The Foundry: Makerspace features 3D printer, classes and more

by Brent Cole

Located on N. Forest, The Foundry Bellingham Makerspace is home to what many believe is part of the future of manufacturing and creation: 3D printing. Along with other machinery, ranging from laser cutting, 3D scanning, traditional wood working equipment, vinyl cutting and more, The Foundry is a unique business in Bellingham – a place where members can create different art, gadgets and seemingly most anything they can dream of, for the price of a membership and materials.

These frog checker pieces and board were made using the 3D printer at The Foundry Bellingham Makerspace. COURTESY PHOTO

These frog checker pieces and board were made using the 3D printer at The Foundry Bellingham Makerspace. COURTESY PHOTO

Owned and run by Mary Keane, Jason Davies and Troy Grieg, The Foundry opened on Sept. 13 and has been successful in its first three-plus months of existence.

“It’s gone very well so far,” though she said. “The biggest challenge is getting people into the space; if they can get into the space and we can give them an experience, then they get it.”

To become part of The Foundry, a participant either purchases a monthly membership or a day pass, which gives you access to everything on site (participants must pay for inexpensive materials needed; except for the laser cutter, which includes a slight per minute charge). For techies, artists, manufacturers and everyone in between, it’s like being a kid in a candy store – exhilarating and overwhelming.

Mary Keane became interested in 3D printing five years ago while working as a pediatric occupational therapist for a school district. Part of her job required making adaptive equipment for students on the fly and at one point, a 2-year-old girl needed a splint for her pinky finger. Everything they found or tried to use was too big and she’d just slip it off. A friend of Mary’s had a 3D printer and suggested making a splint, which they did.

“We put a bird on it, made it pink and called it jewelry. She slipped it right on and kept it on and we were pleased as punch,” Mary said with a laugh, adding, “We were so amazed how easy it was.”

Mary Keane, co-owner, shows some of the other items printed at the space. PHOTO BY BRENT COLE

Mary Keane, co-owner, shows some of the other items printed at the space. PHOTO BY BRENT COLE

From there, Mary bought a kit and built a 3D printer, learning everything she could along the way. Eventually, Mary developed the idea of The Foundry, a place where she could mix her background in childrens education and building community.

“It was important to me to bring this technology to everyone, not just to people who need to build a product,” stated Mary. “I felt like doing it in the school system was one thing, but there were so many other people out there – hobbyists, artists, adventurers – so many other people who could benefit from something like this.”

Raised in Bellingham, she graduated from Sehome in the late 80s and moved away, but returned to Bellingham last year to open The Foundry. “I knew Bellingham was the vibrant community that needed this,” she said excitedly. Earlier in 2014, Mary found Ivan Owen, a prop maker from Bellingham who has become a guru with 3D printing and child prosthetics, helping create E-Nable, a non-profit group that makes prosthetic hands for children (up until recently, prosthetics weren’t available to children as the cost to make them were too high as children grew out of them. By the time a child was an adult and could get the prosthetic, the muscles needed to work the device had gone into atrophy). She immediately contacted Owen who connected Mary with Davies, a local graphic designer who is particularly adept at making images vector art – a key for utilizing the machines in The Foundry. The fact he’s an excellent teacher was a great bonus.

Jason and Mary held a few “meet ups” to see if the community was interested in something like The Foundry, which is where they found Grieg (What’s Up! readers will know Troy from his time at WhAAM). They were impressed by Troy’s skill set and The Foundry was born.

“Between the three of us, we had the skills to dive in and give it a try,” Mary stated.

One of the keys to The Foundry space is their classes, according to Mary. “Initially it (the machinery) seems very daunting, but it’s really much, much easier than you would expect. It’s very accessible for all ages.”

Co-owner Troy Grieg works in the printing area. The Foundry opened in September 2014 and offers members use of equipment, space, materials and more. PHOTO BY BRENT COLE

Co-owner Troy Grieg works in the printing area. The Foundry opened in September 2014 and offers members use of equipment, space, materials and more. PHOTO BY BRENT COLE

The classes are taught by members of the community who have unique skill sets in different areas, “that’s why we encourage our members to give classes. So many people are doing such incredible stuff in their basements and nobody knows about it.”

Classes range from 3D modeling to introduction to laser cutting to beginning soldering and everything in between; a class is available most days of the week.

Many of the specs needed to use the 3D printer are found on open source websites – free for anyone to use and manipulate into their own vision. This is key, Mary said, especially for the new user who might not have the vision yet on what they’d like to make.

While the physical space of The Foundry is key to Mary’s vision, the second half is project-based education for kids. “I used to struggle with ‘why am I learning this?” If we give kids hands on experiences, then they know why they’re learning it and get hungry and engaged.”

In her previous experience as an educator, Mary utilized project-based education in working with children who were considered to have behavioral problems; youths who, as Mary said, were “learners of all different types.”

Currently, Mary and The Foundry work with Whatcom Day Academy, a private school, as well as a fifth grade class at Happy Valley Elementary which has a sister class in Nicaragua and both are learning simultaneously how to use a 3D printer. As part of the project, they are fabricating little pieces of plastic which, with the addition of a small battery and tiny solar panel, are used to create solar nightlights – a wonderful tool for children who might not have electricity in their home.

Over the next year, The Foundry will continue to add equipment, including a device in the summer which will allow them to be part of the MIT Fab Academy in a year – an actual MIT course on all aspects of digital fabrication. The classes will also continue, a highlight being at the end of March when Disney Imagineer Terri Hardin will be in teaching a masters in sculpting class as well as, hopefully, a children’s event.

Between its focus on education and community building, The Foundry has created a unique place in Bellingham and the outlying areas, one that will help our area learn and grow for the future.

For more information check out bellinghamfoundry.com.

Published in the January 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine