In 1983, an industrial engineer named Chuck Hull was trying to create a way to harden tabletop material using ultraviolet light. In doing so, he created the first 3-dimensionally printed object. Surgeon Anthony Atala took the stage at the annual TED conference in 2011 and printed a human kidney on stage using a 3-D printer. Last year, Wired (among other news outlets) reported that guns could be printed on 3-D printers, sparking a new debate in gun control. There are now 3-D printed cars, shoes, houses and even human skin. Recently in England, technicians printed the first 3-D hamburger, touching off an interesting conversation about food production, manufacturing and supply. Running off of a Computer-Aided Design file (commonly known as CAD), 3-D printing has become a new force in tech circles and has caught the eye of everyone from humanitarians to prosthetic manufacturers to Comic-Con fans — and even Martha Stewart. As of September 13th of this year, Bellingham has this remarkable technology available to those who want to try it out at the new makerspace, The Foundry. A makerspace is a creative DIY gathering place where people create objects, invent new gadgets or just learn a new technology.
The Foundry offers 3-D design and printing, 2-D conceptual work, laser cutting, electronics, microprocessors such as Arduino, robotics, RC drones, as well as woodworking, sewing and other traditional crafts. “It’s a place where people are invited to collaborate and share their skills, tinker, invent, learn and be inspired,” CEO Mary Elliott Keane said. Elliott Keane came up with the idea for The Foundry when she was working as a pediatric therapist in the school system, and needed to create a splint for a child’s finger. All of the commercial splints were too big, so she asked a friend to create one using a 3-D printer.
Elliott Keane chose Bellingham for its unique mixture of artists and scientists, and for its deep sense of community. She knew she couldn’t run The Foundry by herself, so she employed Troy Greig, as the Chief Technician. Greig came to The Foundry in July as an interested member, but ended up joining the team as the Chief Technician. He fixes the expensive machines if they break and will teach some of the classes The Foundry hopes to offer soon. Elliott Keane said, “I was so surprised at the fact that such a cool technology is out there, and it is not as hard as it seems to be able to access it.” Some of the classes at The Foundry will include intro and beginning soldering, signal chaining, 3-D modeling, how to properly do 2-D designs, laser cutting, woodworking classes, entry level robotics, quilting classes, general sewing and textile manufacturing classes. No experience is necessary to participate in the classes, and passes are $50 a month or $20 a day. Elliott Keane said, “We don’t just cater to adults or the tech-savvy, we’re an all ages, all abilities space. Whatever idea you’ve got and whatever level you’re coming in at, we can meet you there and help mentor you through your project.”
So are the makerspace participants printing kidneys or guns here in Bellingham? No. Mostly people make jewelry, figurines, costume pieces and small objets d’art. Though most of the people at The Foundry are adults, they have had a 6-year-old use Legos and electroluminescent (illuminated) wire for a project. Most makerspaces can’t allow children for insurance reasons, but not so at The Foundry. With an eye on making The Foundry an intergenerational creative and technological space for the whole community, Elliott Keane is also eager to draw in college students, with the hopes that they’ll stay in Bellingham and support the community with thriving small businesses. “Most of the students only have access to the university’s equipment when they are enrolled in that class,” Elliott Keane said. “It’s nice to be available here when they have graduated with all that wonderful knowledge so that they don’t have to move to Seattle.”
The future of technology, and certainly of industrial design, seems to be very much 3-D printing. “A lot of people think ‘Oh, this is in the future,’ but it’s not. It’s here. It’s now,” said Elliott Keane. And thanks to Elliott Keane, the future has arrived in downtown Bellingham.