1. Maker Spaces: Context

(This video can be downloaded from Media Hopper Create.)

Michael Boyd is manager of uCreate Digital Studio, the pilot maker space project at the University of Edinburgh, at the Main Library.  

What is a Maker Space?

A Maker Space is a shared workshop space. The aim of a Maker Space is to enable people to make something out of almost any material. This includes everything from hammers, saws and nails, right through to advanced digital manufacture kit using 3D printers and laser scanners.

The uCreate Digital Studio is digitally focussed. So they focus on 3D scanners, 3D printers, CNC milling machines, and electronics equipment.

What kind of kit does a Maker Space have?

In terms of kit, Ucreate have stuck to “prosumer grade” equipment. This is a market segment between professional and consumer. So the 3D printers are the type you might find in offices, classrooms, and workshops around the world. Kit like that the Ultimaker, Fused Deposition Printer, or the Form 1 Stereolythography printers, and entry level laser scanning kit that is very quick to operate, but also churns out high quality results.

Give us an example of a good Maker Space project?

A great example is the e-NABLE project, which is an open source prosthetic hand.  This began as a design for a costume for a Steam Punk convention. It was essentially a puppet hand. The American designer shared his designs online.

A South African carpenter who had lost his fingers in an accident saw a video of the prosthetic hand on Youtube. He got in touch with the original designer and asked him to help him design one for himself to replace the fingers he had lost. Together, across ten thousand miles they collaborated designing, testing and building this hand.  First they made it out of things they found around the home, then with tools they found in Maker Spaces, one in the States and one in South Africa. Together they eventually made a tool that the South African could use to replace his lost fingers. Following on from this, the mother of a 5 year old child who was born without any fingers, contacted Ivan the creator, and they worked together to create a smaller version of the hand that could be used for a kid. Ivan realised that the small prosthetic hand would not last forever, because the kid was going to grow, so he released the data and designs open source so that anyone could produce their own prosthetic hands, and so that new versions could be designed and built as the child grew.  

How do you go about a Maker Space project?

Step one is to decide what you want to make. Next spend some time designing the object. Then you want to build it using some of the technology you have available to you in the Maker Space. This should be very quick as the making is usually using a prototype format. You then need to test it. This cycle of design, build and test should be repeated iterating the design until you have something that fits your needs.

Quite often people share their designs in an open source manner.  This means that other people around the world can help to contribute to their designs, and they can build and test them together.

What are the best types of projects for a Maker Space?

Maker Spaces are particularly good at making things that are unique, one-off or are things you want to make for yourself. Mostly it tends to be cheaper to buy things off the shelf than it would be to make it using the tools and materials in a maker space. However, if you want to make something really special for yourself Maker Spaces are great for that. They are also great for projects that require a wide variety of skills, because they are great spaces for collaboration.  uCreate tends to attract people with disparate skill sets who enjoy working together and building things together.

The E-nable project, needed a real variety of skills to develop. First there was the design of the hand itself, expertise needed to make sure it could be fitted properly on the person using it, knowledge of materials, and also mechanical skills needed to work out how to get the joints in the fingers moving so that the person using it could have some sort of grip from the prosthesis.  


Think about objects you have at home that you would like to 3D print, or think about something you would like to make. While considering the size, complexity and other qualities of the object, think about

  1. What items are most suitable for 3D scanning?
  2. What items are most suitable for 3D printing?
  3. What items would be better to make using standard machinery instead (CNC hammers and nails etc)?
  4. What are the qualities of an object that each making activity is best suited to?
  5. What types of project are best suited to a collaborative Maker Space?

Write down your thoughts.

Lastly, find an item that you would like to 3Dscan and print. Photograph it, or find an image online, and add it to your journal, outlining any changes you would like to make.