We talked recently about laser cutters in schools, and many schools are looking at not only investing in laser cutters, but also setting up maker spaces for their students, since they offer incredible opportunities to engage the pupils with less interesting aspects of the curriculum. Not only are there huge benefits for the pupils, but with the right setup, a maker space can be a fantastic way to get members of the local community involved with the school. Whether you choose to invite craftspeople and artisans in to work with the students, to use the space to generate an additional income, or simply by offering the space to local groups to use out of school hours – there’s a lot to think about!
Schools aren’t the only organisations creating maker spaces, of course. Artist groups, universities, business start-up incubation units, and even some libraries are creating maker spaces in order to provide space, and access to machines that help their users to make more. But getting started creating a maker space isn’t as simple as putting a few machines, PCs and tools in a room and letting people do what they want. There are a lot of safety considerations, and administrative tasks to get right before you can get going – that’s why in this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the things you’ll need to invest in, both in terms of machinery and tools, and in practical, administrative terms.
Benefits of a maker space
Those of us that are already fans of laser cutters, 3D printers and being creative in general won’t need any convincing that having a maker space with tools and machines available in schools, and being accessible to local communities is a good idea. But in case you aren’t familiar, or you’re reading about maker spaces because one has been proposed for your organisation or in your area, then let us spell out the benefits of having a maker space in your school, or community:
1. It can help encourage innovation
No matter the age of the maker space user – whether they’re older children, teenagers, right through to senior citizens – the maker space encourages them to use their imagination, to use different methods to create solutions to challenges. In some cases, a maker space may even help to launch a start-up business that makes millions – which is why many business incubation units are adding maker spaces to their setups.
2. It helps encourage experimentation
While there is likely to be some excellent results from the maker space, there is likely to be a huge percentage of users that don’t have their projects work out quite as they expected. While some people might say that those things ‘went wrong’ or ‘failed’, we don’t like to think negatively – because where the results are different, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt! Those unexpected outcomes can teach valuable lessons about accuracy, evaluation and modifications that can be made to bring the project back on track.
3. It can help illustrate abstract concepts
While there are some pretty excellent resources that teach different ideas these days – from books, to videos, and other online resources – there’s nothing better than a teacher explaining theory and following up with practical applications. Maker spaces can help to aid understanding, while also building other skills at the same time – and keep reluctant students engaged with the lesson being taught.
4. It can help build new skills
Most children and teenagers these days know how to use PCs, and aren’t intimidated in the slightest by having to learn new software – and they’ll be pretty comfortable with the idea of using a laser cutter or a 3D printer too. Older people who are less comfortable with technology may be pretty skilled with other handheld tools and methods that young people have no idea about. Maker spaces are great places to share, and build those skills, allowing for different generations to grow their abilities, and to create confidence when making.
Where to start making a maker space
Before you start searching online for the equipment that you need, it is a good plan to take stock of any equipment and materials that you already have, and to create a plan of what you need. Knowing exactly what you want your maker space to be able to help the users of the space to achieve will help you to establish what you need to do next – and to ensure your budget is used as carefully as possible.
What tools do you need?
The tools you need for your maker space will very much depend on the type of projects that you anticipate being carried out there, so there isn’t really a perfect checklist that we can share for you can refer to. We’ve detailed what many maker spaces have invested in here, but depending on what the users of your maker space are interested in, you might want different equipment. If your users are more art focused, then you might include a small kiln, or maybe industrial sewing machines may be appropriate. Don’t feel restricted – if it is right for your space, and your users, and you have room for the machine, tool, or equipment, then go for it.
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise – as laser cutter experts – that we’re recommending a laser cutter for a maker space! Laser cutters offer so much flexibility in the types of materials that can be cut, and the different techniques that can be used. And since they provide a much cleaner cut, in a much faster time than can be achieved with manual methods, they are great for being able to work efficiently and make the best use of time.
The type of laser cutter that you decide to buy will depend on the type of work that you anticipate being carried out in your maker space. Generally though, gas lasers are preferred since they can cut a wider range of materials – including glass, some types of plastic, some foams, leather, paper-based products, wood, and acrylic – as well as engraving.
