Makerspaces are emerging in communities all over the world. They are becoming the new shop class, teaching skills locally like STEAM education to kids and new technology skills to executives and retirees alike. Makerspaces are also becoming a social club for those interested in 3D printing. Some, like FabLabSD in San Diego, California, have even been the incubators for great kickstarters and burgeoning start-ups. Tom and Tracy Hazzard talk about their visit to one of their free meetups with Allen McAfee of FabLabsSD. Want to join their makerspace? Allen gives an idea about the people who attend their meetups.
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Makerspaces – Shop Class | Social Club | Incubator With Allen McAfee Of FabLabSD
We’re on our third episode. It’s exciting. We’ve had a couple of chances to check out some makerspaces. That’s what we’re going to talk about.
It was quite an experience because I had never been in a makerspace myself before this.
Me neither. I had heard about them at trade shows. We’ve been to a few and we saw the setup but I thought they were more for younger kids. I thought that they were for getting across steam and I didn’t think that was so much for more pros and adults.
It seems that every age and every walk of life participates in these things.
We saw quite a lot of age range there. There were some retirees, young girls doing some cute little project and there was a father with a son who was four. There was a lot of age range there. There’s also a lot of experience level there. That’s what surprised me. I thought they would be either all makers already, but some of them are complete novices.
Let’s explain where we went. We were down in San Diego at the Fab Lab, which is a makerspace that gears largely toward people that have day jobs because their hours are every day from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM or something like that. You need to apply to become a member of this makerspace.
Which is fabulous. Make sure you get some people that are serious about being a part of the organization.
The cost is reasonable. This particular makerspace is like $75 a month.
There are lots of machines to use there, so it’s worth that value. I also thought that the people there were knowledgeable. For $75 a month to gain some criticism and knowledge, whenever you might need them. Critique is always important when you’re developing products, so it could be great.
Having access to a wide range of machines from entry-level 3D printers too. One of the machines that’s a $500,000 high-end 3D printer.
They said that it was donated by MIT at one point. The other type of thing was interesting. They have more than just 3D printers there as well. We’ve also had our interaction, which many of you may have read from our past episode, Build It Workspace. They’re a little more focused around doing a little more STEM education because they have camps for kids. They have a little bit more of that focus, but they also are focused on pros and makers in the community. It was interesting and eye-opening to me. What we participated in San Diego was a meetup, which I’d never been to one of those before either. It was free, which is great.
Anybody was allowed from the community to come in, participate and observe at this particular meetup.
This is why more than half of the people there were absolutely new to 3D printing. They wanted to find out what it was about and wanted to see a machine run. That’s a great way for them to gain exposure to something that intrigues them that they’ve been hearing about on the news. We had a great age range. We had a guy who had been in the aerospace industry and had retired probably ten years earlier. He was a retiree that’s completely interested in how you were going to 3D print metal for aerospace parts.
I talked to a man who was a graphic designer. His business and his profession are not in any way involved in anything three dimensional but had an interest in it and came to this meetup to learn more about it and see how he could get involved in it.
I had a sociology graduate student who I talked to who was studying 3D printing and capitalism, which is an interesting topic, especially because I’m not sure there was so much capitalism going on at that particular meetup. It was more hobbyist. Although I understand that they do have that as well. They do have some people who are professionals who are maybe starting Kickstarters and other things. It was eye-opening. We’re going to touch on a few things that we heard from at the meetup and give you a sense of what a makerspaces can be about and whether or not they’re a good resource for you.
Let’s hear from Allen McAfee directly, who ran this meetup at Fab Lab, San Diego.
How often have you done this type of meetup?
This is the first free version of this that we’ve done. I generally don’t do the internal electronics or the internal 3D printing during the meetup. This is a time where we’re answering to get together and start talking about it. Jim brings in his bioprinter that he’s been working on. There are a couple of other specialty projects that like prosthetic feet for a cat. NBC is going to be picking that up. Also, a prosthetic hand for a little boy with two fingers. That’s a hard one.
We talked to Build It Workspace about their experience doing the prosthetic hand, which had all the fingers they needed. This one is two. You’re talking about an opportunity in these makerspaces to be able to interact with those with varying experiences, having done a complex project who might give you exposure to something you had never thought of before. May be engineered something that goes sideways instead of something that goes in new directions or whatever it is.
These are complex problems to solve. If you are taking on such a project, you need a lot of resources.
The more mindshare, the better.
It’s a perfect environment for that. You get a lot of people like some retirees and some people currently in the middle of their careers, and then some young people starting up. It’s such a wide variety of experiences.
Also, I have a note that they had a lot of people from Organovo and some of the other area businesses who are 3D printing like body parts and tissues and things like that. You also have a varying level of different backgrounds and experiences into what an interest that might lead to 3D printing as well. One of the great benefits of these makerspaces is you have such a great tap into a broad range of experiences, but it’s that shop class environment that you’re doing it in. It reminds me of being back at RISD and we’ve got a built-in critique system. You’ve got someone to say, “I wouldn’t have tried it that way. I would have done it this way.”
