By Holger Dielenberg.
There is a sickness at the heart of design. A lot of design students are graduating around the world without the experience of ever having built a working prototype or touched a tool. Fortunately over the last decade, Fab labs and Makerspaces around the world are beginning to tackle this problem head on.
Underlying the Fab Lab concept is the belief that designers learn most effectively when they convert their ideas into a working model and can share their experiences with peers.
The first impression you get when you emerge from the Garching Forschungs Zentrum underground station is that the Germans don’t muck around when it comes to forward thinking and technology.
The sign above the exit tunnel translates to Garching Research Centre. An entire district just north of Munich devoted to technological research. It has its own train station, laboratories, testing facilities and Technical University. Walking along the research buildings I pass a massive wind tunnel outside on the lawn that you could shove a bus into. All this available to students. Once again I’m reminded of the cultural differences that divide Australian and German approaches to education and industry.
A brisk walk takes me to Makerspace Munich a wonderland for anybody needing DIY access to machinery and technology. There are 6100 square metres of office and workshop space dedicated to the Technical University in Munich (TUM) and Entrepreneurship Centre. MakerSpace Munich occupies 1500 square metres of this space to serve the TUM but they are also open to help any Entrepreneur make their dreams come true.
Makerspace Munich is based on the FabLab at school concept which was first created by Prof. Neil Gershenfeld at MIT. Essentially it’s a bunch of digital fabrication equipment – actually eighty hightech machines – made accessible to students, corporations and grass roots design entrepreneurs. It embraces innovation and collaborative problem solving as core tenants and aims to get makers to convert designs into reality as quickly as possible.
The general manager, Phill Handy greets me warmly and immediately we launch into a mutual info exchange on makerspaces and the exciting things being developed. Talking with people who run makerspaces is always inspiring. Regardless of nationality, we all share common beliefs.
With the right environment of equipment and service, makers can release a flood of ideas, products and solutions.
I am introduced to Stephan Augustin who is tinkering away on the final design elements of his 4 hinge suspension Curfboard concept. It’s a new and improved skateboard truck that eliminates high speed wobbles and wheel bites on radical turns. Yo Dude! This German’s cool! Stephan works as an engineer for BMW and his skateboard truck design is funded through Kickstarter. He has been coming to Makerspace Munich for over a year in his spare time to work on the prototype and now with an ‘ISPO Brandnew’ award under his belt, the product will launch this Feb.
As Phill continues showing me around the makerspace I am awed by the array of manufacturing technology that is available. Everything is cutting edge. We pass water jet cutters and multi axis milling machines, additive manufacturing from classic desk top PLA to laser sintered polymer 3D printers, wood working technology, sewing machines and electronics bays. I could go on but an incredibly large wooden box stops me in my tracks!
“What on earth is in that?” I ask Phill. “Oh that’s the hyper loop that was prototyped here for Elon Musk.” He replies! – Are you kidding me? Phill grins, “Yeah, we’re sending it off next week.”
TUM-President Prof. Wolfgang A. Herrmann praised the team: “In just a year and a half, a group of TUM students from a wide range of departments and disciplines not only designed – but then also built – an award-winning high-speed passenger capsule for the Hyperloop.
Since my visit to Munich, I have learned from Phill that the TUM students won top honors in two categories of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition – the fastest Hyperloop and the only Hyperloop that completed the entire Test Track. This is a truly remarkable achievement that shows how much can be achieved when Education and Industry work together.
There’s a guy here developing a barcode glove and someone else 3D printing an entire chair in a large one cubic metre volume 3D printer. The whole place is alive with the bustle and energy of innovation and hair brained ideas being nutted out.
As we continue wandering around Phill gives me some insight into the inner workings of the makerspace. The idea was initiated by BMW with start-up financing coming from BMW investment and the Bavarian Ministry of Economics. Since opening BMW continues its support via 300 memberships for its employees – who work at MakerSpace on company time. The equipment is supplied via a variety of corporate and industry partnerships. They operate a gym membership model and run courses on the equipment.
Phill’s passion for supporting makers is infectious. He waves his hand in a gesture to take in the equipment and technology, “We are here to provide anyone (DIYer, Start-Ups, Corporations) access to the machinery they need to speed up the creation and realisation of their ideas.”
Again I’m reminded that manufacturing is not dead. It’s morphing and Makerspaces are the unicorns emerging out of the industrial twilight, breathing youthful energy and new ideas into a tired corpus.
Indeed our old industrial traditions cannot withstand the pace of change. Small manufacturers and SME’s struggle to keep up with technology and creativity is bogged down in academic paradigms.
If your maker spirit has been lulled into an Orwellian slumber then it’s time to wake up! Creative technology along with open source and shared economy ethics are giving individuals the ability to harness greater resources and develop new ideas. Makerspace Munich is a great example of this.
Over the last decade the number of Makerspaces and Fab Labs around the world are hitting the hundreds. They’re all slightly different. Depending on culture and economy, they offer different selections of equipment and cater to different maker demographics. But throughout the short history of the now coined ‘maker movement’, one thing has remained constant – the call to action.
When I ask Phill what the secret ingredient is to his special sauce of business, he says, Collaboration.
And there you have it. At state level. At Education level. At corporate level. At the entrepreneurial level and at the individual grass roots level. Collaboration is the glue that binds all of these sectors together inside a Makerspace. It makes innovation fun and mutually rewarding for all parties concerned.
As Phill Handy asserts, “don’t say it can’t be done. If we work together, anything is possible!”
I cannot agree more.