Daniel Reetz, the founder of the DIY Book Scanner community, has recently started making videos of prototyping and shop tips. If you are tinkering with a book scanner (or any other project) in your home shop, these tips will come in handy. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn0gq8 ... g_8K1nfInQ

TechShop is Dead, Long Live TechShop

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TechShop is Dead, Long Live TechShop

Post by daniel_reetz » 15 Nov 2017, 19:49

https://www.solidsmack.com/cad-design-n ... locations/

Around the time I started work on the Hackerspace Scanner, I moved to Richmond, CA and started working at the Internet Archive. A bit of publicly-untold history is that I first tried to make the scanner at TechShop in SF. The Internet Archive bought me a discounted membership to the shop, because they didn't want to buy/own the equipment to build it themselves, or really commit to a new scanner at all, at least not at first. This was really hard for me to accept, but I resolved to really try my best to make TechShop work. In principle, it did make sense.

What I found really surprised me.

FIRST, to use any tool, you had to take classes which cost significant time and money, and were not always available. I had to take basic shop, basic safety, the CNC course, and a course on Autodesk Inventor (because that's the only software you could use with the CNC). Getting those classes out of the way took about a month, and IIRC, about $500.

SECOND, AFTER doing all that, I learned that the CNC wood router (a ShopBot) was literally booked for months. People who had projects already planned would book the available slots whenever they came. The calendar was red forever. So now I'm two months in, having driven back and forth from Richmond more than 10 times, and I still haven't touched a machine except for cutting a circle from MDF in the CNC class. I did learn that a ShopBot was a very buggy machine - that was worth something.

THIRD, it turned out that a friend of mine was friends with the "front desk people" at TechShop. And after a personal conversation with them, they revealed that most people never show up for their CNC router appointments. So the machine is booked, but unused. The desk people offered to call when someone wouldn't show up, and I could use that time. What ended up happening is that on several occasions, I drove 45 minutes to TechShop SF from Richmond, CA and had 10 minutes with the CNC machine, a practically useless amount of time.

I did the math. The time I was spending at TechShop was costing the Internet Archive around $400/hr, and there was ZERO progress on the book scanner. I called a friend and mentor who I had built scanners for in the previous year, and she gave me a check for, IIRC, $8,000 to buy my own router. I bought the CNC Router Parts 4896 kit and invested about another $7K of my own to finish building it. It was everything I had at the time. But in less than two months, I had built the first Hackerspace Scanner and taken it to New York City. It got great press, but it didn't get a great reception at the Archive, and I wasn't happy there anyway (I think they were going through some hard times), so I quit.

I learned from this very frustrating experience.

1. Community workshops work best for rich people who are free during weekdays.
2. Techshops can only work with a high utilization model (hence the calendar) and that works against the users.
3. The actual cost of using the workshop is so high that you might as well make the parts with a vendor.
4. If you mess up, you might not get another chance for several weeks, so you don't benefit from fast iteration as you would if you just owned the tool and could try, try again.
5. The tools that are so specialized and expensive that you can't own them (like a waterjet cutter) are not a great fit for a TechShop (did they ever get the one in SF working?). The knowledge required to operate them and the cost of breaking them is just too high.
6. If you want to move fast, and learn from your mistakes, it's much better to buy the tool and work on it directly. That way, you learn as fast as possible, and you can make iterations in real time. If, in the end, you don't need the tool or things don't work out, you can sell the tool and recoup your costs - which will probably still be cheaper than TechShop.
7. If you work a day job, and have anything else to do with your life, you will probably not be able to make good use of TechShop because it will be booked out in the only hours you have before sleeping.
8. The fantasy of owning nothing and making everything is just that, a fantasy.

In short, I've become disillusioned about most community workshops like TechShop, and I'm not surprised to see them closing. I'm sure in their case it was rent and insurance that really killed them, and not the complaints I made above. The Hackerspace Scanner and the early book scanner vision was really dependent on this model of access to equipment. The dream was that if we made a smart, open design, people could go manufacture it themselves. The design would become programmable - you could input your requirements and get a scanner customized to your needs. As it turns out, the 10K garages manufacturing scheme and the TechShop model were both too immature and too expensive to support the dream. The Maker Hype really outpaced what was possible. I took my CNC router back to LA and started to manufacture kits myself.

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