There’s definitely no shortage of opinions at this makerspace. There are many different experiences and many perspectives, and you need to filter that for yourself, but you can get a lot of help.
Especially when you’re working on your own. I always say you should design in a vacuum. This is a great way to expand out of it. Not only do you get access to machinery, but you get access to experiences and opinions. The only thing that I noticed in the makerspaces was that it was like a little social hour.
It was a social club. Allen said that this was the first one that they’ve done for a lot of newbies.
Because it didn’t cost. You didn’t have to be a member to come.
Usually, it’s a bunch of members of the makerspace coming in, kicking back and talking about their projects.
Which we observed at some point. You could see there was a girl and she was developing a product in which she was putting a golf ball inside of a little figurine. She was trying to figure out what materials. She was going to make it out of silicone and they were having a debate and discussion about different materials to try. It was neat and they’re all drinking their coffee and doing that. Is the makerspace going to become your new coffee shop? They need better coffee.
It was as much a social experience for people as it was a place to go because they needed to print something, make something or needed to get some information. They’re there for fun.
That’s interesting. They come in after work and it’s a way to kick back and talk to some people who share an interest and a hobby with you. That is another benefit of makerspaces and useful to people. The other interesting thing that happened when we were talking with Allen is, he was talking about how they have a lot of startups and Kickstarter is happening in their space.
The people that come to your makerspace, what are they coming for?
It’s a prototype for a starter product. We’ve had the biggest Kickstarters in San Diego. They closed and there was A-series around $1.3 million. Those were two of the first ones in our incubator program, but that’s what it came to be. We set it up for adults. Katie has been focusing a lot on STEM education kids for a long time. I joined after I developed the SandBox. If I was going to take the market, I knew I needed to have a community in which to give me the credibility to say, “He knows what he’s doing,” instead of just coming out of nowhere with no experience in this. That’s where I found that she had nothing of that source to do with startups and business growth. I took that upon myself and built up the program. Every startup that has come through there, we went to the market and all over themselves and got some funding. The lowest that we have is $50,000, but most of them got above $500,000.
He’s talking about the fact that when you can say that you have the support, mindshare and backing of a makerspace with the cloud of Fab Lab, San Diego, that gives you a lot more credibility on Kickstarter, which there’s probably a big problem there. We’ve had a lot of Kickstarter. Did they deliver? Do they deliver in a timely manner? There’s a lot of people sitting back having questions about, should I invest in this?
The interesting part of Allen telling us about these projects that they’ve been involved in is that, “Here are some commercial projects. This is not just for the good of the community or anything. These are companies that are trying to grow to become profit-making capitalist companies. A makerspace is a perfectly appropriate place to get help making your prototypes, perfecting your product to go out there and get funding, whether that’s from Kickstarter or some other investor.”
I had heard someone else comment about it, saying that some of the people who came into it never 3D printed before. They wanted to do this Kickstarter, but they didn’t know how to get a prototype done. The makerspace helped facilitate that. For $75 a month, you get help prototyping your Kickstarter project and you can’t get better than that. These makerspaces are so helpful to a lot of the community members. Going in and getting some support is an ideal thing. That’s a problem that we’ve discovered. You’ve been trying to get experienced help with advanced things that you want to do with one of our printers and there isn’t anybody out there.
That to me is one of the most shocking things about this entire industry. There are technical people who built these machines and/or manufacture these machines in terms of support in a detailed, technical way. I’ve often found that we’re asking questions they don’t know the answers to.
We’re asking questions that relate to making a product on the printer. They have technical answers for like, “What heat should I use? How do I calibrate this? I have a jam, what do I do?” They have answers to those things, but when it’s related to the what, that’s where we have the problem again.
It also has come to be obvious to us that the sample products that these printing companies use to test their machines or to prove the quality of their machines is entirely different than printing something with fine detail like a chain that is built as an interlocking piece. It’s much more fine, delicate pieces and the same settings don’t work for each. A lot of times, if you have a print that you’re trying to do like that and it fails and you go to the company and say, “What am I doing wrong?” They don’t even know.
They’ll say it’s your model.
They’ll be admitted and say, “We don’t know but give me your file and we’ll experiment, test and get back with you.”
That reminds me of that conversation we had with the guy who built the Delta looking machine.
I mentioned having seen at one of the trade shows the gigantic large size could print this gigantic vase.
It was a six-foot-tall.
He said, “It’s misleading to watch them build a vase. Even in any machine, it didn’t have to be that large or anything like that. When they build one like that, because you’re keeping the filament stable as it goes around and you’re not doing the advanced movements like our angel or a tie takes to make, it’s less stressful on the machines. You could have a less well-built machine accomplish and it may not be a good indication of how good the quality of the machine is.”
