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How TechShop is bringing the sharing economy to manufacturing

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How TechShop is bringing the sharing economy to manufacturing

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The sharing economy has thrust the concept of paying purely for what you use firmly into the mainstream.  Whereas historically we would regard buying a car, and then not using it for 95% of its life, as very much the norm.  Now though, we regard it as perfectly normal, and infinitely more sensible, to pay for a car as and when we need it.

Not only does this free up the initial capital cost of purchase, it also offloads the costs of maintenance to someone else.  Win, win.  Can this model also apply in the corporate world?

We’ve seen over the past few years a number of examples of platforms emerging to offer such a facility, but many of these have focused around utilizing the property portfolio of a company more effectively by letting it out.

These efforts have been touted both as making economic sense, but also in terms of placing those organizations at the centre of the local business ecosystem.

It’s interesting, but I think an even better example comes from the efforts made by Ford and GE in the past few years.

Ford TechShop

TechShop is a project that launched in Detroit a few years ago.  The concept is a simple one.  Users are provided with a 17,000 square foot facility equipped with around $1 million worth of equipment and machinery.

Think of it like a gym, but instead of paying a monthly fee for access to fitness machinery and equipment, you’re paying for access to cutting edge engineering and fabrication equipment.

The project was sufficiently attractive that Ford quickly got on board with it.  Ford employees that come up with an innovative idea are encouraged to use the TechShop to work on and develop that concept.

After the first year of the partnership, Ford revealed that the number of patentable ideas per employee had jumped by 50%.

“There was a time not so long ago in this business where outside ideas were not readily considered,” Ford said at the time. “Since TechShop memberships were added to help enhance Ford’s invention incentive program, invention disclosures have increased by more than 50 percent.”

GE Garages

A similar concept is also underway at GE.  The project, called GE Garages, was launched in 2012 with help from TechShop and the likes of Skillshare and Quirky to provide an advanced manufacturing lab for enthusiasts.

The aim is very much to promote and support innovation in manufacturing, by providing access to things like 3D printers, CNC mills, laser cutters and injection molding.  The partnership with Skillshare is providing members with access to special classes to help build their skills.

The facilities were initially launched as a kind of pop-up road tour, traveling around America, and, more recently, around the world.  Interestingly, the first stop on their world tour has been Lagos, Nigeria.

“We opened up a Garage in Lagos to bring to life this idea of advanced manufacturing in a critical market for GE—sub-Saharan Africa—to open up opportunities to work with entrepreneurs and to work with groups to spur entrepreneurship,” GE said. “There will be an ongoing skills development.”

Unlike the Ford partnership, GE Garages are branded as free spaces for aspiring builders to go and learn new skills and try out new technologies.

Both the Ford and GE projects are great examples of how organizations are both leveraging assets in a more sensible way, but also tapping into knowledge and insights from a wide range of sources.

Just as organizations hope to be a start-up hub by opening up their office facilities, GE and Ford hope to be a manufacturing hub by teaming up with the likes of TechShop.

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