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Involving the maker community
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Involving the maker community

In this video, Dr Alison Buxton interviews James Wallbank, a maker in Sheffield, UK.
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Today we’re here at Makers, with the wonderful James, in Sheffield. And James, can you just tell me a little bit about your shop and your workshop and your place here - it’s really interesting - why you’re here and what you do. We sell nice things that’s what a shop does but also we make things. The key process we use is laser cutting. We have looked into 3D print, digital embroidery, embedded electronics, CNC, other technologies. Those have less enterprise potential - OK. - than laser cutting. The kinds of technology that were utterly unaffordable to the microenterprise are now affordable. Even 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have had very much change out of £40-£50,000 to get started.
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Now for under £5,000 you can get started with one of these technologies. And crucially, it means that you can make things accurately, you can repeat the job, and you can make those things very quickly. That implies a whole possibility that there can be super local manufacture. That manufacture can go from being in a big building somewhere far away to being somewhere - something - that is on your street. Now I have to say, it’s compact and bijou. And of course that’s kind of a crucial thing, really, because obviously, like, space costs money. Yeah. You know? So it’s like we’ve tried to get as much in as we possibly can into a really tiny space.
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So we’ve only got what - under two metres in width here to get workbenches and storage for materials and the trusty laser cutter. We’ve got a laser bed here, we put our material on to the bed - it’s got to be a flat surface - we’re developing the laser light at the back. A laser tube which is effectively a strip light. Yeah. Which will bounce off a mirror there, a mirror here, which moves along this axis, and a mirror here, which moves along this axis. So we have a lens just here that focuses it down to a tiny point - about one 20th of a millimetre wide. At that point you have very high energy density when you have that.
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And one of the things that starts to happen is ablation - the transformation of solid material into gaseous form without burning it. OK. And that’s how lasering happens. There you go. We’ve got to the point now where we’ve got our material in place. We’ve got - that’s the area that we’re going to work with, so we shut the lid and press go. Wait and see what happens. Oh look, we’ve got a nice little fox.
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Some of these pods are used by other makers so we have like… What makes what we’re talking about when we say making, making. And I think that it has to be about interaction with physical materials. It can’t just be about the digital, about things on the screen. But also it can’t only be about interaction with physical materials. For me you’ve got to have aspects of complexity and repetition. What’s your view on maker education in schools? Do you think it’s important that children develop some of those kind of maker characteristics? Absolutely I do, if what we care about as a nation is innovation. If we think that making products is an important thing.
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If we think that developing new products, if we think that understanding the physical world, is something that we’re going to do.
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And I think and I hope that it is.
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