It is fitting that the upcoming expansion of NextFab Studio
, the two year-old "gym for innovators" that features digital fabrication tools and the opportunity for most anyone to create most anything, will bring it to a new flagship location at a former custom ironwork shop run by old-world craftsmen.
NextFab announced last week it will be growing in a big way from its original space in the University City Science Center
at 3711 Market Street, where it has doubled membership in the last six months and tripled revenue between 2010 and 2011.
And inside its new facility, expected to open by early July, NextFab2 will look to create the latest edition of the creative economy, just like when slabs of iron were being shaped decades ago at the new site at 2025 Washington Ave.
"As our members increase in number and skill and the reputation of our design, engineering and custom fabrication services has grown, an increasing number of members and clients want to take on projects that fall outside of that size range, or which need more privacy or more intense around-the-clock effort," says NextFab president and founder Evan Malone.
Indeed, the new facility in Southwest Center City/Graduate Hospital should provide ample space: 21,000 square feet of equipment, expert staff, classes, workshops and accessible design, engineering and custom fabrication services.
Media-based architecture and design firm inHabit
has reconfigured the building, which will provide private studios with 24/7 access, 14-foot ceilings, CNC water-jet cutter, CNC machining center, CNC router, more advanced 3D printers and a chemistry and micro-fabrication lab.
According to Malone, NextFab2 will have the layout and space for the big tools necessary for massive projects. There will be drive-in loading/unloading, a forklift and crane, a vehicle lift and facilities for car and motorcycle customization and electric-fuel conversion. There are also plenty of lighter touches, like a street-level cafe, space for exhibition and sales of products and art, and dedicated classroom spaces.
NextFab has come a long way in a short time. Revenue in 2011 was almost $500,000 with a membership that numbers 150. Full-time teaching and consulting staff has more than doubled to 17 professional artists, engineers and designers. Classes, of which there are 30 and range from Digital Embroidery to using a CNC Plasma Cutter, often fill up a month in advance.
"Our members are now successfully selling book scanners, laser-cut home decor and fashion products, custom speakers and more that they make at NextFab," says Malone.
Part of NextFab's aim is to reduce the learning curve associated with digital fabrication and foster an environment of innovation that transcends culture and education backgrounds.
"In traditional mass production you build an expensive factory to cheaply make millions of identical products," says Malone. "Digital Fabrication is an economic game changer because each thing you make can be unique for the cost of changing the picture on the computer screen."
Memberships will be available at the current rate until May 1, when rates will go up to help fund the expansion.
: Evan Malone, NextFab Studio
: Joe Petrucci