What are ‘Makers’ made of?
A site visit interview.

Makers are followers of a subculture movement with roots in the USA. They are people who want to make, create and shape something with their hands in a thoroughly industria­lized and mecha­nized world. As repre­sen­ta­tives of a technology-oriented do-it-yourself culture they carry certain features of the hacker culture – and transfer them from IT space into the world of things.[1] However, since the Maker movement is a subculture, most managers and specia­lists from estab­lished companies have only heard of it at best. As part of the future_bizz think tank “Get to know and under­stand the maker scene” on July 18, 2018, we visited the TATCRAFT maker­space in Frankfurt on Main with members and guests from our cross-industry network. The site visit interview with Fabian Winopal and Tim Fleischer, both managing directors of TATCRAFT provides intere­sting insights into a culture that is quite exotic to many industry repre­sen­ta­tives.

future_bizz: Fabian, Tim, as you may have noticed, many of our network members were ashonished by the potential possi­bi­lities of your Maker Center today. Does that surprise you?

Fabian Winopal: Well, we already have contacts with industry — sometimes they support us with machines and resources, sometimes we support them in developing new product and business ideas. We often experience that industrial companies expect us to be total exotics – only to find out that even though we are committed Makers, we are also deter­mined to bring something to market. We are interested in viable products.

Tim Fleischer: Here, we certainly have a kind of bridge function. We see ourselves still as part of a movement that strives for the “democra­tiz­ation of means of production”. Colla­bo­ration, parti­ci­pation and social commitment play a pivotal role. But we also want to remain open to commercial goals and a certain principle of compe­tition – and further develop in this direction.

future_bizz: Do you rub up the scene the wrong way with your “hybrid” approach?

Tim: That’s kind of inevi­table. In the Nation of Makers, many feel committed to the FabLab Charter, which excludes commercial objec­tives. But, even if there is a noticeable skepticism against us and our market affinity in the scene, we can in most cases convince doubters. We polarize, but also gain respect with what we achieve for Makers and their community. At Tatcraft, we give them space to live out their creativity on over 1,500 square meters and to turn their innovative ideas into reality on machines for a total of almost 2 million euros. The business is partly financed by membership fees, just like in a gym. However, this is not enough to finance the entire opera­tional business, let alone the new, innovative machines and techno­logies that are used here. To put our business on a sound basis, we offer partnerships with companies. Employees from partner companies get free access to our facilities and network in exchange for the support by their firms. This can result in unexpected synergies.

future_bizz: How do you get innovative machines and techno­logies?

Tim: We get our ideas at trade fairs, but also from our community of industry partners, artists, amateur craftsmen, supporting companies, and start-ups. Some machines are rented from manufac­turers for a small fee, some are financed. Machine manufac­turers can test the limits of what their machines are really capable of. Artists in parti­cular have very demanding tasks, which are rather defined by creative imagi­nation than by what is feasible. When we say that new machines are “put to the the artist’s test”, then we really want to know what technology can do at its limits. Both, the machine manufac­turers and we, benefit from the knowledge gained from this approach. It is, after all, a classic win-win situation.

future_bizz: Speaking of win-win business. What other oppor­tu­nities are there for industrial companies to coöperate with you?

Fabian: Companies with ideas in the early innovation phase can develop them to the prototype stage. Their employees come to us and can work on their project here, in a neutral space, outside the usual routines, environ­ments and processes. In addition, they have many oppor­tu­nities to get ideas from the community and to be inspired by the founders working here. Our community includes craftsmen, artists, start-ups from all areas of the pre-seed and seed phase, gearheads and hobbyists, stand builders. In our case, we have experi­enced that the results in colla­bo­ration are simply getting better. This does not mean that every process must be “open source”. If desired, we can also protect companies against theft of ideas through separate areas and contracts. However, it must always be borne in mind that an innovative idea represents only 5% of the business. Without the opera­tional know-how, business ideas cannot be “stolen” so easily.

future_bizz: So, open source is not a must for you?

Tim: Absolutely not. Not only estab­lished companies, but also many start-ups are striving for a patent. The definition of “open source” depends on the business model of the company as well as on the project or product. This also applies to start-ups that we develop ourselves. Some ideas are developed in a protected space, some not. When we say “openness”, it also means an attitude, an open attitude towards new solutions and approaches, but also towards the principle of failure. Employees from industrial companies can parti­cipate and be inspired by this openness.

future_bizz: What are your further goals? In which direction do you want to develop in the future?

Fabian: As a company, we want to grow in breadth and at the same time expand our techno­lo­gical know-how. We do not strive to become a chain business, because we don’t want to lose the Maker spirit. Access to and inspi­ration from the maker community is vital to us. By “growing in breadth” we mean not only the expansion of our business base, but also the develo­pment of new subject areas such as robotics. There is undreamt-of potential in the combi­nation of crafts­manship and high-tech – for us and the industry, who can use us to place their proto­typing on an agile basis outside ongoing processes and struc­tures.

future_bizz: Fabian, Tim, thank you very much for the interview.

Fabian & Tim: It was great that you were with us, and it was fun to spend the day with you. We, from our part, have also gained good insights.

Notes:

[1] Cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker_culture

Impres­sions from the Tatcraft Maker Center.

For more info please visit: https://www.tatcraft-werkstatt.de/