If you need a great starter laser cutter that is suitable for hobby level work, we highly recommend the Beamo – it is a compact, yet high powered CO2 laser cutter. The Beamo is great for cutting and engraving hundreds of materials, including wood, leather, acrylic, fabric, cardboard, stainless steel, anodized metal, glass, cement and more. It comes with the Beam Studio software, mobile app, and there is an onboard HD camera that means it is incredibly easy to get started.
For maker spaces that need a more advanced laser cutter, we have a range of Universal desktop machines and platforms to suit a range of needs. Of course, if you aren’t sure which type of laser cutter is right for your maker space, get in touch on 0333 900 8700 – we’re happy to advise you.
Depending on the laser cutter you choose, it is pretty likely that you will need a separate fume extraction system. Laser cutters don’t create fumes during operation, but as materials are being cut, they are likely to release fumes – and this is normal. No matter what you’re cutting in your laser cutter, inhaling any kind of fumes should be avoided, so an extraction system – either that vents outside the building, or into a self-contained fume filter is essential.
Choosing the right fume extraction is important – and as we’ve mentioned in posts such as this one about materials for laser cutting, there are some materials that when cut, present a serious risk to health, as well as damaging to your laser cutter! If you’re buying your laser cutter for a maker space from us, we’ll be able to advise you of the right fume extraction solution for your needs – and you can browse our range here.
3D printers are highly in demand for maker spaces because they are able to create a huge number of designs very easily – much quicker, and more accurately than other methods. If the maker space is in a school, there are loads of ways that pupils can create 3D prints that will aid their learning in different subjects, and so using the 3D printer can really help to increase pupil engagement – particularly if the topic is usually deemed boring.
3D printers also require fume extraction, and we recommend the BOFA 3D PrintPRO 2 – it is a low cost unit that extracts fumes without cooling the filament deposition area. If you’re unsure, or you need advice about 3D printer fume extraction, as always, get in touch.
Not all the users of your maker space will have PCs, or laptops to bring with them, or maybe they won’t be able to bring their laptop in – and so having PCs available for creating files, and for sending to the laser cutter or the 3D printer is an essential. Standard desktop PCs are relatively low cost, especially in schools that have contracts with suppliers, but you can add additional PCs in a much more affordable way by buying Raspberry Pi PCs. They also take up very little space, so they’re great in smaller maker spaces.
Software for maker space PCs
Your laser cutter and 3D printer will both have different software requirements, and so buying design packages can get expensive pretty quickly. Using open source software means that you can get up and running without that outlay, and consider buying licenses for paid software when you’ve a bit more room in the budget, after you’re up and running. The advantage of using open source software is that users will be able to download and install those packages at home at no cost, meaning anything they work on at home will be easily accessible in the maker space too.
For laser cutters, LaserWeb4, Inkscape, SolveSpace and Solid Edge 2D Drafting are all free options that will definitely do the job, while for 3D printers, Tinkercad, MatterControl, SketchUp, and FreeCAD are all great options.
Don’t forget that users of your maker space that are new to laser cutting and 3D printing might find the amount of information available completely overwhelming. Being able to point them in the right direction means they’ll be able to get started a lot quicker, so having some quick-start guides, and lists of resources like videos, how-to guides and so on mean that users can take these home with them and browse them at their leisure. If you need a way to get this in place quickly, then point them at our post – the best online resources for laser cutters and 3D printers.
As we’ve just mentioned, there are a lot of great projects that experienced users of laser cutters and 3D printers have made available online – and in many cases, they’re free to download. Some of these projects have electrical elements, whether they’re beginner projects, or they’re much more advanced, and so having the ability to do simple soldering is likely to be pretty popular with the users of your maker space.
The list of potential tools, products and so on that can be used for finishing work is pretty much endless, since different projects will have different demands. However, it is likely to be a good idea to have:
- A range of sandpaper, with different coarseness
- Cutting tools like scissors, scalpels, and Stanley knives
- Rotary tools such as Dremel kits
- Finishing products such as paints, varnishes, and adhesives
You’re likely to continue to accumulate different types of finishing equipment – and certainly when it comes to solvents like paints, varnishes, and so on, since there are very likely to be leftovers. Once your maker space is up and running, you’ll be able to identify which products are in high demand, and which are less so, allowing you to order products in bulk, and eliminate waste as much as possible.
