Open House at TechShop
Saturday, April 18, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
“The First Anniversary Celebration”
Free admission. Tours. Raffles and prizes. Equipment demonstrations. Crafts for children.
2110-B Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202
Free tours of the shop are available year-round for those considering membership in “the maker community.”
Some folks always want to build “it” with their own hands, whatever “it” may be. Inventors/entrepreneurs believe a solid, hand-held prototype will help sell a new idea. All they lack is a modern $1,500,000 (give or take a few dollars) workshop in the garage or basement. Now they have one, here in Arlington, and it is open 24 hours a day.
“[A member was] making an improved bullet-proof vest.”
―Sean Kennon, TechShop staff
A glance around the shop floor reveals the ordinary and the extraordinary. There are well-lighted worktables, power cords, grinders, wrenches, hammers and other items found in any workshop. Stepping up a level, industrial sewing machines and larger than usual lathes and routers are at hand. The extraordinary equipment includes 3-D printers, up-to-the-minute computer programs for creating designs and a cutting machine that blasts water and garnet dust through 2-inch steel under 60,000 psi pressure. What more could any handyman (or handywoman) want?
Space and convenience are important factors in the Arlington shop. There is plenty of room for moving pieces of material about. A loading dock allows delivery and removal of large pieces of material and segments of whatever is being built. Storage lockers can be rented to avoid transporting tools and equipment each visit. A limited stock of basic supplies is available for retail purchase.
For safety purposes, as well as having someone “to turn to when stuck,” technically educated staff is always on duty no matter when the urge to work besets any member. An example is Sean Kennon. He can operate every machine in all areas of the shop, be it woodworking, electronics, fabrics, computer design, or bicycle repair and maintenance.
No surprise there since his college degree is for industrial design.
Asked about unusual projects pursued by a member, Kennon recalls a consultation with a member in the textile shop who was “making an improved bulletproof vest.”
Kelly Austin, events and outreach coordinator, pointed to part of an experimental airplane resting against a partition. “Actually,” she said, “it is [the member’s] second airplane. I am told they actually fly.”
Since Austin’s background, and college degree, is art, she mentioned “putting the ‘A’ in the now-popular ‘STEM’ for children.” TechShop makes it possible, she says, to open the minds of young people by showing them modern tools of design and how technology can be applied to artistic pursuits. “Where else will we get the next generation of innovators and artists if the children are not introduced to these ideas?”
To this might be added the “Summer of Creation” program, held during July and August, which exposes young people to the making of things through technology with topics like robotics, high-tech fashion and jewelry techniques.
Membership in the nation-wide organization can be had on a daily, monthly, or annual basis, so it matters not at all at what stage the individual’s building project stands. With safety ever in mind, each member is trained in use of a particular piece of equipment before he or she is allowed to hit the “on” button. Additionally, classes are conducted for members and the public that cover many manufacturing skills, for example, welding.
TechShop was incorporated in 2006 based on a model originating in the “silicon valley.”
There are now eight workshops coast-to-coast, the latest being the one in Arlington. Future sites in planning stages include St. Louis, Mo., Los Angeles, and the first overseas location in Munich, Germany.
Each site “partners” with a company or agency. Christa Vu, part of TechShop’s headquarter’s public relations team, identifies Ford Motor Company, Intel, Lowe’s and Arizona State University. In the case of TechShop DC-Arlington, the partners are Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
DARPA’s official webpage explains the relationship with TechShop: “Supporting initiatives that expand the number and diversity of talent contributing to the nation’s defense is critical to DARPA’s efforts in advanced manufacturing.”
Another implicit endorsement of TechShop occurred in June 2014 when the President spoke at the Pittsburgh, Pa. facility. According to a transcript, two major points were registered: The needs to revitalize American manufacturing and to encourage entrepreneurs and inventors. TechShop was cited as furthering both objectives.
TechShop offers this self-description: “[A] vibrant, creative community that provides access to tools, software and space . . . Part fabrication and prototyping studio, part hackerspace and part learning center ….”
Austin echoes this in saying that the “do-it-yourselfer” is given access to all the tools needed to make “almost anything.”