Maker's Edge Makes the Big Time

Friend of McLennan SBDC, Maker’s Edge, was recently in the news for its involvement in America’s nascent maker’s movement and attendance of a White House Summit.  They also recently announced their acceptance into the global fab lab network in August.  Fab labs are comprised of off-the-shelf, industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools, wrapped in open source software and programs.  Maker's Edge made the cut because of their breadth of tools, extensive community network, and open access policies for software and innovation.  Suffice it to say, “you’ve come a long, baby!” since meeting with the SBDC in 2014: Maker's Edge also numbers among the first SBA-financed makerspaces in our nation!

Waco ‘makerspace’ part of national movement for tinkering, innovation

By J.B. Smith for the Waco Tribune Herald

The owners of Maker’s Edge say their do-it-yourself workshop has been successful in its run of nearly two years, enough so that they were recently invited to the White House for a summit on the “makers movement.”  But in their philosophy, failure is just as important as success.

“We have a motto around here: Fail fast, fail often, then get it right,” said Melissa Pardun, executive director of the workshop at 1800 Austin Ave. “The more opportunities you have to try, your project just gets better and better.”

“Makerspaces” — community workshops where anyone can use high-tech tools to invent, tinker and socialize — have been popping up around the country in the past decade. At Maker’s Edge, monthly subscribers have access to more than $100,000 of equipment, including a plasma etcher, CNC routers, 3-D printers and a laser etcher, as well as saws, drill presses, soldering irons and leather-working equipment.

But Pardun said the movement remains amorphous and dimly understood by the public.

“It’s the same concern with other makerspaces. How do we define and separate ourselves from low-entry, small-scale, high school library makerspaces?” she said. “A lot of people when I tell them that, they say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of that. Our school has a makerspace.’ They don’t get it until they come in here and see.”

Pardun and about 120 other makerspace representatives met Aug. 24 with White House officials, including U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, about how to expand the movement without diluting it. Pardun said the attendees are in the process of forming a trade organization to set standards for makerspaces and expand their use in education and industry.

“Honestly, this is the best way to encourage manufacturing in the U.S.,” Pardun said. “If we can encourage nondiscriminatory access to tools and machines, then the little guy who doesn’t have access to these tools has the opportunity to innovate. It’s the democratization of tools and space.”

Since opening at the beginning of 2015, membership has grown to about 90 people, who pay anywhere from $30 a month for youth to $125 a month for businesses.

Pardun and her husband and business partner, Rick Pardun, have seen it become a community where people swap skills and mentor each other and get tool training.
“All of us have a little maker inside waiting to be set free,” Melissa Pardun said. “Most of us just don’t know where to start.”

The Parduns have seen projects ranging from a bicycle-powered pontoon boat to bronze-and-wood iPad holders to theater costumes for McLennan Community College.

Teenagers have learned to design objects on computers, then turn them into three-dimensional plastic prototypes with 3-D printers.

A local hydroponics greenhouse cut thousands of tiny planters out of styrene foam using the CNC router, an 8-foot-wide computer-aided carving machine. An artisan who is starting his own fine furniture business uses it for his main work space.

Brian Ginsburg, owner of W Promotions, uses the makerspace regularly to make custom projects he can’t produce at his downtown merchandise design shop. Those include engraved mugs and precision cutout signs.

“It’s like having a co-op, like having a pool of tools you can use,” Ginsburg said.
On a quiet Thursday afternoon at the shop, members Will Barley and Jordan Blair walked with large boxes and plopped them down on a table. What emerged was a styrene foam model airplane they were modifying with cameras and GPS sensors.

Barley, a mission trainee at Antioch Training School, described the project as an “airplane drone” they were developing to help farmers photograph their fields.
“I didn’t have a work space at home, and I don’t have access to all the tools we need,” he said. “Here we can get ideas from other people who know how to build things I don’t know how to build.”

Barley said he worked for years in high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley and has lived in Dubai and London, but now he is looking for a more simple life. Going to Maker’s Edge means he doesn’t have to buy his own equipment.

“It’s a totally different way of doing it,” he said. “I could be off by myself plugging away in my garage, having no community or support. The thing I’m most excited about is that this could be the thing that awakens a generation to building things and seeing that it’s not that hard.”

Jessica Attas, director of public policy for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said makerspaces like Maker’s Edge have great promise for the 21st-century economy.

“Providing people the opportunity to develop new products or new processes, that could be transformational not only for individuals but for small to midsized manufacturers,” Attas said. “I think it’s really an exciting entryway.”

See original article at Waco Tribune Herald: