Here are a few shots from TechShop in downtown San Francisco. I was lucky to be shown around by Jesse Harrington who is doing some interesting work for Autodesk 123D and the DIY community. TechShop’s have an interesting take on a facilitating creation and innovation through a shared workshops. It seems to be a smaller focus on community, grassroots empowerment and collaboration than most FabLabs, but a larger focus on helping professional startups and advanced hobbyists. The the equipment available is very impressive, with a total cost of multiple FabLabs. This gives a lot of opportunities in manufacturing, especially by combining traditional and digital fabrication. The general atmosphere felt quite geared towards on working on a specific project and get out, and a little less on knowledge sharing and collaboration. For a startup company in need of professional equipment and advice, the monthly membership is a bargain. It seems like TechShops are filling an important role in the DIY personal fabrication workshop ecosystem, especially for those who can afford the membership fee and training costs.
FabLab’s that give away free access to machines usually do not allow serial production of products for commercial purposes. It would not make much sense to use subsidies, grants and donations to provide free manufacturing services that will undermine local digital fabrication businesses. Since Techshop’s have paying members, they allow users to fabricate products for commercial sale for the duration of their reserved machine slot.
It is however common that FabLabs charge a commercial hour rate for production services. But like Fab Charter says, commercial venturers should ideally grow up outside and beyond the lab. The challenge is to make sure that a small portion of the profits trickle back down to the FabLab for providing the important first steps in the development of an idea.