Report: TechShop to team up with Defense Department, DARPA


Jasper Blackful, a member of TechShop Detroit, uses a vertical mill to construct a fishing rod holder at the facility in Allen Park, Michigan May 4, 2012. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)

DARPA, the highly secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is partnering with TechShop to continue work on iFab, a turn-on-a-dime factory that would allow the government to quickly and seamlessly create parts and products as needed.

Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance, writes that the Defense Department is entering into the deal with the popular DIY workshop chain to create two iFab locations :

In an interview, the Defense Department revealed it will spend $3.5 million to fund two TechShops near Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. Regular members will work in the facility by day, and then employees of DARPA ... will arrive at midnight to conduct after-hours work. Their mission: to design factories that can be reconfigured on the fly. The project is called iFab. For a month, a given factory might use dozens of machines to make parts for helicopters. Then you reboot the software controlling the machines, and out come the parts for the drive train system in a tank. 

DARPA spokesman Eric Mezzacone confirmed by e-mail Wednesday that DARPA and TechShop were indeed working together “as a result of a recent technology investment agreement.” He also clarified that all iFab work is unclassified.

TechShop is a household name among DIYers, or at least it should be. Each TechShop operates much like a golf course or gym. You pay a membership fee, which buys you access to industrial-grade equipment to produce anything from chairs to engines.

News of thepartnership comes shortly after the conclusion of Maker Faire Bay Area, a gathering of DIY die-hards, fans and curious onlookers that celebrates the small-scale manufacturing and prototyping movement. Detroit and Kansas City are on schedule for July and June respectively. So, mark your calendars.

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