When I think of Somerset House in London, I think of heritage, a classical building situated next to the bustle of the River Thames, full of tourists hoping to soak up some culture from its famous art exhibitions and stopping to take those necessary selfies in the reflection of the Mark Quinn sculptures that are the current centrepiece in the courtyard.
Something that certainly hadn’t come to mind, was the possibility that on the basement level of this famous landmark, would lie a cluster of 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, engravers, hand tools and just about anything else you might imagine from a workshop of the 21st century, fit for a pioneering community of makers.
This place is called, Makerversity, a 24/7 maker-haven for up and coming creators and small businesses to come and turn their ideas into reality. This unpolished, clustered yet infectiously inspiring space houses three main workshops: traditional, textile and digital. It’s digital offering boasts a selection of Ultimaker, MakerBot and Formlabs 3D printers, a Cubify Sense 3D scanner and various milling and cutting machines from Roland.
I visited Makerversity for the Accelerating Innovation event where Proto Labs were on hand to host a collection of workshops and classes to help the maker-business community understand the various technologies that are shaping the way products are made today.
Proto Labs, a world leader in fast turnaround prototyping, and by fast, that can mean as little as a day, offers injection moulding, additive manufacturing and CNC machining. This event was about giving designers and makers enough information to decide which type of technology would best suit their manufacturing needs.
Like the image of Somerset House, the image of a maker event might not be quite what you think. From engineering students to start ups and businesses looking to learn about the benefits of 3D printing and just about everyone in between, all were accounted for at this event.
“Successful product development is all about bringing people and knowledge together in a collaborative environment,” Damian Hennessey, Commercial Director at Proto Labs, explained. “The space at Makerversity is fantastically creative and ideal for gaining insights into the current development needs of creators and makers. At Proto Labs we thrive in this environment and have many resources at our disposal to support all levels of designer.”
For anyone just starting out with these technologies and wondering how to get their designs off the page or screen and into their hands, this day provided the ideal foundations for making those all important decisions – never before had I heard 3D printing being likened to a rainbow sponge cake but in fact it’s a fitting analogy. There was also a reality check theme about the capabilities of 3D printing and during one particular workshop, Saleem Shariff, Lead Customer Service Engineer at Proto Labs, went straight to the point: “additive isn’t for functional at this stage”. That’s quite a strong statement to make, particularly in an age where many companies are eager to promote that additive can and does do it all – of course it would be naïve to completely agree. Whilst in some cases, this might be selling the technology a little short, it was good to see those foundational values about 3D printing being brought to the forefront to allow engineers and makers to understand its unique properties, particularly as a prototyping tool.
Damian commented: “The steepest learning curve in taking any product to market can be the transition from conceptual CAD based design to trialling your designs in the "real world" – be it a handful of prototypes or the first production intent product. It is through education and working together that simple adjustments can be made to help great designs become great products in the marketplace, quickly.”
Andy Hutt, Event and Marketing Manager, Makerversity, added: "For us events like this, marry our values completely, we want to breakdown the barriers between the maker and manufacturer. As a designer or engineer, if you want access to the processes that Proto Labs offer you'd only assume that China could competitively provide them. Luckily this isn't always the case. Our goals to bring "making back to the city" are certainly being helped with services like PL available."
It’s amazing to think that right now Makerversity is likely full of artists, makers and inventors working away sharing ideas and pushing innovation forward. With this modern toolset ready to go and just at their fingertips, I can’t wait to see what they come up with.