TechShop, located in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center, celebrates its fourth anniversary next month, and even though it has 17,000 square feet stocked with millions of dollars’ worth of advanced machines and specialized tools, it is little-known to the people who can make use of it.
TechShop is a membership chain with 10 locations nationwide, and Chandler’s facility at 249 E. Chicago St. is the only one in Arizona.
Ahwatukee resident Scott Savage, a reliability engineer at Medtronic in Tempe, said he joined through work in order to “learn rapid prototyping tools like the 3D printer, laser cutters, CNC mill and metal shop.”
“I’ve worked to build several projects out of cardboard or 3D printed plastic to understand basic sizes and shapes before submitting for more expensive designs with hand tooling,” said Savage.
“I’ve also gotten my two daughters, Sabine and Teagan, involved in TechShop,” he added. “They’re limited on tool access due to age, but we create a lot of STEM projects using the laser cutter and 3D printers. They also have a lot of fun with the screen printer making custom t-shirts, and the laser cutter creating custom water bottle patterns.”
Sabine, an Altadena Middle School seventh-grader, and Teagan, a fourth-grader at Kyrene Monte Vista, have also printed their own fidget spinners. Their mother, Narry, is a medical student but made time to take a chocolate-mold class at TechShop.
“I’d encourage other families to get their kids involved and explore designing, making and crafting toys or whatever they can dream up,” said Savage.
“TechShop has many free software packages that are simple to use for designing and making projects,” he added. “We have a lot of fun working on projects that sometimes work and sometimes don’t.”
Members such as luthier Kevin Butler and metal artist Marjorie Risk, both of Mesa, are among the members who use TechShop equipment to help grow their small businesses. They wax enthusiastic about its usefulness.
“I’d already started my business building high-end custom bass guitars before joining but was only able to work at it on weekends and after hours at the wood shop where I was employed,” said Butler.
Butler said had it not been for TechShop, growing his business – RockHewer Custom Guitars – wouldn’t have been possible.
“It so happened that shortly after I joined TechShop, that wood shop went out of business. I either had to fully embrace the entrepreneurial spirit or find another day job. I chose the former,” he said, adding:
“For me, to set up shop independently, pay rent and utilities and buy or lease a fraction of the machinery I use here wouldn’t have been possible without going into debt. At TechShop, I pay a very reasonable yearly membership fee. The custom guitars I create take a long time as it is, so my overhead needs to be low.”
Annual membership starts at $95 a month for students and active military, and $150 monthly for others, with a discount for full-year membership payment. There’s also an add-on family membership for $50 more monthly.
TechShop owners describe their business as a “community-based workshop and prototyping studio on a mission to democratize access to the tools of innovation.”
As lofty as that may sound, it holds true for many who make use of its machinery and tools regularly.
“We’ve literally had thousands of students in the last four years,” said Jon Barbara, national director of operations and a Mesa resident. “We’ve invigorated and brought in a lot of entrepreneurs and helped start small businesses. We also engage with the general public, some who don’t even know they’re entrepreneurs.”
Located in the city’s former public works yard, TechShop is an alliance between Chandler and ASU’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
The cavernous facility, with indoor and outdoor work areas, contains cutting-edge tools, equipment and specialized computers with a wide assortment of design software.
“Ultimately our goal is to keep education alive and give entrepreneurs a place to grow,” said Barbara. “In a lot of cases, members are given free rein to do what they like.”
Marjie Risk, a working artist before joining TechShop several years ago, said she faced the dilemma many artists face – making a living out of an art that requires work space, specialized tools and other costly but necessary business expenses.
“Without TechShop, I most likely wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to be successful as an artist, and it probably would have taken much longer,” said Risk who named her business Same Moon Creations in tribute to her grandmother.
“These resources have kept me going and provided the basis for growing my business over the last couple years,” said Risk, who uses TechShop’s welders.
“It often takes some time to develop a following and being able to produce enough inventory for art festivals and galleries,” she added. “TechShop provides the workplace and equipment so I’m able to focus my limited resources on materials and promotion.
The members also provide a great support network for the weekend hobbyist, manufacturer and the serious artist alike.”
For those who aren’t sure where their entrepreneurial or even hobby interests lie, there are low-cost and free classes, including the Safety and Basic Use (SBU) seminar required before using some machines.
Up to 45 active instructors also are available to help facilitate an introduction to the many choices available.
Walk into the facility on a tour, as the public is invited to do anytime, and what’s immediately apparent is the vast selection of machines and tools available.
There are 3D printers, laser cutters, industrial sewing machines, injection molding machines, Edward’s hydraulic iron working machines, an indoor automotive work bay, plastics working equipment, woodworking equipment including a 4 x 8 computer numerically controlled ShopBot router and CNC vinyl cutters.
The list goes on. Members can reserve the machines ahead of time online.
As Risk mentioned, professionals and hobbyists of all ages can be seen discussing individual projects, or engaging in project classes such as the “How to Build Your Own Bluetooth Speaker” and “Building a Director’s Chair.” Both classes are open to anyone over 16.
The menu of classes available covers all interests. Learn blacksmithing basics or leather working, Coptic bookbinding or CorelDRAW, sandblasting and powder coating or 3D printing and finishing techniques.
And TechShop serves youths ages 8 through 17 through after school, Saturday Studios and seasonal camp programs.
Youth programs are part of TechShop’s STEAM initiative: science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics with art expanding on the usual STEM education offerings.
“We started running summer camps and fall camps and after-school programs about five years ago. I feel we’re touching what the future looks like getting kids exposed that might not otherwise have this exposure,” said Barbara.
“We’re seeing a lot of traction with that here in Chandler, and they like the experiences enough they bring the family back with them,” he added. “To me it’s a renaissance.”
A three-day Winter Mini-Camp, for ages 8 and up, includes access to TechShop’s 60W laser butters and 3D printers.
After training, the students are given eight hours of “open build time” to complete their project.
Events coordinator Amanda Tucker, a Mesa resident who’s been with TechShop since it opened, said November and December feature several low-cost ($20, $30) classes and a $10 nonmember class (free to members), “Merry Making: Ornament Build Night,” on Dec. 2. TechShop’s website offers month-at-a-glance class listings.
Information: TechShop.ws or 480-327-0820. TechShop hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. to midnight Monday and Tuesday through Saturday. Online virtual tours are also available.
On Saturday, Nov. 18, TechShop invites the public to its anniversary party open house.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. TechShop hosts tours of the facility, will give free participation in various machine demonstrations with “take-away items,” conduct a free Mentor Series with representatives from Tandy Leather, and offer a chance to meet with patent attorney Michelle L. Gross.
Some of the 1,050 active members’ creations will also be displayed. Some will available for purchase.