Hand held tools
As much as the high tech machines like laser cutters and 3D printers are brilliant, there are often tasks for completing the project that need to be completed by hand. Thicker materials may not be suited to laser cutting, and some users of the maker space may simply prefer to use hand tools for certain jobs – and so having a good range of hand held tools available will mean that your users can work how they want to.
There isn’t going to be any making possible if you don’t have materials available to get started with! While you might not know exactly what sort of projects the users of your maker space will have in mind, there are a few basics that you can get together ready for when the doors open.
There are so many potential projects that involve sheet materials – especially when you have a laser cutter to play with! Having a range of sheet materials in stock for your users means that they’ll be able to start work immediately, and can build from there. If you’re starting out, give us a call for advice about the most commonly used materials in maker spaces, or order a few starter packs – they’re great for users that want to practice, and to start building your stock.
If you’re likely to have different community groups coming into your maker space, there’s a good chance that they will want to create awards, whether for within the group, or for competitions. Award tombstones can be expensive – and so having the ability to create their own is likely to be in demand from your maker space.
If you’re planning to provide this as a service to build revenue, with design work and laser cutting and etching completed by staff members, then you’ll need an affordable source of engravable Perspex acrylic blocks.
Using materials responsibly
There’s the potential for a lot of waste when you’re running a maker space, and it can get expensive really quickly, as well as having huge implications for the environment. If you’re going to stay within reasonable budgets, and avoid excessive waste, you’ll need to ensure that users make use of even the smallest offcuts and scraps of sheet materials – especially when users are learning how to get the best results from the laser cutter.
3D printer filament
We recommended the Up! 3D printers when we were talking about choosing a 3D printer above – but a 3D printer can’t run without filament. For the Up! 3D printers, a pack of spools of ABS filament in a range of colours starts at £125 + VAT, and additional twin packs of spools in different colours at £42 + VAT.
Setup & maintenance
Before your laser cutter does the first cut, and your 3D printer is loaded with filament, you’ll need to have done some serious planning, to make sure your maker space is as successful as it can be. We recommend thinking about these issues while you’re in the planning phase:
It goes without saying that you’ll need a big enough space if your maker space is going to work well. Not only does the equipment take up space, but you’ll need enough room for laptops and multiple people to be able to work safely. Squashing a maker space into a too-small room won’t make for a fun working environment – and in the worst case scenario, it’ll create opportunities for accidents and injuries to occur.
We know – health and safety can be boring. But it is an essential part of having a workshop or maker space, and while much of health and safety is common sense, if your users are children, teenagers, or are inexperienced in maker environments and workshops, you need to keep them safe.
Each maker space is different, and so the specialist safety equipment that you need will depend on what you have available. However, common items that you’re likely to need include:
- Face masks – for when sanding, soldering, and using chemicals such as paints, varnishes, and oils
- Protective eyewear – safety goggles are a must when using many machines and tools in maker spaces
- Protective aprons – the type you need will depend on the type of work that is being carried out
- Gloves – especially for when chemicals are being used, there are hot materials, or where sparks may be generated
- Ear defenders may be required, depending on the noise levels of tools and machines
When users enter the maker space, they should have proper shoes on at all times. If your maker space is more of a workshop environment, with heavier tools and machinery, then you may advise that safety footwear is worn by users.
As in all aspects of life, you need to ensure that everybody can access the maker space. That means ensuring wheelchair access, and for people with disability to be able to make use of the space, safely and in a supported way. Start simple – ensure that anyone using a wheelchair access the room, and then think about what else you’ll need to enable users with other sensory impairments, such as visual or hearing impairments, to use the space safely. If you’re open to the public, the onus is on you to make the space accessible to all – the Equality Act 2010 is the law that you need to be aware of here.
There’s a very good chance that users of your maker space are going to bring their own laptops and other devices, and if you have handheld tools that require power, then having enough electricity sockets is an essential part of setting up the space. In a pinch, it is possible to use extension cables, but this isn’t ideal, since trailing cables can create a trip hazard. Extension cables are much more likely to be damaged accidentally too, presenting additional costs when they need to be replaced, so putting in enough sockets is well worth the upfront cost.
