Manufacturing, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Geek Group provides access to technology

May 9, 2014
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Geek Group
The Geek Group’s technical expertise and work space could come in handy for West Michigan businesses. Courtesy The Geek Group

A nonprofit “makerspace” now allows both individuals and manufacturers to use its equipment and technology.

The Geek Group, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Grand Rapids, is a science and manufacturing-based makerspace — which, in general, is a center that provides the necessary tools and technology to get a job done. The Geek Group last month announced a new membership program for area manufacturers, allowing access to its machinery, tools, software and other equipment needed for a specific job, such as reworking programming, or designing and creating prototypes for a new idea.

Josh Spencer, director of development at The Geek Group, said the new membership program will assist local manufacturers by allowing them to use the facility at 902 Leonard St. NW when they need extra capacity, specific machinery to fill orders, or the use of computer-aided design coding using The Geek Group’s equipment without shutting down their own machines.

“There are a lot of smaller manufacturing companies in the West Michigan region that don’t have access to this type of machinery,” said Spencer. “This gives them another avenue to accept orders they weren’t able to accept and, in the process, hopefully they get more of the jobs and eventually hire new staff — and eventually get enough to justify purchasing that machinery and that way create jobs in West Michigan.”

The facility houses fully operational workshop spaces including a high voltage lab, machine shop, audio and visual production space, a robotics lab, a woodworking shop, a computer lab and an electronics lab. The machine shop has high-end CNC machinery including a 5-axis mill, a lathe with live action tooling and a sheet router.

According to Spencer, the new corporate membership is offered for $1,500 per year. It includes unlimited access to the facility during open hours with five membership cards that can be used interchangeably with staff members.

As a nonprofit, Spencer said The Geek Group’s focus is different than other makerspaces in the area, but ultimately he anticipates working with them.

“There are things that we provide that other makerspaces don’t provide and aren’t planning to provide, so we can reach different individuals. We focus more on education than other makerspaces do, so that is a big differentiator for us,” said Spencer.

“We see ourselves working with those other makerspaces to fill in the gaps they are not able to provide through their membership. So we want to work together as opposed to seeing ourselves as competition.”

The Geek Group has provided science demonstrations for troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It offers free tours every Saturday and has held an open house for the public to learn more about the technology used in the facility. It held a 3D Printing Party April 23 to allow the public to view the 3D printing equipment, ask questions, and even print a file of their own design using the Autodesk 3D printing software.

“We wanted to give the public the opportunity to come in, ask questions, see the technology that is very much a part of what we do,” said Spencer. “As we say, access is everything, and we wanted to expand access to equipment, technology and software to the general public.”

Sponsored by Afinia 3D and Autodesk, the April 23 event had more than 50 people in attendance; an additional 250 people participated through The Geek Group’s online network.

Based in Minnesota, Afinia 3D is affiliated with Microboards Technology and offers specialty printing solutions; Autodesk is a 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. Autodesk recently donated approximately $250,000 in software to The Geek Group, according to Spencer.

Access to the equipment and software was free of charge, and experts were available to answer questions. The organization anticipates hosting similar events in the future to highlight other types of technology and machinery.

The Geek Group officially opened in the 42,000-square-foot facility in February, after renovating the space for the last several years. With more than 25,000 members in 142 countries, the makerspace provides instructional online videos and support and also broadcasts through an Internet relay chat room, a YouTube channel and two online broadcast stations.

Facility membership is available for students, entrepreneurs, small businesses and hobbyists as well as businesses. Individual membership for facility access is $40 per month, while many forums, newsletters, events and web content is free. For information, see thegeekgroup.org.

The nonprofit organization has a chapter in western Massachusetts and is anticipating opening a chapter in the Seattle area.

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