There has been a lot of talk in the popular press about the rebirth of manufacturing fueled by what some have described as the “maker movement.” This is not about large scale industrial growth and major factories coming back to life so much as it is about grass roots entrepreneurism and renewed interest and enthusiasm – particularly among young people – for making and inventing things.
The most visible sign of this new movement is the growth of “maker spaces” around the country. These are typically small incubators for manufacturing startups that offer tools, equipment, and workspace that cash-strapped entrepreneurs might not otherwise be able to obtain. Such spaces cropped up first in hotbeds of technological innovation, such as Silicon Valley and have emphasized electronics technology such as 3-D printing, robotics, and CNC manufacturing. Woodworking, too, was often included because of the age-old role of woodworking in prototype work. But today, as woodworking itself becomes even more sophisticated and married to CNC technology, it increasingly belongs right alongside the highest of high tech.
But let’s not lose sight of the fundamental drive behind this movement and the importance it has for our industry. It’s all about making things. After so many years of pundits and educators enraptured by the “service economy,” people are finally coming to the realization of the crucial value of manufacturing. Making things creates easily understood tangible value. It also tends to create more and better paying jobs, although technical productivity gains have cut some of the job creation.
Fort Houston in Nashville, Tenn., is an independent maker space that I had the opportunity to tour recently. Although this space is itself in its infancy, it drew the attention of Walter Meier’s JET/Powermatic unit, which donated an entire woodshop worth of equipment at an estimated value of $35,000 to help get the facility on its feet. The folks at Walter Meier recognize the potential power and youthful energy that can come from the maker movement, and they mean to support it.
Other manufacturers in our industry, such as ShopBot, have also been playing an active role in the maker movement, but we need a lot more. Most of the woodworking schools are long on employment and crafting skills and short on entrepreneurialism. We need to show young entrepreneurs that the woodworking industry supports them, too.
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