What are you working on? That is a question you might ask a few times a week when talking with colleagues who work in different departments, or after meeting someone casually and finding out where they work. We have been engaging with the maker community recently as we want to support their efforts towards promoting a creative, artisan culture, and we know that makers are often the source of new manufacturing businesses.
At one event we sponsored last week the answers to this question were really tales of the unexpected. The event was held at the i3 DIY community workshop in the Ferndale suburb of Detroit. Their workshop is packed with tools, machines, materials, recycled components and projects in various stages of completion, to use the words of i3, “enabling members to participate in a collision of art, technology, learning and collaboration.”
I was welcomed to the event by Charlie, a young engineer and volunteer who helps to run the organisation. His answer to my question “What are you working on?” was “I’m building a battleship game.” I pictured a table top game similar to those you can buy at your local toy store, but he enlightened me. “It’s a large scale version in a 10ft square pool. The ships float and there are sensors to detect the location of the ships and devices to eject the ships when they are destroyed.” The next person I talked to was making “…a gyrocopter — it will be the 3rd one I have made.” “Oh – that sounds interesting,” I responded and asked,“How big is it?” I was picturing a small device like the hobby drones that are so popular right now. “Well – big enough to fly me!” he responded and showed me some pictures of his single seat gyrocopter. And so it went on with an eclectic range of projects in various stages of development.
Just a few of the makers were using CAD, so working with the local Solid Edge channel partner CAM Logic, and the Henry Ford Museum, we sponsored an evening session where the makers could try out Solid Edge and design the components for a small piston engine assembly. After designing the components, they cut them on a laser cutter and assembled them into a working model, one of the models created during the event is shown on the movie below.
The enthusiasm, creativity and skills of the people I met were really impressive. The organized chaos of the machine shop, electronics lab, 3D printing room, computers and various workbenches left me with an impression of something between the geeky university environment of the Big Bang Theory mixed with the survivalist pragmatism of Mad Max! A few of the makers at i3 have taken their projects from a hobby to a commercial product, and I can’t help thinking that the skills they are building and their creativity will have a positive impact for their own careers and for start-up manufacturing companies in Detroit.