I have known about Metropolitan Works for awhile but was not really clear about what they offered so, a few weeks back I went to East London to find out for myself.
Having spent some time chatting to Marcus Bowerman, centre manager, and Chloe McCloskey, in marketing and communications, about the services on offer they then showed me around the rather impressive facilities. I left thinking that this is truly a hidden gem that more designers need to discover and use.
Part of London Metropolitan University, Metropolitan Works is essentially a creative industries centre that helps London-based architects, designers and manufacturers develop ideas and bring new products to the marketplace through access to knowledge and expertise in digital manufacturing, workshops, advice, courses and exhibitions. For instance, London-based designer Lisa Cheung has made use of the laser cutting machines to create her products (above). Although previously you had to pay to be a member, the good news is that thanks to funding from the European Regional Development Fund, membership is now completely free.
From what I gather from Bowerman and McCloskey, there are a variety of benefits to being a member. First up is the CAD training courses which are held throughout the year and vary from two to five day courses in SolidWorks, Rhino, Pro/Engineer. “We also do taster courses for CAD with a trainer. This is a free day to introduce you to CAD and then if you think its for you, you will hopefully invest the money in doing a full course,” says McCloskey. There are also a number of workshops and regular skills courses on offer in key production areas. “We recently started running courses on self-service 3D printing. So, you work in Rhino, then send your file to the machine and then pick up your 3D print the very next day,” describes Bowerman. They have also recently launched a New Product Development Programme, a six-day course starting this autumn that aims to give professionals the knowledge to bring successful products to market.
Events are also held throughout the year (many of which are free) and there is also business support on offer to help London-based businesses, which includes offering consultancy and advice on digital and traditional production, design development and general business support.
Then there are the workshop facilities and offices that members can hire on a Pay & Go basis. “Its great for people who are starting out – they can rent CAD desks with commercially licensed software and workspace for nothing practically. They can then also have their designs ‘CNCed’ if they want to and of course there is access to the Digital Manufacturing Bureau services,” says Bowerman. The Digital Manufacturing Centre is really the heart of Metropolitan Works and houses a range of technology for design, prototyping, manufacture, research and experimentation. Bowerman refers to it as a “factory in the city” and having seen it for myself, I don’t think he is wrong. The technologies include a laser cutter, a 2 x 3 metre water-jet cutter (above) (according to Bowerman, there is apparently nothing like it in central London), CNC routing (3 and 5 axis), 3D scanning, 3D printing, selective laser sintering in nylon, direct metal laser sintering and perfactory rapid prototyping in resin. All of these machines are operated by the Centre’s specialist technicians with charges based on production time. “The most unique thing is not that we have this one or other machine – it’s the whole collection that is available to designers. All the machines have experienced technicians who are all based in one place,” says McCloskey.
It seems amazing to me that whilst I was there, it was quite quiet with only a few of the machines being used. “The Centre works on so many different levels but never really taken off,” admits Bowerman. Although Bowerman has only been in his role for about four months, his mission is to change that and really get more London-based creatives to know about them and make use of their varied services.