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Article by: Justin Lahart. Tinkering Makes Comeback Amid Crisis. Presentation by: Jordaan W, Keith W, Timothy W. The American Tradition of Tinkering.

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Article by justin lahart

Article by: Justin Lahart

Tinkering Makes Comeback Amid Crisis

Presentation by: Jordaan W, Keith W, Timothy W.

The american tradition of tinkering
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • It’s making a comeback, boosted by renewed interest in hands-on work amid the economic crisis and falling prices of high-tech tools and materials.

  • Modern milling machines are able to shape metal with hairbreadth precision and have revolutionized the industry

The american tradition of tinkering1
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • Blake Sessions, student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a milling machine under his bed in his dorm room

  • He says "It's kind of a ridiculous thing to have, [but] in today's marketplace you can't only offer a technical aptitude. You have to be able to provide something more."

  • He has been using the mill to make prototypes for a bicycle-sprocket business he's planning on starting

The american tradition of tinkering2
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • Engineering schools across the country report students are showing an enthusiasm for hands-on work that hasn't been seen in years.

  • There were 27% more undergraduates

    who earned mechanical-engineering

    degrees in 2008 than in 2003, according

    to the American Association of

    Engineering Societies.

The american tradition of tinkering3
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • The financial crisis played a role in taking a nascent trend and giving it increased urgency.

  • “I've been here 23 years and I definitely see this trend back to hands-on. A lot of people are pretty disappointed with an image of a career in finance and they're looking for a career that's real,” says Michael Cima, MIT engineering professor

The american tradition of tinkering4
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • Access to tools is becoming much easier

  • Cost for a Computer-Numerical-Controlled (CNC) tools now cost as little as a tenth of what they did a decade ago

  • Blake Sessions says he first looked at such mills assuming the price would be well out of his reach. But his mill cost about $7,000 to buy and set up.

The american tradition of tinkering5
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • Students at Carnegie Mellon University asked to stay at school for a week after exams last spring so they could hang out and build things.

  • Ed Schlesinger, a professor there, says that after a long period where theoretical work dominated at engineering schools, "when students talk to each other now, it's 'So, what cool project are you working on?' It's not enough to say I took these classes and got an A."

  • Stanford University's Product Realization Laboratory, where students learn machining, welding and other hands-on skills, has seen membership jump to 750 from 450 over the past five years.

The american tradition of tinkering6
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • Workshops for people to share tools and ideas -- called "hackerspaces" -- are popping up all over the country; there are 124 hackerspaces in the U.S.

  • SparkFun Electronics Inc., which sells electronic parts to tinkerers, expects sales of about $10 million this year, up from $6 million in 2008

  • "Make" magazine, with articles on building items such as solar hot tubs and autopilots for robots, has grown from 22,000 subscribers in 2005 to more than 100,000 now. Its annual "Maker Faire" in San Mateo, Calif., attracted 75,000 people this year.

The american tradition of tinkering7
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • Rapid Prototyping Machines are 3D printers that lay down layers of materials like plastic to form objects.

  • The technology is used by manufacturers to make prototypes, with industrial machines typically costing tens of thousands of dollars.

The american tradition of tinkering8
The American Tradition of Tinkering

  • From hacker spaces to profitable businesses, tinkering is experiencing a renaissance. WSJ's Andy Jordan explores some of the "stuff" people are making with new devices that encourage hacking and creativity.