SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Sep 12, 2013 - Autodesk officially opened a 27,000 sq ft 2 floor dream workshop on San Francisco's waterfront, close to its Market St office. The Autodesk Workshop at Pier 9 has in it a boat load of shiny new machines - saws, 3D printers galore, water jet cutter, CNC machines, welders, sewing machines... The whole list is long. It has everything you might need to make something, maybe anything, Even food. Its commercial test kitchen has a Sub-Zero gas range. I want one. The mayor, his honor Ed Lee is on hand for a "ribbon-grinding" ceremony. When do you see that?
Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk (the tall one) gets ready to grind the steel ribbon, officially opening Autodesk's waterfront expansion, with hizzoner, mayor of San Francisco Ed Lee (the short one). The press is kept a safe distance away.
Autodesk has made incursions into the manufacturing of products recently, though for most of its history it been content to aid design. It has partnered with Tech Shop, courted the maker movement and bought CAM vendor HSMWorks. But this dream shop, more than anything, signifies a serious intent to move into the manufacturing realm.
But it is manufacturing unlike your father's manufacturing. There is not reek of cutting oil, not a floor of curly metal chips, not the rows of towering milling machines and armies of uniformed machinists, not the reaming of 8 cylinder in a V8. This is not the stuff of Detroit but the cutting edge (no pun intended) of San Francisco. Not a warehouse of old machines and old men but prime real estate down the street from the gourmet shops at Ferry Building. The stuff of San Francisco is hi-tech, of VC money, green buildings. The shop intends to be 75% reliable on solar power. It is LEED certified.
The dream shop means to be filled with the inspired young ones, eager to make whatever is their whim, such as a most unlikely wine bottle holder for their Chardonnay, or whatever might look good wrapped around their iPhones, or some project that will be a big hit on Kickstarter. Those with imagination of the next big thing but without the patience for engineers to design it and machinists to cut it., they can have it in their hands today. Think it. Make it. Manufacturing 2.0 is personal. It short circuits traditional manufacturing.
Who Gets In?
Unlike TechShop, the other dream shop which is sold like a "gym membership" to the public and has already stamped itself in several cities, Autodesk's shop is open currently to "select" Autodesk employees who have passed a safety course and undergone a short training for each of the machine they plan to use and "Artists in Residence," a program brought over with Instructables.com, the how-to-make-or-do-anything website acquired by Autodesk two years ago. The term "artist" is to be applied loosely, I'm told, offering hope to those with more prosaic projects.
Who Lives There?
Housed at Pier 9 is the Autodesk Consumer Group, which includes the entire Instructables team, the 123D team and the somewhat stealthy advanced research group who we are publishing papers on synthetic biology, nano-technology and programmable matter, whatever that is. About Autodesk Research.
What Business is This of Autodesk?
Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, an avid woodworker (pictures in WSJ) who speaks passionately about being able to making things, rather than just designing them, has now steered his ship even further into uncharted waters. Clearly, Carl considers design a job only started. CAD insiders have long speculated that Autodesk would buy up CAM companies. Autodesk did finally buy a CAM company (HSMWorks) but it was a small one. Autodesk was not attempting to buy its way into CAM, like it did with CAE, gobbling up one analysis software vendor after another for a total of $500 million. No, it is chasing artists, craftsmen, hobbyists, inventors... who collectively represent millions of people, maybe tens of millions if you count every one who has even an inkling of wanting to make something.
Carl has been building a go-cart for his son. So he says. I notice the rails on the go-cart allow the seats to go way back. Carl is well over 6 feet tall. He has been "calibrating" the machines in the shop, he jokes, not able to wait til the place officially opened.
Fishermans Wharf, Alcatraz and... a Machine Shop
There was talk of a revolution in manufacturing. "This technology is infiltrating everything we do" and "redefining manufacturing." says Mayor Lee. Sure enough, growing replacement organs was mentioned. 3D printing of guns was not. Manufacturing "onshore" was possible now, a wishful answer to years of offshoring. "New economy" may be a reference to repurposing Pier 9, once a transit shed. What seemed like a crazy idea -- a machine shop on some of the most expensive real estate on the world, San Francisco's waterfront, was made to sound like a natural, almost necessary partnership. Clean, modern, young.. a perfect marriage of the Bay Area's high tech and the next big thing --3D printing, a fever that is gripping so many and fueling imaginations.
Nobody is mentioning what this all costs. Millions, but how many? Waterfront space in a city already known for sky high rent is about as expensive as it gets. Unless Autodesk got a sweet deal from the city, $5/sf per month would put the rent at $135,000.
Luckily, the groups assembled here are not pressured by pesky demands of profitability. A showcase of a workshop is all that is expected of young, bright minds. Assemble a hundred of them and one might maybe one will make the next iPhone, or at least the next widely funded Kickstarter project.
Better articles and photos here:
Autodesk Opens Pier 9 Workshops, Patrick Hoge, SF Business Times
Inside Autodesk’s New San Francisco Workshop, Signe Brewseter, gigaom.com
Autodesk Opens New Workshop for Advanced Manufacturing & Making in Port of San Francisco - In the Fold, by Autodesk, Sep 13, 2013
Mayor Lee Celebrates New Autodesk Offices at Pier 9 - cull coverage of ceremony on YouTube, 21 minute video