If you have been following the Open Works journey from the very beginning, you have watched our progress in fundraising, community engagement, business planning, equipment ordering, and staffing. We are now nearing the end of one phase — development — and entering the next phase — running a makerspace! To that end, it has been a very exciting few weeks as we have taken delivery of all of our equipment.
That said, taking delivery of so much stuff, and keeping track of it, is a big logistical challenge. Most makerspaces don’t necessarily have this problem, as they slowly accumulate their tools over a period of time through donations and incremental purchases. Our equipment is the lifeblood of the space, and the core of what we offer. Getting it right is absolutely critical. Here’s how we’ve managed the process — and a sneak peek at what we’ll have on offer.
We went over our master tool list a number of posts back, with the caveat that this was not a prescriptive tool list, but the best mix for our needs. Since that post, Hannah Wides, our Manual Operations Manager, refined that list a great deal and began purchasing. This is where we were both thrown for a bit of a loop.
First off, similar to car sales, most large fabrication equipment cannot be purchased directly — it is sold through a network of distributors. In some ways, this can be super helpful. For instance, we worked with a really great regional woodworking distributor that was able to outfit almost our entire shop in one purchase order. This streamlined paperwork, accounting, and delivery dates. It also gave us some recourse if things went wrong.
On the other hand, this can also obscure prices and make it a little tricky to really comparison shop. It is also unhelpful if you are outside a large metro region, as distributors tend to cluster near active markets. If you are really looking for the best prices, and are willing to do a little refurbishment, look at industrial auctions, university surplus sales, factory reconditioned tool sites, and “off-brand” digital fabrication equipment that has the same guts as the big-name stuff.
In my innocence as a first-time lab manager, I was unprepared for the add-on costs for getting things delivered. Industrial freight is a whole different animal than grabbing a few FedEx packages off of the front stoop. The baseline shipping can be much more expensive, and some deliveries were too large for us to handle. We had built in a 10% contingency to our overall tool budget, and that barely covered rigging costs. If I was doing it all over again, I would track shipping as a wholly separate line item in the budget.
We do not have our own forklift because we thought it was an unnecessarily high capital expense for a tool we would only use occasionally after the space set up was complete. To remedy that deficiency, we had to hire a rigging company to deliver a number of pieces of freight, namely the CNC machines, the laser cutters, and some of the metalworking equipment. The tool companies delivered to the rigging company’s warehouse, then they brought it onsite, unloaded it, and eased each item into place.
While a bit pricey, this turned out to be a really good strategy. It saved us a lot of headache and liability to offload the delicate task of moving around super-heavy things to professionals. It also allowed us to hold things at the distributor’s warehouse until we were absolutely ready for them, allowing us to balance construction timelines and other contingencies.
Once tools were on site, we really needed to keep track of each one, figure out where it needed to go, and order related consumables like blades or bits. Some of this is going to be an ongoing task, and some of it is a one-time job associated with the move-in. To track each tool, we came up with a serial numbering system that had a room identifier and then a code that matched the tool. We etched that into each tool or piece of furniture with a Dremel, and kept track of the serial numbers in our master FF+E spreadsheet. As we move forward, we will develop regular maintenance schedules that are broken down by daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks. Until we have a user base, it is a little hard to predict how often we will need to replace certain consumables, so we will just stay flexible and order as needed for now.
Unfortunately, we had to return a fair amount of items that were damaged in shipping. This was another unexpected bump in the road that ended up consuming a lot of more time than anticipated. Damage has to be documented, equipment re-crated, the rigger has to pick everything back up, and the new order has to get in the pipeline. Again, if I was doing it all over again, I would’ve ordered things way earlier to account for these sort of hiccups.
Installation and Training
We have hired an expert staff here at Open Works, and I trust them completely . . . but everyone can use a brush-up once in awhile. One of the other advantages of working through distributors is that they would come out and install equipment for us, calibrate it, and train the staff on how to use it. This was especially helpful with our SawStop table saws, which have special procedures for changing blades, putting in dado blades, and installing the safety cartridges. As we progress, we will be investing in some training offered by manufacturers to gain a deeper understanding of workflows for our CNC routers and laser cutters.
We reserved a number of things in the building to manufacture ourselves. This served a couple of purposes: it allowed us to debug our equipment, test material flows, and demonstrate the power of our space. And, after all, makers gonna make!
For the micro-studios upstairs, we built 80-odd dividers out of construction-grade plywood. Each was 7’ long by 42” high, with a strip of plywood affixed to the top and bottom edges for rigidity. We cut panels to length with a track saw, to width with the table saw, then dado-ed the edge strips and screwed everything together. For mounting to the posts, we used a simple jig to drill ½” bolt holes. It was quite a lot of work, but it was also super-satisfying to see our little city of makers materialize piece-by-piece.
For office furniture, we are using Open Desk designs. Most of the staff desks are Unit Tables, and then we are making a few pieces of cafe furniture and shelves. Open Desk designs are made to be parametric and reconfigurable, and it took some de-bugging to get our tolerances correct and the furniture to fit together correctly. That said, it was a great way to test our CNC routers. It has also been an awesome demonstration piece — as we give tours to prospective members and partners, we can show off all the cool stuff we’ve already fabricated in house!
This has been a tremendously exciting (and slightly overwhelming time). The equipment is falling into place, classes and programs are getting set, and we are looking forward to our grand opening in just a few weeks! We are also getting close to the end of this series, and will detail our safety classes and member onboarding process next week.
Since the last post, we have:
1. Gotten about 90% of the shop equipment installed.
2. Assembled the CNC plasma cutter.
3. Began fabricating office furniture.
4. Finished fabricating and installing all of the upstairs micro-studio dividers.