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How to choose the best management software for makerspaces
Makerspaces are a diverse, exciting, and vibrant environment that fosters creativity and encourages collaboration between individuals of various backgrounds. And as the Executive Director of Nation of Makers explained in our conversation, the breadth of organizations that function as makerspaces is wider and deeper than ever.
These spaces can be found everywhere, including libraries, universities, schools, and even in homes. Furthermore, makerspaces provide the necessary resources for both experienced makers as well as people who are new to the maker community.
They offer access to tools that few people can have in their personal workshops; they're large, expensive and even requirement special environments. By providing these resources at low costs or even free of charge depending on the space's goals and approach, makerspaces are able to unlock opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship for their users. In addition to physical tools for prototyping projects, many makerspaces also offer mentorship programs, workshops and events that bring people together to share ideas and collaborate on projects.
Through these activities, people are encouraged to explore creative approaches to problem-solving while also acquiring skills such as coding or engineering that help them take their ideas further into the real world. That's why makerspaces have become an essential part of today’s innovation landscape — they provide open access points that allow anyone with a good idea to make it reality!
When you have a small number of equipment or members, you can perhaps get away with first-come-first-serve or a paper sign-in system. But those methods definitely won’t scale, and they certainly don’t provide any data.
Let’s explore what software operators will need for their makerspaces to deliver a great experience to members and staff.
Makerspace members want to reserve equipment easily
Imagine you have a full day planned for a project only to find someone else is using the tool you need. Or that the materials you were hoping to use are out of stock. That’s why reservations are important and a part of providing a member experience — but it has to be an easy to use system for member and managers alike.
What kind of equipment should your software offer reservations for? The short answer is: all of it. But we’re including:
3D printers are one of the most popular pieces of equipment found in makerspaces. Makers often use 3D printers to create prototypes of their designs or custom pieces for other fabrications.
Laser cutters use a focused beam of light to cut through materials such as wood, plastic, and metal. Makers can use laser cutters to create intricate designs or to quickly cut large pieces of material.
CNC machines are computer-controlled machines that can be used to create precise parts and products. Makers can use CNC machines to create anything from small components to large pieces of furniture.
Soldering stations are used to join two pieces of metal together using heat and a filler material such as lead or tin. Soldering is a common task in electronics projects, and many makerspaces will have soldering stations available for use.
Sewing machines are often found in makerspaces as they can be used for a variety of tasks such as sewing fabric, creating quilts, or even making clothes. Some sewing machines even have embroidery capabilities, which allows makers to add designs and patterns to their projects.
Woodworking tools such as saws, drills, and sanders are often found in makerspaces. These tools can be used to create everything from simple projects to complex pieces of furniture. Many makerspaces will also have larger woodworking tools such as table saws and lathes available for use.
Metalworking tools such as drills, grinders, and lathes are also often found in makerspaces. These tools can be used to create metal parts and products or to finish existing ones. Many makerspaces will also have welding equipment available for those who want to work with metals.
Providing a mobile app for your makerspace is less of a nice-to-have and more of an expectation, with fabrication clubs, universities and wet labs serving a wide variety of members. That app should make it simple for members to find the equipment they want to use and reserve their time on it. The Coworks mobile member app let’s makerspaces brand the app, and deliver that easy experience.
Makerspace managers want to set equipment permissions and access controls
Safety is one of the top priorities when providing your members with advanced and potentially dangerous equipment. Your members often need to be properly trained in the necessary equipment and safety protocols before using potentially lethal tools.
Makerspace management software should not only allow each member to reserve equipment, but confirm that member has the correct permissions to use it. Through the Coworks admin dashboard, you can easily set permissions on individual resources. Once your member has completed the necessary training or certification, you can then grant them access to the individual equipment, allowing them to book directly in the app.
Makerspace managers want to know who is using the space, when
There are two important metrics to track while running a space: security and space utilization. These are both even more important when you have expensive and potentially dangerous equipment.
In order to manage the security of your makerspace, you can have a dedicated staff member whose job is to check-in members, confirm their membership, and note time of entry. Or you can have an automated access system, such as those from providers like Kisi, Brivo, or SaltoKS.
Ideally, your access system integrates with your operational software, as Coworks does.
Coworks also provides a robust member check-in system that will allow you to log arrivals, and get an accurate picture of who is in your space and at what times. This check-in system provides a downloadable report that shows a historical list of members who accessed your space. You can also focus on each member to see a log of their unique check-ins. Having a fully integrated software platform like Coworks enables you to manage your members and glean important data and analytics.
Makerspace managers want to organize information for members to find easily
Training and onboarding is a critical piece of success in a makerspace. The more information, resources, and training you can provide to your members, the better they will take care of your (expensive) tools and avoid damage.
That means plenty of signage around your space, but also digital resources that are easy for managers and staff to update and easier for members to find and use. That’s where you operational software should come in.
With Coworks space management software, you can create a robust Resource Center in the app where you can leave helpful links to documents, videos, manuals, web pages etc. You can also provide helpful resource slides with step-by-step visual aids to train people on how to use or care for certain resources.
Our resource forms also enable your members to quickly reach out to the relevant staff or support member for any issues or questions. Ultimately, this kind of digital FAQ section and reference center is designed to save your staff countless hours per week answering the same questions (what’s the wifi, how do I refill the printer ink, how do I report an issue) because the answers are all available in the app!
Makerspace managers and members want to feel engaged as a community
Finally, the strongest allure of a makerspace is the ability to create and collaborate with other makers. Building a vibrant community of people is what will ultimately lead to a successful space in the long term.
Your space management software should be on the front line of helping you cultivate the community and culture, by automating the work you need to do operationally and administratively, freeing you and your staff to focus on the members, the projects, and the making.
Coworks software does all that, along with several tools to help you manage and engage with your community.
- Use the Announcements feature to send quick email or push notification blasts to your members.
- The member directory empowers people to explore and view profiles of other members to spur collaboration.
- The community feed allows you to create and showcase important events to all of your members (such as trainings, workshops, community events, and more).
Events are a particularly effective way to cultivate your member community and even attract new members to your makerspace. Here are just a few kinds of events you can host:
An art show is one way to showcase the varied and amazing talent of the makers in your community. You can hang artwork on the walls of your makerspace or set up display tables. This is a perfect event for people of all ages and can be a great way to attract new members to your space.
A maker market can help your members sell the products they’ve created in your space. You can set up booths for different makers to sell their wares, even inviting outside artists.
A skill share captures the heart of the maker movement, and it’s a powerful way for makers to learn from each other. Your members can sign up to lead a class on a particular skill, such as woodworking, sewing, or 3D printing. This is a great event for people who want to learn new skills or brush up on old ones.
An open house is a great way to show off the space and what it has to offer. Makers can give tours and demos of their work. This is an ideal event for people who are curious about making and want to see what it’s all about.
Fundraiser for local organization
A fundraiser is a great way to raise money for the space or for a specific project. Makers can sell their products or offer services, such as custom made items or repairs. This is a great event for people who want to support the space and its mission.
Together, these events and features help deliver the ultimate member experience to keep your members engaged, innovating, collaborating, and of course, making.