Thursday, April 26, 2007

Techshop brings manufacturing within personal reach

Wired has a great snippet about a place in Menlo Park called Techshop. It's a well-equipped fabrication workshop, and makes expensive and sophisticated tools, from laser cutters to arc welders to CNC lathes and 3D printers, available to the public! To use! And touch!

And for a very reasonable $30 day pass, anyone can get their mitts on some top-notch fabrication equipment. Check out the list of toys here.

This is exciting news for me, because I live in the Bay Area. I plan to go to the Techshop, and to write about the experience. This is a great opportunity to get trained on high-tech fabrication equipment as a hobbyist, to use tools otherwise relegated to industrial clients, but as a hobbyist. I wonder whether there's a market yet for such businesses elsewhere in the world.

Accessibility is the biggest obstacle in achieving any kind of personal fabrication 'revolution'. I've written about how lowering the price of the tools will improve accessibility, but Techshop shows us that there's another way -- sharing the cost among users. This time-rental business model resembles ZipCar or CityCarShare, because it allows the cost and overhead of large expensive equipment to be absorbed and distributed by a large number of users. Like cars, fabrication equipment can be useful to many people, but would be left dormant for extended periods of time if every user owned their own. In the case of Techshop, sharing the costs could democratize the tools of innovation.


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