Should I Join the Makerspace Revolution?
In the U.S. alone, there are now more than 400 “makerspaces” -- shorthand for facilities that contain the tools and room you’ll need to design, prototype and manufacture potentially marketable goods. Before you join one of these informal innovation labs, Vicki Holt, president and CEO of Maple Plain, Minn.-based Proto Labs advises that you make sure you work well with others.
What you get:
Makerspaces provide access to a wide array of equipment -- power tools, sewing machines, 3-D printers, high-end manufacturing devices and more -- and, often, classes for learning new skills. They also offer the opportunity to work alongside like-minded inventors and fledgling manufacturers, many of whom are developing go-to-market plans and are interested in connecting with potential partners.
Factor in costs:
Some makerspaces have membership dues as low as $40 per month, while others can be three times as much. Most charge extra for raw materials, training sessions and certain equipment use. Some operate like a co-op, with members expected to contribute in kind by purchasing raw materials or financing equipment.
The maker movement focuses on sharing and collaboration, which is great if you have questions about equipment or manufacturing, or whom to approach about funding your idea. But because other members can see what you’re working on, pay close attention to any intellectual property clauses before joining. If you’re trying to keep your invention top secret, stick to your garage.
Consider the alternative:
If you don’t have a local makerspace, or the setup doesn’t suit your needs, try a quick-turnaround manufacturer that specializes in prototypes and low-volume parts. Firms like 3D Systems’ Quickparts, Proto Labs, Rapid Sheet Metal and Stratasys Direct let you upload a design file and receive a quote via email. With express production and shipping options, your prototype will arrive in just one to three days.