Interview with Holger Dielenberg of Space Tank Studio
12 October 2017
We jumped at the chance to speak to makerspace founder Holger Dielenberg of Space Tank Studio again about how his maker lab has expanded in recent years. Space Tank Studio has gone from strength to strength, equipping product developers, industrial designers and emerging startups with the skills and resources to thrive. Check out our original conversation about how this leading fabrication space was initially set up.
It's been a while since we spoke to Space Tank Studio - and since then your makerspace concept has exploded. How long has Space Tank been around for and what sort of facilities do you provide?
The last three years have been an incredible journey that’s for sure! Space Tank has a dozen studios for niche manufacturers and product developer startups. We also offer casual day access to the whole facility and skills courses for those who need to do a quick job or learn new techniques. Every single day we have around a dozen people using the Tank to make their products.
We have a huge range of prototyping technology like, 3D printing, vacuum forming, laser cutting and multi axis milling as well as industrial wood and metal working machinery. We also have a spray booth, tons of fabrication space, bronze forge and provide access to business networks.
Space Tank has become the go to makerspace in Melbourne’s incubator scene helping innovators and startups prototype their products, accelerate their brands, establish business networks and reach broader markets.
Why do you feel there is a need for a resource such as Space Tank Studio?
Space Tank is a product development incubator that helps product startups get from bench to business. It’s a high end makerspace that accelerates grass roots innovators towards commercial success and thereby also contributes to Victoria’s economic growth.
Thousands of passionate product developers emerge every year from Melbourne’s top universities and thriving creative scene in fields like medical technology, smart devices, engineering, industrial and furniture design. They are bursting with new product ideas that have global potential and yet Australia’s economic climate is blocking them from reaching their full potential.
Product developers represent an important industry sector that can give the ‘Australian Made’ brand a new heartbeat but they currently face terrible odds against our high priced dollar, rising rent and gutted manufacturing sector. It is crucial that we help them now because information technology, automation and industry 4.0 trends are opening new and exciting opportunities that will utterly transform how our supply chains will work and how we manufacture in the near future. Our emerging designers must be up to date now so that they can succeed when these trends unfold.
Melbourne also has a thriving business incubator scene and loads of co-working and artist run spaces which makes our city so exciting. But the former caters to desk/internet orientated businesses and the later caters mainly to artists and are not really open to the public. In most cases neither the business incubators nor the co-working spaces offer a complete range of high end manufacturing technology if at all and they rarely tolerate the constant noisy and dirty process of making.
In all the above scenarios, product developers are left out in the cold facing barriers to entry. There is a massive gap in the startup scene where this demographic is not looked after and Space Tank’s mission is to fill that gap. When Space Tank supports a product developer toward their successful establishment, it is not just one individual that is supported.
Many who succeed end up employing staff and developing high impact products for export. The financial rewards to both their company growth and Australia’s economic growth can spin into millions of dollars and the business ecosystem that consequently builds around them can help build future manufacturing and design industries.
Tell us a bit more about some of the makers within the space, and those you hope to attract?
Space Tank attracts many talented people from every field of design and innovation and I’ve thrown together a little list below. I really want to attract more designers in the medical technology field doing things like prosthetic design, health care enabling devices and so on. Also I think smart furniture and smart devices are really exciting and engineers, software designers and animatronic developers are playing a big role in reshaping how we live.
- Cut throat knives enjoys sell out runs of bespoke culinary knives & has 6 month waiting list for product. Employs 2 staff and expanding operations.
- Rain Gidley Studios goes from strength to strength as he expands his operations from sculpted beer tap handles to include industry mould making and trophies.
- Space Tank wins Melbourne Design awards for the Murmuration sculpture build at the 2017 Progress Conference in the Melbourne town hall.
- ‘Bastion Cycles’ wins Gold prize for Australian first carbon fibre and 3D printed Titanium bicycles. Now employing staff and developing high performance hand cycles for Para-Olympic team.
- Monkey Gone to Heaven bespoke furniture maker expands to larger facilities and successfully rebrands to the Furniture – Bricolage label.
- Holmesglen designer, Carol Trombelli prototypes customizable children’s chair for IKEA and worked with RMIT on new bio-substrate material.
- 4 product developers represent Australian design at the Shanghai Furniture Exhibition and TENT London.
- Science Teacher, Roland Gesthuizen prototypes a self-thinking car to teach future traffic systems to students and receives VIC roads funding.
- The ‘Mini Me Machine’ receives investment for Australian first instant human scale 3D scanning for retail and gamming avatars. Now distributed through Office Works.
What will your recent expansion enable you to do?
When the factory next door came up for rent, I jumped at it. So yes, Space Tank is expanding. It is a perfect opportunity for larger projects and groups. I’m also talking with RMIT and Melbourne Uni for them to use next door as an overflow project space for student projects. It can be hired for a week or for many months at a time and of course you still get access to all of the equipment and technology that Space Tank has to offer.
