Ford's recent Go Further technology conference was this week at their headquarters. I'll be writing about Ford's latest technology including my spin in their all electric 2012 Ford Focus and you can check out the action on Engineering TV soon. But right now I wanted to tell you about Techshops where Ford held one of its events in the evening (Fig. 1).
TechShops are found in a few major cities around the U.S. including the one in Detroit where I was. They started in California and there are ones in San Jose and Menlo Park. There is a new one in Raleigh-Durham.
So what are TechShops? About what you might expect, a shop where there is a lot of tech tools that you can use but this is not your typical garage shop. They have everything from Flow Waterjet Cutters (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3) to the latest CAD tools from Autodesk's AutoCAD. There are lots of conventional shop tools like band saws, milling machines and sand blasters. All these are available on a monthly subscription basis that is just over a hundred dollars per person ($125/month).
It is sort of like a gym membership. The machines are there and you can use any that you like or need but you need to take turns. Machines or hardware that is smaller or less expensive and popular is often replicated many times. Larger, specialized equipment like the cutter tends to be a single item that might have its own room or part of a room allocated to it.
One reason there is a TechShop in Detroit is Ford. Now Ford has plenty of its own technology and its labs and development facilities are even more extensive than TechShop's but they are targeted at Ford's automotive business. TechShop addresses the DIY (do it yourself) trend highlighted by events like Maker Faire (see Maker Faire a Breeding Ground for Future EEs and MEs). It is also potentially an incubator for new ideas and an outlet for Ford engineerers that might have the next big thing that might not be related to a car.
TechShops are open to everyone but don't plan on walking in and using a major tool that you have never touched before. They have training sessions and contacts for those who can in case you don't want to become adepts at using a welder but need something like the Epilog Laser Engraver (Fig. 4).
TechShops can be for the garage mechanic that doesn't have or want to fill up a garage with tools or an entreprenuer with an idea that needs a prototype. Some will be pursuing a hobby and need access to tools they could not otherwise afford. Either way, TechShop provides a place where ideas can be turned into real items. The Square credit card reader was developed in a TechShop (Fig. 5).
Another succesful project is the DODOcase for the Apple iPad. It is made from eco-friendly bamboo.
Jim Netwon opened the first TechShop in Menlo Park. There are plans for dozens more. They are staffed by experts and trainers like a gym and there are classes and other events for those looking to learn. The interiors are bright, functional and definitely up beat. I am not sure if they have tools like LPKF's PCB prototyping system (see Build Your Own PC Board: A Designer's Dream) but I would not be surprised if there were.
TechShop and Sparkfun, another company I recently visited (see Soldering And Beer—What A Mix!), are places where people are having way too much fun. Items created in the shop range from jet packs to a Segway-style bar stool. So if it is robots or rockets or the next big thing they TechShop is a pretty good place to start. I wish there were one around here.