What Doug was saying is to be suspicious of machines that say they’re of the best quality if the sample they’re showing you is a vase.
A cone or a solid of some kind.
A vase can be manufactured in one continuous movement and the nozzle never has to stop. If it never has to stop, it’s easy to produce good quality.
I learned something from the makerspace, so that’s another great thing about it. The third thing besides it being a great social club and then an absolute shop class, crash course in 3D printing if that’s what you need. The third thing that’s so interesting is the idea of this product incubator.
They definitely are trying to foster participation, helping people get their products done and helping their companies grow.
Having that impact on commercializing 3D printing is going to help the community completely and it’s also going to help those of us who are trying to figure out a way to make money with our what in 3D printing. Whatever that might be, you’re going to help that. We’ve got to throw off some support their way.
As great as these makerspaces are, especially the ones that are trying to do more community outreach, be a helping hand and are not worried about profitability themselves. If this industry is going to make it, people have to make money. The companies who make the machines, sell the materials, and ultimately, people that help you learn how to 3D print properly, everybody’s got to make a little money.
That was an interesting part about this particular one, is that XYZ Printing had their whole printing farm.
It was two levels over a twelve-foot span and there were about twenty.
You have that there and you have the sales guy there helping run the machines and helping people get a test print out of it. The idea that someone’s coming in to sponsor one of these makerspaces in a way. As a printing manufacturer company, you’ve got to be thinking that’s a smart way because a lot of these printer companies don’t have that kind of tech support. They don’t have these training sessions that go into the advanced details. You found out the hard way. You called into a conference to attend an expert session and it turned out that it was a beginner session from an expert.
That was a little misleading. I thought I was getting on a webinar that was expert in advanced details in 3D printing, but it was just experts telling you the basics of using a 3D printer.
When you want to get beyond that, these makerspaces are going to help make that happen. Also, you’re tapping into salesforce because they’re exposing you to machines. When somebody comes out of that makerspace and says, “I’m going to buy a machine,” and they already feel like they know how to run an XYZ printer, why wouldn’t you buy one? That’s an underutilized resource for these manufacturing companies and filament companies and all that. You should be donating products here because you’re going to find yourself some loyal users.
It’s like Apple giving discounts to students. A lot of companies tend to do that. Certainly, with software, but maybe not the 3D printer hardware side so much. It’s smart to be involved at the younger ages and at the high school level and what printer are those people going to want to buy down the road.
Because if they have good experiences with them and they feel like they’ve also got a tap in resource for when they have problems and questions already built into their makerspace, that’s great. We want to thank Fab Lab San Diego and Build It Workspace from before for inviting us to find out how they work, what happens there and letting us into their space to observe and talk to people. That was great and eye-opening for us. I hope you all will go and attend your local makerspace. Go to one of these meetups.
Especially if you haven’t bought a 3D printer yet and you’re getting into it and trying to think about, “What one I want to buy? Maybe I don’t need to buy one right away. I can start experiencing and using it and buy one a year or two from now.”
That’s one last thing I want to mention about what Allen said. He said there’s a big misconception about how fast 3D printing is to get your first good print on. There’s a big learning curve. He’s the first to admit it and he’s experienced at it. It’s not just our experience in it and then we stumble across. Everybody’s doing that. To have some backing you up is a good idea, so join your local makerspace.
We recommend that.
Allen gave us a tip that some of the stuff you see on Kickstarter, most startups don’t know how to price themselves properly. He says there are some hidden gems in there and we should go and find some.
He’s not just talking about accessories and things. He’s talking about 3D printers.
There are some good deals out there that are underpriced for what you’re getting for them. Let’s look at some and we’ll see if we can find some hidden gems in there. Maybe some of you can suggest some that you funded or you’re intrigued by and want to know a little bit more about it. We’ll do a little investigation and try and find out more about these 3D printers, the types of accessories and other things on Kickstarter.
I’m excited to see that.
If you have any questions you’d like us to answer, you can go to our Ask Us tab on our website and you can record a question. We’ll get that message and be happy to answer that on our Ask Us Anything segment of this show in the future.
- Fab Lab
- Build It Workspace – past episode
- Build It Workspace
- XYZ Printing
- @HazzDesign – Facebook
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Thanks to Allen McAfee and Katie Rast for opening up their FabLabSD session to our mics and camera. A special thank you to Doug LaRue and Austin Allen for taking the time to talk with us and teaching us something new! Another thanks to Mark Lengsfeld from Build It Workspace for additional insight into Makerspaces.
Thanks also to Jonatan Lind of JTL Films for all the video and audio support and for making us look and sound good! A special shout-out to our daughter Alexandra – without her all the little things like transcripts, proofing and links would never get done. We couldn’t do this without you both!
Click here to download the Transcript for WTFFF 011 Show Notes (PDF).
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