shop, metal shop, or auto shop, then you have a rough idea of the makerspace concept: mini manufacturing facilities popping up all around the world, but particularly in schools, corporate locations, and public libraries nationwide. These creative, exploratory spaces—and time to allow that discovery process—give our young people (students in K-12 especially) and our working population new opportunities. Makerspaces are all about inspiring people of all ages to create, invent, and break things in safe, collaborative ways.
Let me offer a few examples:
- ITAMCO is a manufacturer of precision gears that recognized the importance of makerspaces and invested $100,000 in creating a new, modern shop class at a local high school. Sure, it is partly based on their need for qualified employees, but they recognized that the long-lost shop class was having an effect on the entire community.
- Edmonds Community College in Washington State is home to a range of National Science Foundation projects dealing with additive manufacturing, and their materials education work and space is becoming a community makerspace in the near future.
- TechShop is a commercial makerspace, on steroids, that exists in a few U.S. cities. Small and midsize businesses can access this robust and sophisticated space for a monthly membership fee. The space in Detroit is funded in part by Ford Motor Company, and its employees get a special membership rate. More of these large-scale maker efforts are happening in communities around the world, giving access to tools and creativity for entrepreneurs and SMB owners. Others are using these sorts of spaces: the credit card processing device, Square, which you see in use at many small businesses (often with an iPad cash register or smartphone) was prototyped and built at the San Jose TechShop.
- According to NPR, members of Artisan’s Asylum, which I visited during my national road trip to many manufacturers and makers, have raised $4 million on Kickstarter for a variety of small businesses. It is one of the first commercial makerspaces in the U.S. and also the largest. Picture a Costco-sized space—pretty impressive.
Even within the makerspace communities, entrepreneurs and inventors often need different or more equipment than one space can provide. So SolidWorks, a 3D design software, recently built an online manufacturing network to connect designers and engineers with those who know how to produce at scale.
For those without a makerspace nearby, there are sites such as 3D Hubs, Shapeways, or ProtoLabs that allow you to go online and submit your design or model, and have it made in a wide variety of materials and methods.
I have written extensively about makerspaces in education and how STEM/STEAM learning involves the hands-on approach that many maker-focused efforts entail. I would suggest that more K-12 makerspaces will ultimately enhance our manufacturing strength as a nation.
Many makerspaces are not commercial or business focused specifically; they are aimed at encouraging a sense of community and a can-do spirit. These spaces are welcoming and open. Many SMB owners or future entrepreneurs congregate at these locations. So, regardless of whether you are trying to make a new “widget” or just want to see what this maker trend is all about—you will find these creative and energetic spaces popping up all around. They need your support in a variety of ways. You can find one near you by searching the term and your town, or head to the longstanding Hackerspace Wiki with more than 2,000 entries to date. (Don’t be put off by the term “hacker”—it is used in the most positive sense of the word).