Reporting Matt Roush
ALLEN PARK — A new free-form innovation center has opened near Rotunda Drive and the Southfield Freeway, less than two miles from Thomas Edison’s preserved Menlo Park idea factory at Greenfield Village.
You get the idea that the most prolific inventor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would be right at home at TechShop. So would Henry Ford, who built his first horseless carriage in his backyard shed. In TechShop might just be the next Alexander Graham Bell or Nikola Tesla or Marie Curie or Elijah McCoy or the Wright brothers.
TechShop is the idea of Jim Newton, a serial entrepreneur from the Silicon Valley who’s owned several software and Web development companies, but who’s also always had a weird hobby — using expensive machinery like welding gear and machine tools to build various inventions and robots. He’s a former Battlebots competitor and consultant to the TV show Mythbusters.
“I wanted to be able to play with all these extreme, expensive tools, use all this crazy stuff and build all this crazy stuff,” Newman said. “I started thinking about how I could do that without having to work for somebody else building things. And I hit upon the idea of running it like a health club.”
That’s precisely the idea behind TechShop. For $100 a month, you get access to more than a million dollars’ worth of shop tools, design software and computers.
If you don’t know how to weld or use a cutting tool, no problem — TechShop will teach you, for $60 for a basic course lasting a few hours. (Right now TechShop Detroit is running grand opening specials on both membership and classes.)
TechShop held a grand opening for the press Friday, and will have its grand opening for the public Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s located at 800 Republic Drive, across a parking lot from the Detroit Lions’ practice facility.
But TechShop actually opened around Christmas for its major customer so far, Ford Motor Co. And it’s partly because of Bill Coughlin, president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies LLC, the automaker’s intellectual property and innovation arm.
“I read a story about TechShop and gave them a call,” Coughlin said. “I though it would be good for Ford and good for the community. Our unit tries to innovate. We do brainstorming sessions with engineers. But we have no facilities to fabricate anything we dream up. Well, this is it. Here, we can fabricate our ideas.”
Coughlin said Ford is now offering employees with approved ideas three months’ free membership in TechShop, and is offering all Ford employees a 50 percent membership discount.
He said Ford guaranteed to put about 2,000 people through TechShop this year, prompting TechShop to locate here ahead of schedule.
“Here, anyone can have access to $1 million in prototyping tools for $99 a month,” Coughlin said.
Autodesk is also offering free home access to Autodesk Inventor design software along with membership.
The shop will be open to members from 9 a.m. to midnight, and will eventually move to 24 hours as memberships increase.
More about TechShop Detroit at
TechShops are now located in Menlo Park, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., San Francisco, Calif. and San Jose, Calif. New TechShops are scheduled to open later this year in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Pa., Austin, Texas, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chandler, Ariz.
The 38,000-square-foot TechShop was formerly a Ford dealer training center and customer feedback office.
Ford says that since its Employee Patent Incentive Award program began providing free TechShop memberships to Ford employees submitting inventions, invention submissions have risen 30 percent from year-earlier levels.
Dozens of Ford employees have already received TechShop awards for a variety of ideas that may be incorporated into future Ford vehicles, or licensed to other companies.
More about how Ford innovators are using their memberships at
Every TechShop membership includes:
* Use of all tools and equipment (safety and basic usage class required for some)
* Spacious workshop with large worktables with 115-volt outlets and compressed air
* Use of computer workstations with software including Autodesk Inventor suite
* Wi-Fi with high-speed Internet access
* Free member-only meet-ups and other special events
* Fresh-brewed coffee and hot popcorn
Members can also rent storage space for their projects as well as a limited number of private workshop spaces.