MAKERS FROM ALL OVER THE STATE attend MatchBOX Coworking Studio’s maker fair in Lafayette. 
Tony Walters | Pharos-Tribune
MAKERS FROM ALL OVER THE STATE attend MatchBOX Coworking Studio’s maker fair in Lafayette. Tony Walters | Pharos-Tribune
Makerspaces are popping up in cities and towns across Indiana, providing their members access to a variety of tools in a learning environment.

From engineering-oriented pursuits like electronics, robotics and 3-D printing, to more traditional activities like metalworking, woodworking and arts and crafts, the maker culture encompasses a wide array of fields of interest.

These spaces are bringing new life to abandoned buildings, teaching new skills and training people on new technology. Traditional skills like wood and metal working are being passed down to new generations as others are learning how to use 3-D printers, laser cutters, CNC (computer numerical control) machines, soldering irons and tools involved with desktop manufacturing and other digital skills.

While starting and running a makerspace may sound like a challenging endeavor, Indiana Makers exists to ensure a smooth startup and lasting success. They are a nonprofit collaborative of makerspaces in Indiana that educate the public about the movement, advocate for regional spaces, assist with makerspace collaboration and provide knowledge and tool sharing.

Nan and David Braun run Indiana Makers and are the Nation of Makers ambassadors for the state of Indiana. Nan serves SHAK Makerspace in Kokomo as development director, innovation architect and co-founder.

She has a passion for “making makers” and enabling them in the entrepreneurial process.

History

Over 20 years ago in Germany, the idea of a “hackerspace” began. The first one ever established — C-Base — was a place for programmers to meet, work and share ideas.

While these types of spaces have existed at large corporations and universities, C-Base was the first space where any programmer, regardless of their affiliation, could go to collaborate with others.

As cutting-edge technology — like 3-D printers and CNC machines — has become more affordable, hackerspaces eventually branched out to become makerspaces. The idea of a community space focused on innovation in science, technology, engineering, art and math has businesses, commercial spaces and schools and universities across the nation interested in what they can offer to employees, communities, teachers and students alike.

Education

As makerspaces continue springing up, they have the potential to intermingle with educational institutions – particularly trade programs and those teaching STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) subjects.

The maker movement is naturally tied to constructivist theory in education — a model that promotes collaboration, determination, independence, creative problem solving and an authentic preparation for the real world by simulating real-life challenges.

Educators can design classrooms as makerspaces that can act as a catalyst for developing problem solving skills.

For elementary students, rather than using more expensive tools that many makerspaces utilize, it’s possible to create a space that uses simple items found around the house, classroom and school, including recyclable items.

In a classroom makerspace, students often have the freedom to explore their own interests and come up with their own project ideas.

“It becomes a real-world motivation to learn new information or a new skill,” Nan Braun said. “If you do something in a makerspace and you really like it that can lead to a degree or certification path.”

Business

Makerspaces also have the potential to foster entrepreneurship and are currently being utilized as business startups. Makers are using these shared work spaces to meet their demand for affordable access to industrial and commercial tools.

“We have a group at Shak called the Artisan Business Collective,” Nan Braun explained. “Approximately 25 percent of our members are actually making things that they sell.”

In Lafayette, James Wulfgar is the manager of MatchBOX Coworking Studio. According to Wulfgar, makers from throughout the community meet every Monday at noon to collaborate on ideas and designs — and share their successes and failures.

MatchBOX Coworking Studio offers businesses with no physical office location the potential to “rent” an office by obtaining a membership.

Wulfgar described a window cleaning company that needed someone to answer calls and help with accounting paperwork. But the high costs of rent and hiring an employee made them reluctant to do so.

“This company now pays $50 a month for a membership and they can effectively run their business out of our location,” Wulfgar explained.

Many makerspaces will often consider in-kind trades.

“We have a videographer girl who creates promotional videos for us — she gets her membership for free,” Wulfgar said. “We have considered giving IT guys a membership for their services as well.”

Community

Perhaps the greatest resource a makerspace can offer isn’t equipment or tools but the camaraderie of fellow makers who collaborate with each other.

“Every city could benefit from a makerspace,” Wulfgar said. “I believe that most importantly, makerspaces need to be community centers.”

Makerspaces often rely on community donations of tools, equipment and various other supplies. Nan Braun said that donating unused tools and equipment is a great way to contribute to a makerspace.

“Part of what happens out of the maker movement is that people have the opportunity to take tools and things they experiment with and didn’t make full use of — they can donate them to a makerspace for people to make use out of them,” she said.

SHAK Makerspace has also received software licensing donations.

“For our members they would then have access to all of our software — CAD and other things — up until the point they are ready to go into production and sell stuff, they can do all of their development and prototyping here just as a member without the added overhead cost of investing in software licenses.”

Braxton Utsler, lead at the SHAK Makerspace woodshop, said he uses a donated CNC router to create keychains.

Braun noted that makers are not only willing to share their tools but also their years of knowledge.

“One of the best parts about a makerspace is working next to someone,” Braun added. “It leads to cross exposure – working together with someone and learning new things.”

Newer spaces

In downtown Logansport, Legacy Outfitters at 116 S. Sixth St. has been open since last April. It started as a communal wood shop and place for local artisans to sell their works. Its owner invites visitors to be who they are and connect with others through shop activities, social interaction, coffee and music.

Scott Johnson, owner of Legacy Outfitters, said his space is far from the machine shop or auto parts store that formerly occupied the property.

“We offer a location, tools and even help for local community members with their do-it-yourself projects,” Johnson said. “Whether it is something valuable to you that needs some work done, or maybe you want to learn a new skill, come chat with us — we try to be of service to the community in any way we can.”

Johnson encourages those interested in working on a project to reach out to him. He says “there is a sense of satisfaction” from doing the work on a project yourself.

A new group is seeking to bring similar concepts — and a physical makerspace location — to Rochester.

“We formed our board in July of 2018 and have been meeting regularly since then,” said Josh Zehner, president of Round Barn Lab. “We have a total of six board members that all come from different backgrounds and have different occupations, but we all very deeply believe in this makerspace and want to get it running in order to provide value and education for our community.”

Round Barn Lab has been identifying stakeholders in the community who can help turn their thoughts into reality.

According to Zehner, they have been actively seeking spaces large and affordable enough to house their aspirations.

“We are looking for a central location that all our members can easily go to,” he said. “Members will have 24-7 access to the space along with the ability to use all the tools, equipment and facilities.”

The name Round Barn Lab ties into Fulton County’s history — the county has 17 round barns, more than any other county in the state.
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