Picking out the right equipment for a makerspace is an epic task. You could spend months sifting through tool catalogs and 3D printer shootouts, or burn up weekends at garage sales and industrial auctions. Every makerspace has to weigh budget, space, and user demand to arrive at the right mix of machinery. Opinions abound and technologies are constantly changing – this post is about what Open Works settled on to serve our mission. It is not a prescriptive tool list.
At the beginning of the design process, we had to develop a rough equipment spreadsheet for the architect so they could design adequate electrical and ventilation systems. As time went on, this was refined into a proper FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment) budget. An FF&E budget covers everything in a building that isn’t nailed down, from chairs to fire extinguishers to computers. The spreadsheet kept track of tool name, footprint, weight, power requirements, and cost.
Once I had a core list, gathered from my own experience as a woodworker and a lot of research, I reached out to a handful of experts to go over my choices. I asked craftspeople, professors, and shop managers at some local universities. One of our closest neighbors, Maryland Institute College of Art, was particularly helpful, taking me on several tours of their facilities. Another terrific resource is the Fab Foundation, who has published detailed specifications for outfitting one of their labs in an open Google Doc.
What follows is a space-by-space breakdown of what we are purchasing to outfit our facility. I included some brand names, but for many of the tools, (drills, for instance), there are so many manufacturers and so little relative difference in quality I left them out. Open Works has no relationship with any of the manufacturers, and brands are just suggestions. Software will be covered in detail in a separate post.
We are buying everything new, including service agreements for some of the more complex machines. This is more expensive upfront, but it will prevent downstream maintenance costs. In order to save money, there are a lot of alternative resources out there: Craiglist, Ebay, industrial auctions, reconditioned tools, and self-replicating machinery like RepRap and Open Source Ecology. And, most importantly, we are reserving some space and money to be flexible and add things according to user demand.
Instead of buying a commercial cubicle system, which are mostly ugly, expensive, and made for office environments, we designed our own in partnership with a local fabrication shop. The first prototype is now under construction, and will use steel posts and unfinished plywood for walls. It is re-combinable, fixable in-house, and tough enough to take some maker abuse. For workbenches, we will provide sawhorses and hollow-core doors.
General Furniture and Equipment
There is a lot of general equipment needed in the facility that is unassigned to a particular shop. This includes janitorial supplies, fire extinguishers, traffic cones, trash cans, a pallet jack, snow shovels, wi-fi routers, and a dozen first-aid kits. Many of these items will be distributed throughout the building, mounted to columns or walls. Others will be stored in service spaces until needed. U-Line is the primary source for all of these items.
The FF+E budget also includes furniture for offices, member meeting rooms, lobby, and classrooms. Given the scale of our project, we worked with a distributor to source contract furniture. We will also be making some of the tables and desks in-house with open-source CNC designs from Open Desk. In outfitting your own space, there are a lot of inexpensive ways to get furniture: IKEA, Craigslist, university surplus auctions, or DIY designs.
Our woodworking shop has to meet the demands of a wide array of users, from complete beginners to professional craftspeople. Based on demonstrated demand in the Baltimore community, we also expect it to be the most heavily used shop. Keeping those two things in mind, we chose two of every major bench tool to prevent workflows from getting jammed up by any one user. We also chose SawStop table saws for safety, along with accessories like a riving knife to prevent binding and kickback. Dust collection is built-in throughout, along with downdraft sanding tables and hanging HEPA filtration units for stray particulates. Safety glasses, earmuffs, dust masks, and work gloves will be provided.
2 SawStop table saws
2 compound miter saws
2 drill presses
37″ drum sander
Full suite of hand tools (drills, impact drivers, orbital sanders, block planes, etc.)
4 downdraft sanding tables/workbenches
Safety is also of paramount concern in the metal shop – in addition to all of the standard ways to lose a finger, there will be torches, welders, and volatile gases. It is extremely important to have proper gas storage, a flameproof solvent cabinet, fire extinguishers, and flash curtains around the welding booths. Each welding booth and the CNC plasma cutter have dedicated exhaust systems to pull out fumes.
19″ vertical band saw
5″ horizontal band saw
14″ abrasive chop saw
9″ Cold saw
40″ English wheel
4 MIG welders
1 TIG welder
16 ton pipe bender
4′×4′ Torchmate CNC plasma cutter
50″ slip roller, 16 ga. Capacity
Full suite of hand tools (drills, impact drivers, ratchets, mallets, etc.)
We expect there to be heavy demand for the CNC machines and laser cutters, both from members and potentially offering some contract services. Open Works will also be using the CNC shop to self-manufacture some of the furniture and other items for the building. ShopBot is the standard Fab Lab CNC machine, and has refined a user-friendly interface that makes them great teaching tools. We also included a more powerful Laguna machine for higher-output jobs.
2 4′×8′ bed ShopBot PRS Alpha CNC routers
1 4′×8′ bed Laguna SmartShop CNC router
Vacuum bed hold-downs
Full dust collection
2 Inventables X-Carve desktop precision CNC routers
2 laser cutters, 18″×24″ bed
1 laser cutter, 28″×40″ bed
7 computer workstations
3D printing was the hardest shop to think about – companies are popping up (and going out of business) at an astonishing rate. We wanted a platform that was stable, user-friendly, relatively inexpensive, open-source, and reliable. We will be linking the machines to a software system that allows us to run them together as a bot farm, allowing for more complicated jobs and streamlined operation. As time goes on, we expect to adapt with the market and user demand.
8 Ultimaker 2 Extended 3D printers
2 Inventables Carvey desktop precision CNC routers
4 computer workstations
Our electronics shop is meant to be a flexible workshop to build robots, soft circuits, Arduino projects, or repair broken appliances. We went for a mix of equipment that would support both the simple end of the spectrum (fixing a lamp) and the complex (assembling a drone kit).
8 soldering workstations
Regulated DC power supply
3rd hand clamp stand
2 desolder pumps
Assorted precision hand tools
Our digital media studio will be able output full-size blueprints, cut-vinyl stickers, and archival-quality photo prints. We expect members will also use it to document their projects, so we will provide a professional-quality photography set up with a backdrop, lighting, and a tripod.
36″ wide full-color roll plotter
2 18″ wide photo printers
Photo backdrop, softbox light, and tripod
6 Mac workstations with Adobe Creative Suite
We’ve set up our cut-and-sew studio to make anything from quilts to clothes to soft circuits. Industrial sewing machines can handle anything from muslin to denim, and a computerized embroidery machine can output intricate custom designs.
8 Juki industrial sewing machines
Computerized embroidery machine
2 cutting tables
Assorted hand tools
Access to our computer lab is included in every level of membership because it is critical to almost every potential project workflow. We haven’t settled on the exact computers yet, but the basic specifications are straightforward: As much RAM as we can afford, a high-quality video card, a large monitor, powerful processor, and a PC operating system (most design software still lags in creating solid Mac versions). The university lab managers I spoke to suggested that robust institutional computers should last 5-7 years with proper care and updating.
16 workstations with 27″ monitors
AutoCAD product suite
3D Studio Max
Next week, we’ll examine the many software systems – both for member use and makerspace management – that will help Open Works function smoothly.
Since the last post, we have:
1. Finished window installation.
2. Put the HVAC units on the roof.
3. Installed the staircase.
4. Finished up sprinkler installation.