One artist has used the new space to build a performance installation for Fed Square and our bronze casting teacher is installing a new furnace to do custom bronze work. I’m getting more enquiries from people wanting to use the space to build public sculptures and large industrial design jobs.
The coolest thing is that Space Tank can now offer a design fabrication service and become a job agency for emerging design talent.
We can now accept a high variety of commercial design fabrication jobs. We can do product prototyping, health care devices, custom interior fabrication, electronic devices, small and large scale sculptures, architectural features and smart furniture and wearables and we can farm out the work to our growing community of makers, creatives, innovators and designers.
What are some of the risks and challenges you face at Space Tank?
The main reason why Space Tank is the only high level product development incubator and makerspace in Melbourne is because the initial capital investment is so high. A very large space is essential, manufacturing technology in Australia is crazy expensive, health and safety is serious and maintenance is relentless.
By adopting a casual staff roster during the first few years I’ve managed to keep overheads down. Space Tank already employs over 10 part time and casual staff for teaching and maintenance so as we grow we will need to employ more full time staff to handle management tasks.
When you look at the three or four other high end Makerspaces around the world like Makerspace Munich, Newlab New York, the Tech Shop model and ADX in Portland Oregon, they all face the same commercial sustainability challenges. As far as I know, Space Tank is the only one that has not yet received any government assistance.
It turns out in Australia, the biggest challenge is to get our government and corporate sector to support the vision. In order to meet future demand for high impact product development, Space Tank must continue offering the very best technology equipment and business support.
I need to acquire more cool toys for cool makers like large multi axis CNC machines, robotics and large scale multi material 3D printers. I have equipment support deals on the table and all we’re waiting for now is for the government and corporate sponsors to get on board with the vision.
You mentioned your new Tech Lab facility - what will this enable start-ups to develop?
The new Tech Lab is really exciting for industrial designers and people developing medical prosthetics and health care devices but also for sculptural and installation artists. We have a Vacuum former, laser cutter, CNC milling machine, 3D printers and soon we’ll be adding a high end 3D scanner into the mix.
The most important thing about a well set up product incubator is to offer a bridge between new manufacturing technologies and traditional machinery. The Tech Lab enables a cross disciplinary work flow that increases the scope of manufacturing and prototyping possibilities for startups.
It’s a one stop prototyping shop where you can mock up a new power tool or sculpted seat for a modern piece of furniture or an exoskeleton for repetitive industrial lifting. Jewellers use the laser cutter and the milling machine is used for mould making and exact design duplications.
Can you give us a snapshot of the last three years of Space Tank’s activity?
I feel quite dizzy when I look back over the last three years and crunch the numbers. Space Tank has supported 432+ product developers with skills courses, business studios, fabrication solutions, manufacturing technology, industry connections and business acceleration.
STS has delivered skills development to 227 product developers in:
- advanced materials design
- laser cutting
- evaporative bronze casting
- multi axis CNC milling
- vacuum forming
- Fusion360 3D CAD software
- knife making
- intellectual property and patent law
- prototyping in wood and acrylic polymers
Product startup activity Space Tank:
- 35+ product startups have established new businesses at STS.
- 151 casual workshop members use STS.
- 45 fulltime business tenants have rented studios.
- 80% of fulltime business tenants are successfully commercialising products.
- 16 pursuing growth opportunities and conducting R&D.
- 6 startups employing new staff and out growing STS.
- 9 startups received new industry contracts and job opportunities via STS.
What other services do you provide to makers and artisans?
Space Tank forms business to business networks with many different companies and organisations to provide a high level of manufacturing technology offering and also to help startups get full business support when they need it. Things like having ex-Cochlear patent attorney Gavin Doherty on board as our go-to patent and IP protection expert. Matthew Steer financial and business development firm offering accessible business advice. Free Autodesk training workshops on 3D software. We also have a list of affiliated businesses who offer special deals on manufacturing services like CNC water jet cutting, CNC routing, plastics moulding, metal 3D printing and 3D scanning.
Recently I signed an agreement with Hong Kong Productivity Council, (HKPC) to create a co-footprint between Space Tank’s product development incubator and HKPC’s new $HK90mill Innovation Space. This will provide the foundation for Victorian hardware startups to access expert business development guidance, venture capital and trusted manufacturing technology solutions in Hong Kong and Mainland China to expand their reach into Asia.
What advice would you offer emerging product developers?
There are lots of buzz slogans flying around the incubator world like ‘fail fast’ and ‘chase the vision, not the money’ etc. While these apply to pretty much all startups, product developers are unique because they need to merge practical hands with a business brain.
Makers and innovators are generally totally occupied with learning about new materials, equipment and techniques and often they forget to sell their amazing product innovation to customers. Identifying the market, scale and cost point of your product and understanding why your target customer wants or needs it and how you will sell it to them is equally as important as developing it.
You cannot be great at everything so recognise the value of the skills you don’t have and build a community of talent and expertise around you to fill those gaps.
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