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Maker skills in the workplace

Alison visits a factory which utilises maker skills.
Today we’ve come to Jenx, in Sheffield. This is Dan from Jenx. So shall we go and have a little look at your factory? Yes, we’ll have a look around. So can you tell me a little bit about Jenx and what you do here? Yeah, Jenx, we make postural support equipment for children with disabilities. So we tend to work with children with more complex needs. So we make sleep systems, standing frames, therapy aides, and seating systems. Great. We’re really interested in that next generation and how they can really kind of come through into areas of engineering, manufacturing but also the design and things. You do all that in-house? Yes, we do all that in-house.
We try to recruit apprentices as well as high level apprentices and we also do take on fully qualified staff who have been in the market and industry for many years. So we do try and keep that blend because to us, it’s not all about the apprentices. It’s our mix of skills. So I’m really interested in your factory, what you do here, because I can really see the links between engineering, manufacturing you might do as a child. With LEGO or Meccano and that building products and actually real life manufacturing. And I can really see this kind of scalable version of it here. You’re right. What we do is, what we look at as grown-up LEGO, if you like.
So once it gets to the assembly process we have a big kit of parts and some instructions that follow very much a LEGO concept. Here’s your parts. Assemble them. Once you work down the process it goes into dispatch and it’s ready to go. But then we have all the separate processes which help to make those parts. So unlike LEGO, things come out of the box, we make the parts to go in the box as well. So in general we have a fairly linear process flow. So raw material comes in this end of the factory and flows through the processes to the far end of the factory.
Doesn’t always work quite that well because that’s not - life doesn’t work so easily - so things do go backwards and forwards. But in general raw material, plastic and wood, comes in here as the first part of the process. So this is the machine shop. So we have a CNC machine that cuts the wood, a CNC machine that cuts the plastic, but both need some secondary processes to finish. So these guys are doing the secondary processes on wood. So we can go and have a quick look at what they are doing.
There’s a few different processes we’re having here for sanding. Just to take the sharp edges off the wood and get them prepared for the next stage. Because the CNC machine is great for cutting parts out but it doesn’t give you a nice edge for painting. And get rid of all the splinters to make it nice and safe, particularly when they’re with children. So when the parts are done here they move next door into the next process. Let’s go have a look.
So here is a sample of a part that’s come out of the machine shop. So that one’s ready for painting. So if you feel that’s nice and smooth, ready for painting. Oh yeah, it’s really different. Lovely. So that’s the guys and sanders that have got it with a good finish. So that’s ready for painting so it goes into this area and gets painted. Some parts get stencilled on, some may get sprayed straight on. And we can see all the nice bright colours and designs. We can. When those parts are finished they’ll move into our internal stores, which is where the start of the, if you like, LEGO kit comes from. Yeah. But the process involves dyes and some wooden inserts.
They might look such as this where we’ve pressed in here some metal inserts with a thread piece inside. So when the parts are finished you’ve got something to screw the thread into rather than screwing straight into the wood. Gives it a much stronger finish. So we’ve moulded these parts in-house which is a process that, up until two years ago, we didn’t do that. And it’s developing the processes and thinking of new things and changing the way we work to help enhance our products, and bring more appeal to products for parents and children alike. The parts then move on to trolleys in here and move on into the assembly process where the guys will assemble the products. Great.
So this is the sewing team where we sew our own products. We make covers and plinth. So again continuing the theme, this is our extension of our sewing area where we cut our own fabrics. So those skills that we’re seeing being learned within makerspaces, whether that’s in the local library or in a school, they really are transferable. They are very, very transferable. If you could run one of those small ones by just understanding different control methods, you could run one of these, straightaway, and understand it. Not only run it, you can get to the point where you can programme it. The design is only limited by what people can imagine, to a certain extent. You can design it.
Doesn’t necessarily make it manufacturable but we need that concept creation and those initial ideas to come up with new and innovative ways of doing things. And then you have to realise it and say, right, what can we really do? But good to have that imagination… But that’s where you need to start. You need to start with advanced things. They say from crazy ideas that’s where the best ideas really come from. We just need to bring that back into what is really achievable. Yeah. Amazing.

This video was filmed in a busy factory and, as a result, some of the conversation is hard to hear. We would urge you to turn on the captions for this step in the video player.

In this video, Alison heads to the Jenx factory in Sheffield to see how maker skills are being utilised by employers.

Jenx are a company who create developmental equipment for children with special posture support needs and have a long history of utilising maker skills on their factory floor. From the initial template cutting process to the boxes used to deliver their products, everything is built by the company.

What do you think of the of the inclusion of maker skills in the production process?

In this additional video, Alison is visited by engineers from Jenx who deliver the ‘Build-a-Bike’ to her, for inclusion on the MakerMove van. The MakerMove van is an important part of the MakerFutures project.

The MakerFutures programme, run by the University of Sheffield, is an innovative programme that supports the development and running of makerspaces in both formal and non-formal learning spaces. MakerMove is a mobile makerpace that enables the MakerFutures team to deliver maker workshops in a variety of spaces.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

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