TechShop To Open Public Workshop on the SF Peninsula

Need a place to build your stuff in the San Francisco bay area?
San Mateo, CA , April 22, 2006 -- Jim Newton and Ridge McGhee announced
this week that they are forming a project called "TechShop", which will be an open-access public workshop located on the San Francisco peninsula.
"There are a lot of people on the peninsula who want to make things with their hands, including inventions, robots, and all sorts of things," said TechShop's founder, Jim Newton. "The problem is that very few people can put their own machine shop and fabrication facility together."
That's where TechShop comes in.
TechShop will provide members with inexpensive daily or monthly unlimited access to a full range of tools and equipment including milling machines, lathes, sheet metal equipment, welders, plastic casting and vacuum forming stations, electronic circuit design and prototyping tools, a 3D printer, laser cutter, automotive tools, keyway cutters, tachometers and torque meters, scales, and just about every other tool and machine you would ever need.
"We will also offer one-hour 'Building Block' classes to get you safely up-to-speed on a tool or machine, as well as longer term in-depth classes," said co-founder Ridge McGhee. "We will also offer a range of programs for kids and kids and parents, including programs for home-schooled kids."
"If people want to learn how to use a tool like a welder or a milling machine, they have to take a class at a local college or school, and take some extra lab time. But after the school-required project is completed, you no longer have access to the shop. Later when you want to use your new skill for a project of your own, you can't get access to the equipment. TechShop turns this model on its head," said Newton.
TechShop is scheduled to open in July of 2006 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Daily unlimited access is planned to be priced at $25, and monthly unlimited access is planned to be $100. Newton and Ridge plan to offer members access to the TechShop facility 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
TechShop is an open-access public workshop for people who like to work with their hands with metals, plastics, wood and electronics but do not have access to a shop or equipment.
More information is available at the TechShop web site at http://www.techshop.ws/.
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I wish there was something like this here in San Diego.
Kudos for Jim!
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Padu wrote:

John B., who you met at one of the SD meetings, had this idea a while back. We talked about it, but in addition to the sizable startup costs, we realized the liability insurance would about do you in (waivers are seldom adequate, and people sue regardless of the paper they've signed). I'm not sure how Jim and Ridge are handling this, but it's what keeps most auto parts stores from allowing you to work on your car on their parking lot. We Americans are funny: we cut our thumb on someone else's property and we sue *them*, even though it's our fault!
Good luck to Jim and Ridge, though. It's a cool idea, and I hope they can make a go of it.
-- Gordon
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    --FWIW I talked with Jim at the Makers Faire and he said they'd like to "franchise" the idea in some way, so you might want to get in touch and find out how they're overcoming the legal hurdles and get in on the fun. Heck, I'd *love* it if the wife dragged me along to go visit the kids (who live in your area), if it meant I could escape to a shop like this, heh.
--
"Steamboat Ed" Haas : I'll have the roast duck
Hacking the Trailing Edge! : with the mango salsa...
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steamer wrote:

I had this idea independently not long ago. For a long time I've lived in apartments with no easy way to build heavier projects. Now I don't have to deal with all the headaches of starting this up myself.
The great thing is I'm moving to the Bay Area next month, and will DEFINITELY be checking this out.
So if anyone goes to this, see you there. Oh, and Maker Faire next year...so sad I missed it last week.
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steamer wrote:

Not sure how much traction Jim will have in franchising an idea, but the thing about legal liability is that there's no way to really "deal" with it except to have lots of insurance. Having power tools around people who have not been fully trained on them scares the s**t out of me, as a business owner, but if anything, the people who get into this will be successful simply by accepting this as a business risk. That's the main barrier to entry that I see in such such a venture. I have no doubt it will prove successful.
-- Gordon
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Gordon McComb wrote:

I'm actually worried about the whole success aspect. While I really look forward to this and fully intend to be a member, I don't know if they can get enough members to offset the huge investment cost. It depends on the quality of the tools they are buying. For example, if they bought a used regular mill and converted it to CNC, the price would be multiple tens of thousands of dollars different. But then they don't have the state-of-the art technology they seem to be advertising.
To do a little math, I heard numbers like "hundreds" as far as people that showed interest. Assume they get 300 people who actually use it...I'm being generous for a startup. If 150 people do the 100/mo option and 150 people do the 25/day option and use the shop twice, that's a total of $22,500 for the month, or $270,000 a year, before taxes. Now, they have to pay taxes, the aforementioned liability insurance, rent or payments on the space (which will have to be pretty large), heating and electric and water bills, property assessment. And from what's left over they have to pay for the machines, the retooling when bits and blades wear out, etc.
And if they assume many more people will be using the shop, it begins to sound very crowded. There will be a critical point where it's not worth paying for the membership because the available machine time isn't there. And the only way to fix it is to buy more equipment, resulting in more cost.
To be honest, I think the $100/month is infeasible from a business standpoint. If they can get thousands of members who only use the place 5 days a month so the 100 dollar option is cheaper, then I see it working. But I don't know if that many people fit all the demographic requirements to be regular customers.
Again, I HOPE it works, because I want this. I'm just mystified at this point how it actually might work.
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cbm5 wrote:

Not sure about all the tools, but the "slide show" on the Web site seems to suggest many of the tools are used, some fairly heavily. They might have been donated, or from surplus, or from someone's own garage. Nothing wrong with well-made used tools, as long as their safety features have not been removed.

