Think[box]: The Maker Movement’s Future

IMG_5322In September, I visited my son Ben in Cleveland. He is a 2012 graduate of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he received his Bachelor’s with a double major in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

(That’s Ben in glasses, troubleshooting a question by other son, Andrew.)

During his college studies, Ben had a full-time internship every summer, each time with different companies, from start-up innovative gear makers to billion-dollar industrial parts makers.  But, he bypassed all of those employers and more when he accepted an offer to stay in Cleveland working at the University.

Why? Because, quite simply, he’s got the coolest job you could ever want being a newly minted mechanical engineering grad, as the inaugural manager of a brand new public-private “maker” lab at Case Western called Think[box].

IMG_5320In case you’ve missed it, the “maker movement” phenomenon is about a decade-old, resurgence in American industrial design and manufacturing know-how, kindling the spirit and curiosity of a new generation of hands-on creators like Ben.

Made popular by Maker Faire and Make magazine, the maker movement’s sandbox has been a series of mostly community-driven, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) maker labs, more recently professionalized by the Techshop chain.

What sets Think[box] apart, however, is the comprehensive nature of its vision.  First, it’s filled with a tremendous array of gear: 3D printers, laser cutters, numerically controlled routers, and much, much more.

IMG_5318All of this gear and technical assistance (from staff like Ben and student interns) is available at no charge to students and the general public.

Indeed, Ben tells me that a little-known fact is that Think[box] will run anyone’s project, e.g., a 3D printed prototype, no matter where they live, as long as they supply the ready-to-go CAD files and pay for the materials & shipping.

IMG_5321Second, Think[box] funders expect to break ground in 2014 on a seven-story building that will be fully dedicated to all-things Think[box] – teaching and workshop space; incubating and accelerating startups; design, manufacturing, and assembly staging; offices and more.

Their ambitious goal is to rapidly rise to the level of MIT’s Media Lab, at least in the mechanical, maker space.  It’s an exciting place to be – literally a playground of ideas.

IMG_5314I couldn’t help but break out some of the brainstorming materials from the ideation station on the day I was there.

You can see the mess I made, cobbling together a small-scale, rough model of a mechanical art installation I had as an idea for the 2014 ArtPrize competition.  One word: Nerdtastic!

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