TechShop announces plans to bring open community workshop to the UK

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Al works in a shed, but even he doesn’t have room for a waterjet. And he wants one. Badly.

Last month’s comment piece got a lot of discussion after we published it: It talked about how new entrants into the design and engineering profession lack some of the more basic manufacturing skills – or the art of making, as today’s pundits would have it.

With Health and Safety meaning that giving all and sundry access to machinery and the process of prototyping is, for many, unobtainable, we discussed how smart design and manufacturing organisations are shifting and perhaps looking to do things differently.
But what of those on a budget, those that don’t have the space or indeed, the budget, to set-up a model or prototyping shop?

TechShop could provide the answer and if their plans come together, they could be setting up shop in the UK, in 2015.

Founded in 2006 in California, TechShop is centred on bringing access to high-end and advanced technology to the masses. Whether it’s computer controlled embroidery machines or a 3 axis mill, soldering or TIG welding.

The TechShop allows members to join (for a pretty reasonable monthly sum – around the 80 quid mark), get training and use its facilities as needed – whether for personal or professional projects. There are well documented examples of folks with an idea, building prototypes (if not the first production run) in their facilities and building businesses that are now worth millions (DoDo iPad cases and Square iPhone credit card devices spring to mind).

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In fact, I’ve just finished reading TechShop CEO, Mark Hatch’s book (The Maker Movement Manifesto) which details a great deal of its success stories and fleshes out the background to the whole enterprise – it’s worth a read. But back to the story at hand!

To the UK

With that in mind, I was excited to discover that it looks like TechShop are looking to bring its own brand of magic to the UK with two potential sites in the offing – in London and Birmingham – and being a Midlands boy, the latter is what piqued my interest.

I got the chance to attending a meeting in Birmingham’s Innovation Hub and it quickly became clear that the company has concrete plans that will see TechShop set-up it’s operations in the newly planned incubator space just outside of the city centre. But as ever, there’s a caveat. The TechShop process works like this – and I don’t think it’s widely known. The team find candidate cities of a specific size and that has enough interested organisations to guarantee the set-up costs.

Whether that’s local manufacturing organisations (its Munich branch is tied in with BMW, its Detroit operation with Ford) or local universities and such. The key requirement is that these founding partners are prepared to commit to a specific number of memberships over several years.

The break even point is 1,000 memberships. Once that’s reached, they build out the space, get everyone on board and then open it up to the wider community. The timeline is that if enough companies are interested, the facility will be built at Birmingham’s iCentrum centre (a Digital Plaza, whatever that actually means) and will open midway through 2015.

If you want to get involved with the Birmingham initiative, perhaps at the corporate level, then you need to speak to David Harman who can be reached at DavidH@innovationbham.com

And the rest of the UK?

Speaking to Paul Duggan, TechShop’s International Manager, it would appear that Birmingham and London aren’t the only cities that the company has its collective eye upon. There are plans underway to bring the TechShop magic to Glasgow and Belfast as well. If you’re interested, then Paul is available at paul.duggan@techshop.ws

Few thoughts

TechShop coming to the UK is a big deal for those of us with an interest, at the professional level. The membership costs of around £80 (+VAT) per month are a small amount when you consider what the company makes available for project work and experimentation.

That doesn’t, as you might suspect, include materials – rather access to the facilities. In terms of enrolment, it works like this. Once you’re a member, there are certain machines and technologies that you can just use.

For the more complex (read: more likely to lose you a finger, set you on fire or take out an eye) then you have to take training course. It’s not a three week course of being patronised by lecturer, it’s a couple of hours to teach you the basics and let you crack on with it. They cost around the 80 quid mark as well, by all accounts, that’s cheap.

To give you a comparison, I recently looked into a welding City & Guilds (long story) at my local college. That’s one night a week, for 15 weeks and it costs just shy of £400. To my mind, TechShop is, for those with practical skills and common sense, a bargain in comparison.

All in all, the best comment I can make is that I hope this comes off, particularly the Birmingham branch. Because it’s a tram ride away and I already know I’ll be first in the queue, come 2015.

See you there? I’ll be the bloke in the corner swearing at a TIG welder and searching for elastoplasts.


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