Proper disposal points
If you’re already a proficient user of workshops, you’ll know exactly how messy the making process can be – and all that mess can present a safety issue, if it isn’t tidied up as you go. Ensuring that you have enough cleaning equipment, as well as dustbins, for both general waste and for recycling means that you can avoid potential accidents, ensure that materials aren’t wasted, and that less material goes to landfill.
When you’re creating a maker space – and definitely when it is going to be a heavily used maker space – you’re going to need a lot of storage. Not only will you have the raw materials for your laser cutter and 3D printer, but you’ll also have hand tools, screws, bolts and so on – as well as any projects that are part-way to completion.
First aid equipment
This should go without saying! As you’ll probably already know, when you’re creating, there’s the potential for minor injuries. That means that it is essential to have an easily accessible, fully stocked first aid kit, and an eye wash station as a bare minimum. It is a good idea that your signage includes the full address of the maker space, so that emergency services can be directed appropriately – and when any incidents occur, a straightforward accident recording, or reporting procedure.
Even where the users of the maker space are sufficiently trained, there should be staff available for assistance and to ensure safe operation of tools and that procedures are followed correctly. This is even more important where children, and untrained individuals are allowed to use the space. While employing a member of staff throughout the opening hours is an expense, it may be a necessary one if it is required by your insurance policy. If there are no adequately trained staff members available (for example, due to illness) then the maker space should be closed.
Policies and procedures
With health and safety, there are generally a lot of policies and procedures to get right. Not only do you need first aid and fire procedures in place – which are both mandatory requirements – but when you have machinery that has the potential to cause harm (even where risk is minimal, like with fully enclosed laser cutters) there are so many other must-have procedures. Risk assessments are likely to be required by insurance companies, and proper accident and injury reporting procedures must be implemented – especially for any staff that are working in the maker space.
Having a maker space where you can do everything you want to do is great – up until the point that you can’t do something you need to do because something is out of order. The frustration is huge when you can’t get a job finished because you need to wait for an engineer, so be sure to have access to an engineer or technician to properly maintain the tools that you have. For more complex equipment like laser cutters, it is likely that you will need to gain access to a fully trained and certified laser cutter technician to carry out servicing.
Hobarts service plans are affordable, and include at least one maintenance visit per year, and provide peace of mind that your machine will be back in service quickly, should it malfunction. Generally, if there is a fault, we’re able to help troubleshoot problems over the phone, getting you back up and running without us needing to attend, but when an emergency call out is necessary our fast response times mean that your maker space users will be back to making in no time.
Last, but by no means least – having the necessary insurance is a step that should not be forgotten, particularly when members of the public are going to be using your maker space. Depending on the machinery, tools and procedures that are going to be in your maker space, and exactly who is permitted to use the equipment, you may require insurance policies including:
- Public liability
- Employer liability
- Total equipment & stock value
- Personal accident cover
- Trustee liability
- Legal cover
- Hire cover
Finding the right type of cover – and certainly at the right price – used to be tricky, but since Export and General created a bespoke suite of insurance products which are suitable makerspaces in 2016, other companies have followed suit. While that means there are more options available, that can be a challenge too – because establishing which policy is right for your space can be hard, and you don’t want to pay for a policy that you don’t really need. However, don’t put it off because it is complicated – you don’t want to end up in a situation where you need it, but haven’t got around to sorting it out.
Creating a maker space can be a great addition to the school, or community in which you live and work – but there’s a lot to think about, and plan for. We’ve covered a huge number of things to consider in this post, but as we keep mentioning, there may be other things you need to think about, depending on how you expect your maker space to be used – so this isn’t a definitive list, rather a place to start your planning.
When you’re planning your maker space, talk to us! If buying a laser cutter is outside of your budget, we may be able to help by offering a leasing arrangement or a refurbished machine. If you need advice as to whether a budget laser is appropriate or you need a heavier duty machine, or maybe you’re wondering about your service plan – get in touch! We have years of experience helping schools, universities, government and defence organisations and customers in industry to set up machines in their maker spaces, and we’re certain that we can help with yours.