I guess if it were my business I'd probably charge additionally for some of the machines, if not only to offset the higher cost of operating them (and getting a replacement when they wear out) but also to keep people from hogging them. The laser machine or 3D ABS former has a definite higher cost associated with it than say, the band saw.
-- Gordon
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Gordon McComb wrote:

In that case all they have to worry about is maintaining the space and tools and buying the insurance. Since this is a 501c they shouldn't have too much trouble breaking even. I'm really going on experience with commercial shops, where a $150,000 tool that does the same things as a $10,000 tool still pays for itself in either faster production or greater reliability. For self-operating hobbyists, the shop isn't getting sued if a part is 0.001" off.

That might happen in the future, but for now it looks like the barrier to operating the complicated stuff will be a mandatory class and checkout. At the very least that will ensure users get the job done somewhat faster since they have a clue.
I haven't heard much about materials stocking...a lot of people have no idea where to get stock metals and plastics, and buying in small quantities can be expensive. If they stocked some basic materials people could buy, that would remove yet another barrier. Same idea for electronics, it would be valuable to have a good stock of common components and hardware, to sell at cost. I know they'll have some electronics equipment but a decent sized build/test lab would be useful.
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cbm5 wrote:

I think it might be more than that. There's bit and blade replacement costs, which for some of the tools can be hefty (replacing a C02 laser in the laser cutter can cost several thousand), tool replacement costs, tool repair costs, ongoing utility costs (electricity, gas, water), etc. etc.
A non-profit doesn't always mean lower *operating* costs, especially if the principals draw a salary from the business (for which they have to pay income tax, as only the 501(c) doesn't pay tax). Also, the side-effect of have a 501(c) business is that principals can be personally held accountable under certain circumstances, which is an additional risk for anyone setting up such an entity. Because it's a public trust there are additional requirements made on the people who run it.

The lawsuit exposure I was thinking about was more personal injury. I believe (though I'm no expert here) that a 501(c) would also need directors and officers insurance, which can cost several thousand per year.

Maybe, maybe not. Even with instruction and class certification injuries could occur, and they could just as easily occur during the class. Some of these tools require skill, not just knowledge. Seasoned pros get injured and killed on the job, and contractors carry immense insurance to pay for it. While mandatory classes could reduce the risk of accidents during a customer's non-supervised use of the tool, it doesn't necessarily reduce the potential for lawsuits, and it doesn't alleviate the need for insurance.
-- Gordon
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Gordon McComb wrote:

It's not fun to see what happens when someone gets a jacket sleeve caught in the lathe they were operating. I hope they have experienced people roaming the shop floor watching for this stuff like hawks.
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cbm5 wrote:

About 25 years ago I worked as a trainer in an industrial plant that specialized in military connectors. Place was full of metal lathes, hydraulic presses, progressive stamping/punching machines, etc. They had yellow lines painted on the floor to show the work envelope of the machine. If you were not the operator, and you were standing within the line while it was operating, it was cause for dismissal.
Operators of the hydraulic presses were required to sit in a harness where cables were attached to cuffs around their wrists. The cables pulled tight when the press went down, making it impossible to have a hand in the way. The machine would locked out if the operator were not seated, and buckled in.
I regularly stop by ULINE to pick up packaging material. Their forklift operator is in a pull-back harness that essentially prevents him from operating the machine in an unsafe manner, or being thrown from the machine and having it run over him. All businesses I am familiar with require a person to be certified before they operate the machine.
I think this kind of care in operating safety goes beyond "recommended but optional" in today's business setting.
But again, I laud the concept of TechShop, but I'm glad I'm not running it! <g>
-- Gordon
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    (SNIP)     --Actually, when I get to thinking about it, the two *most* dangerous shop tools are for woodworking and will probably not be part of their quiver: notably the jointer/planer and the tablesaw. Now, there are a bevy of woodworking classes going on at the Woodcraft stores and presumably a few folks are in there working on their own projects. The question is: how does Woodcraft structure their protection from irate fingerless dropouts? Any business model along those lines ought to work.
--
"Steamboat Ed" Haas : I'll have the roast duck
Hacking the Trailing Edge! : with the mango salsa...
  Click to see the full signature.
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steamer wrote:

Don't know about Woodcraft particularly, but manufacturers and retailers of power tools have to pay some pretty hefty liability insurance costs (some hundreds of thousands of dollars per year), but they also rely on existing case law that generally finds in the manufacturer's/retailer's favor as long as the product meets or exceeds minimum recognized safety standards. They still get sued, and they still have to pay for that defense, in addition to the insurance costs.
The problem with a school, club, or business than loans out tools for use on their premises is that even with a waiver personal injury claims could be made because the management "knew, or should have known" the inherent dangers involved in using the tool. I think it would be particularly difficult to defend such a lawsuit if instruction is not required prior to the use of the tool.
Regardless of whether the busines is an LLC, 501(c), or whatever, lawsuits can still be filed against the business, and they still need the liability insurance, which costs what it costs. Woodcraft's classes (not so much open-ended tool rental) often cost money. The $20, $50, or whatever they charge for a class may go more to the cost of the insurance! They are, after all, in the business of selling the tools to you, so they make money on both ends.
-- Gordon
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