In an old Knights of Columbus social club, a 3-D printer whirred to life. The newly built unit is a fitting first project for a new clubhouse of tech-savvy DIY tinkerers—a machine that can make machines.
The whirring took place behind an unmarked exterior on State Street in a brick-walled room newly filled with five computers, a variety of work tables and tools, a robotic arm, an old table saw and drill press, and a salvaged laser cutter that’s being nursed back to health after a fire.
The apparatus represents the first stage in the development of a new shared laboratory and shop space called Make Haven. For $50 a month, members have access to all the tools and equipment. More importantly, they get to join a community of like-minded geeks, the kind of guys who grew up pulling things apart to see how they work. That describes John Scrudato, Make Haven’s president, who built a hovercraft while he was in high school, for fun.
Make Haven is the local manifestation of a greater cultural movement, the rise of the “makers.” It’s a subculture formed at the nexus of traditional craftsmanship and modern techno-engineering, combined with a self-starting DIY ethic.
While some crafty people throw their own ceramic bowls on a potter’s wheel, a modern “maker” might plot out a 3-D model of his new dish and “print” it out with a plastic-extruding machine.
Make Haven has emerged in part due to a growing tech industry in New Haven, which has helped create a critical mass of geeky tinkerers. Anne Haynes, director of the Economic Development Corporation, pulled several of those people together to help birth the new “makerspace.”
On Thursday afternoon, Scrudato offered a tour of the premises and a history of how it came to be.
Scrudato, a 23-year-old from New Jersey, graduated a year ago from Yale. He studied history and mechanical engineering there while his gear-head ways led him to entrepreneurialism.
When his room became uncomfortably warm because of heat from the multiple computers he was running, he put together a liquid cooling system in the shop. That planted the seed for what is now his own start-up company: Scaled Liquid Systems.
As graduation neared, Scrudato recalled, he began to worry about the loss of the shop space at Yale, where he’d spent a lot of his undergraduate hours: “I’m going to go into withdrawal after college.” After graduation, he threw himself into his start-up and temporarily forgot about the pleasures of having a shop to play in.
Then Haynes got him together with several other like-minded “makers.”
“She got us all in a room,” Scrudata said. He met seven others like himself, the people who became the first members of Make Haven.
The group is now a not-for-profit “with a club-like element,” Scrudato said. The mission is a kind of “evangelism” for “making things,” he said.
It’s catching on. The original group of eight has grown to almost 20.
Make Haven moved into 266 State St. (pictured) in February. The space was once the Russel Club, a social club associated with the Knights of Columbus, Scrudato said. It’s now owned by Kam Lasater, the chief strategy officer at SeeClickFix and a Make Haven member. He charges the group a subsidized rent that will eventually phase in to market rate, Scrudata said.
The first project: Make the shop itself. The makers have outfitted the place with donated furniture and tools, They’re working on a new sign, using metal etched with acid. But that’s just a place-holder for the real sign, which will be made of thousands of LEDs.
Another central focus has been making the 3-D printer. It’s made from plans available on the internet: open-source hardware. Click the play arrow to see it in action, before the kinks were worked out.
The group sent away for pieces of the machine, which were themselves made on a 3-D printer. They put the rest together themselves, with each member contributing in some way. The whole thing cost less than $600, Scrudato said.
The machine “prints” simple three-dimensional shapes using plastic filament that it melts and layers into place. Machines like it are poised to revolutionize prototyping, design, and production of all sorts of objects, Scrudato said.
“Say I want to build a new doorknob,” he said. Instead of heading to the hardware store, he could design a doorknob on the computer and print out a new one, maybe one that’s unlike any other in the world.
On Thursday Scrudato was working on printing out an emergency cut-off switch he’d designed in Solidworks, a 3-D computer-aided drafting program. The plans called for the button to say “Made in New Haven on the side.”
The Make Haven crew is also working on getting a laser cutter up and running. It was donated to Make Haven after it caught fire in its previous use in an architectural firm. “The machine had been totaled,” Scrudato said. The makers have put together a new control panel for it (pictured), with the help of the 3-D printer. The laser cutter will be able to cut a variety of materials—and etch metal—with a precision and complexity otherwise unavailable.
The group also plans to build a CNC mill, another tool for precision cutting materials in three dimensions. And members are looking to outfit the basement with a fully equipped wood and metal shop.
While right now the emphasis is on making and repairing tools, those tools will be put to use to make still more things. Members will decide what those end products are.
For instance, one member is interested in customizing cars. He might use the 3-D printer to build a custom instrument housing for his dashboard. Someone else might use the laser cutter to cut out all the pieces for a model airplane, using a file downloaded from the internet.
Another member is working on an oscilloscope “watch” that can show the wearer different wave forms.
Would it tell time?
“It might,” Scrudato said.
SeeClickFix founder Ben Berkowitz, a Make Haven member, has been working on outfitting his bike with electroluminescent wire to make a glowing, Tron-like steed. Make Haven will hold a workshop on how to do that, one of a number of workshops the group plans to hold, Scrudato said.
Members have also already begun work on a fancy new sign to announce Make Haven’s presence on State Street. Click the play arrow for a sample.
With the technology now available to the average hobbyist, people can create prototypes for new inventions that they never would have been able to years ago, Scrudato. He mentioned the crowd-source fundraising site, Kickstarter, where he said someone recently raised $1 million to create aluminum iPhone docks, based on a prototype he developed. (On Sunday, another prototype, for an smartphone-connected watch, reached $7 million in funding, with nearly 50,000 backers.)
That’s the kind of thing people could do at Make Haven, Scrudato said. Except that the organization is not really geared towards making money or launching businesses, he said. It’s really just about the pleasure of making things.