Place West London Manufacturing Summit report

courtney 2Speakers at the Place West London and Brunel University London New Manufacturing Summit showed what drives those in the maker movement, and gave great insight into how they can be supported to generate employment growth.

The event took place at The Old Vinyl Factory – a symbol of both old and new manufacturing – on July 7.

Andrew Ward, Director of Corporate Relations at Brunel opened the event with an attempt to define “new manufacturing and the maker movement”. It was tough to do. In the end, he opted to describe the community as a set of people who make things – products – but are driven by a mindset which is not wholly focussed on making money – improving the World is a key goal. They remain open to ideas wherever they come from, and are prepared to give ideas freely in return. Collaboration is a starting point for this sector.

Cllr Douglas Mills from LB Hillingdon spoke about the importance of manufacturing to Hillingdon. In particular he talked about the host locations’ Central Research Laboratory, created in partnership with and funded by Brunel University London, which is, as he described it, a kind of “dragons den” to test and grow ideas and products. The courage shown by the council – backing such a venture when it is not clear what it is that is going to be realised – is to be welcomed. As well as support, he said it was the council’s responsibility to deliver confidence that the whole area (of Hayes) will be invested in and grown.

The Maker Movement

Prof Daniel Charny of Kingston University, trying to describe the motivations of the Maker Community said that humanity is a bunch of people who can make things, but that many have just forgotten this. He said that key to understanding the New Manufacturers was to know that for them, two plus two would always make more than four – they crave joined up thinking, networks, and collaborative consortia.

James Tooze of the RCA, who is conducting a two year study into redistributed manufacturing – also known as reshoring – said that the community sought greater connection between product and market, use and recycling, and looked to ensure a future for the product beyond the user was factored in to design. His two year project with EPSRC – Future Makespaces in Redistributed Manufacturing – will be looking at the importance of local connections, digital networks, policy and supply chains.

Enabling Makers

Ursula Davies from Makerversity described their 20,000 sq ft space in the basement of Somerset House. It  provides desk space and workshops for early stage maker companies. She said they provided the bare space, but that makers had joined with the vision and helped make it reality. There were now 140 indviduals in the Makerversity community. She felt her role was to facilitate and enable, while the makers themselves “made it all happen”.

Delivering support for makers was not just about the space or the tools provided – for one thing makers bring their own tools. Ursula felt that makers were best enabled by establishing a collaborative community, and supporting them with what they found difficult, principally realising proper value for their innovations, and helping with a sharp commercial perspective.

Richard Clifford of MAKLAB Glasgow echoed this, saying that the equipment they provide “is just the tools”. He was clear that makers need “room to play, to step back from process and explore”.

He agreed with Ursula that “designers are terrible at making money – for example, architects are usually saved by the QS”. Luckily there were no architects in the room.

The Central Research Laboratory

James Nettleton of the CRL, when asked why developer Cathedral Group would pursue such a venture, supporting early stage maker companies, said they were trying to find a new model for filling the space in the former EMI factory. The site used to be where 22000 people worked. He felt they were not going to fill it with the usual site marketing methods. “We need to find a new model. Plus we have a genuine obligation to create jobs, and a need to create social and economic value. We have a real desire to see this place work”.

What’s going on at CRL? It’s a well-designed collaborative workspace with facilities for makers, and mentoring. The CRL team are aiming to create and curate a really great collaborative community. They have had over 70 applications to join so far.

Asley Sayed, also from the CRL team, previously led design teams at Tom Tom, Motorola and Phillips. He said he was there to provide “top support”, and to work with young designers and entrepreneurs and help them to get their products commercialised.

Their current pilot involves setting up an incubator with workspace, and an outside container for “the noisy stuff”. They expect to be up and running mid-august, and are currently going through the selection process for the start-ups who will fill the pilot space.

Their criteria for selection are that the designer has produced an innovative, market disruptive, product prototype which they can see is scalable.

Ashley agreed with earlier speakers about the support needed. “Innovation is half the story. We need to create the business model. This is the key area of support.”

Andrew Ward, in the chair for the whole event, agreed: “We need to remove obstacles, and help young people convert products and ideas in to marketable goods”.

Stephen Green of CoInnovate gave a helpful definition of innovation as “the successful implementation of new ideas”.

Makers stories

Eleanor, a design engineer from Brompton Bicycles, told a story about their approach to product improvement. They have an engaging concept called “work-on-anything Fridays”. It’s what amounts to inventors going to the garden shed to play with things, and can produce some “pretty cool things” – unexpected step change innovations.

Courtney Wood (pictured top) told the Bubblegum Stuff success story. It was all about product design and delivery, capturing ideas and turning them into reality both in the UK and overseas.

Solveiga Pakstaite told the Bump Mark story. It’s a bioreacting food expiry label which she got the idea for when working to improve blind people’s life experience. Essentially it’s a smooth sticker which will “go off” at the same rate as the food in the container it’s on – going bumpy when the food is not safe to eat.

As well as helping the blind, it can assist in cutting food wastage where things are thrown away at their expiry date on the packaging, even though sometimes the food will be fine.

She said she has experienced “huge market pull” – the World wants her invention and part of her challenge had been responding to the demand, this was where the support she had received had been most valuable.

We also heard from Rob Dye and Jo Barnard of Morrama, a design team who work with start ups to help them develop concepts in to product propositions; Cara O’Sullivan whose mediacl technology start-up has been accepted into CRL; and from Oscar Daws, currently working for Made in Brunel, who has just applied to CRL.

Chair Andrew Ward rounded the event up by returning to his introduction. The makers panel had shown clearly that the motivation of makers, designers and new manufacturers is not wholly about making money, they are driven to make lives better.

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