In a sprawling workshop near Stanley Black & Decker’s Towson campus, employees are being invited to try out a vast array of hand tools, power tools and equipment used for welding, 3-D printing and other jobs.
The company’s new makerspace is available to all its employees, whether they work in product development or not. All they need is an idea or a desire to learn how to make something.
“It takes some exclusive equipment that you maybe otherwise would never have access to and gives it to anyone,” said Audrey Van de Castle, Stanley’s Makerspace shop manager. “The possibilities that can come from it are so endless. That’s what’s great about the maker movement is that anyone can learn and anyone can make.”
The makerspace opened Thursday less than a mile from the Joppa Road campus, the Connecticut-based company’s world headquarters for its power tools division.
The new center grew out of an initiative in which leaders in various business units ask workers to submit ideas to address challenges. In the last two years, the company has issued more than 30 challenges, generating about 1,000 ideas. A couple dozen are working their way through a product development pipeline, and several are being transformed into products, such as a cordless stick vacuum designed for cleaning up after pets and introduced this year. The company sees opening a makerspace as the next step in that process.
“We wanted to have a place for those people, regardless of where they are in the organization, to bring those ideas to life, and this is our first foray into that venture,” said Tim Perra, a Stanley Black & Decker spokesman.
The company’s first makerspace, viewed as a testing ground and something it hopes to replicate around the country, is designed to aid teams of product engineers who work on innovation every day as part of their jobs, Perra said.
“We need to look at our business as if somebody is going to come in and disrupt our business,” he said. “What are the things that we would look at if we were not Stanley Black & Decker? What are the things we would look at to prevent us from becoming a Blockbuster and being disrupted by Netflix? So we’ve got folks here and around the company who are looking at the next breakthrough innovation that’s going to change the landscape of the industry.
“We recognize that although we have some of the best engineers, and we have some of the best innovators in the world, that great ideas can come from anywhere,” Perra said.
Eventually, the makerspace plans to form partnerships with local universities, he said.
The facility is the latest piece of the manufacturer’s expansion in Maryland since March 2010, when the former Towson-based Black & Decker Corp. was bought by Stanley Works in a $4.5 billion deal.
Black & Decker’s former power tools and storage division has remained in Towson, and Stanley now employs 2,100 people in Maryland, mostly at the Joppa Road headquarters and other offices around Towson. It has plans to hire another 400 in innovation- and engineering-focused jobs.
Since the merger, the company has invested about $60 million in upgrading and renovating its Towson area office space. The company’s operations in the state span 375,000 square feet on 31 acres, plus 150,000 square feet of leased space, which includes facilities in Towson, a manufacturing plant in Hampstead and a Stanley Security branch in Jessup.
During Thursday’s opening, dozens of workers took tours of the makerspace facility and signed up for an online account with the center, giving them access to training and reservations.
“I love the idea, just kind of the space to be creative, whether it’s work-related or not, is a unique perk,” said Kelly Dyer, 30, an engineer for outdoor power equipment who does mechanical design for outdoor tools.
She envisions using the makerspace to create prototypes from her drawings, rather than sending the drawings out, or for projects around the house. She said she likes the idea of learning something new, such as welding.
“Learning new skills is always broadening your horizons,” she said
Jessica Wiley, 24, a mechanical engineer who works on anchors and fasteners, said she hopes to use the space to build prototypes that a model shop would typically build.
“It gives more employees more opportunity to get their hands dirty,” she said. “This gives you that real-life perspective on what you can build.”
Members of Stanley’s Innovation Accelerator Team, who will work on projects for Stanley from the center and help employees who use it, led tours through the facility, showing off laser engravers, vinyl cutters and electronics equipment used for welding. One area was stocked with hand and power tools, and another housed woodworking equipment. The center has a metal fabrication shop and an area with printers to create three-dimensional products. All the manufacturer’s major brands are represented, including Stanley, DeWalt, Black & Decker and Craftsman, which the company bought from Sears for $900 million this year.
“The entirety of the space is to allow employees to become more familiar with our products and fabrication techniques, as well as to learn how to use our tools, meet other folks and collaborate with other people that they may not see in a daily capacity in their day jobs,” said Bob Welsh, vice president of breakthrough innovation for the Innovation Accelerator Team.
Anirban Basu, an economist and CEO of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore, sees the makerspace as bringing the Towson operation back to its Black & Decker roots, when the company was known for its inventors.
Additionally, “It really is an expression by a company that it truly values the ideas of all of its people,” Basu said. “It reveals a lot about their corporate culture.”
Van de Castle, the shop manager who previously worked as a manager at the The Foundery makerspace in Port Covington, said the Baltimore area is in the forefront of the maker movement.
“There are so many makerspaces already in Baltimore, and they’re all already so established and well equipped,” she said.
While some makerspaces have more of a do-it yourself focus, she said, “a lot of the makerspaces in Baltimore have a lot of capital and funding to take it out of that DIY zone and make it an actual functioning shop [where] people have access to all kinds of stuff they wouldn't normally have access to.”