By Vicki Matranga, Design Programs Coordinator
The four days of the 2014 International Home + Housewares Show will be packed with events as well as educational sessions. In these final days before the Show, we preview presentations that will take place in the Innovation Theater in the Lakeside Center.
Today we are speaking with Chicagoans Bill Fienup and Mike Vasquez. These two visionary young men are creating the future of manufacturing. Chicago, a powerful manufacturing center in the first industrial revolution, is now poised to be a pathbreaker in establishing new digital tools and hardware for the third industrial revolution.
Bill Fienup created Catalyze Chicago, a co-working space for inventors, designers, engineers, product developers and thinkers, which premiered in February 2014 in Chicago’s West Loop. Today as creative individuals fund product ideas and start companies with the support of platforms such as Kickstarter, the growing local community of entrepreneurs can share digital fabrication tools, the machine shop, electronics lab and office space in Catalyze Chicago’s cross-disciplinary community. Bill earned his BSME and MSME in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After seven years of product design consulting for Insight and IDEO, he shifted focus toward his startup companies. Known for his playful view of science and invention, Bill cranks out projects faster than the internet can document them. In the time he doesn’t have to spare, he keeps active with volleyball, touch football, metal sculpting and biking on the lakefront and enjoys experimenting in the kitchen.
Dr. Mike Vasquez is a 3D printing and materials specialist and founder of 3D Printing Reports, a firm which provides instruction and consulting services. He also created Tribal Science, a company that joins engineering and spots to develop equipment to enhance the performance of elite athletes and also works with educators in STEM educational projects. Mike is an additive manufacturing specialist who has worked side-by-side with some of the top machine manufacturers, material producers and end users in the industry. Mike has worked with such companies as 3M, Burton Snowboards, New Balance and Easton. He has published technical papers and articles on 3D printing and often conducts workshops. Mike completed his Ph.D. at Loughborough University (UK) specializing in additive manufacturing and sports technology. He received his BS/MS in engineering from MIT in materials science and engineering. Mike was a captain of the MIT baseball team and worked as an assistant coach at MIT while completing his master’s degree. He has also finished six marathons and loves to snowboard.
Be sure to mark this program on your Show schedule to hear about about how new technologies and communities support product development from concept to commercialization.
The Tools of the Third Industrial Revolution
Saturday, March 15, 12:30 – 1:20 pm
Innovation Theater, Lakeside Center, E350
Bill, tell us a bit about yourself.
I started my career at the age of 11 when I disassembled my first Nerf gun and modified it to shoot farther. From then on I was passionate about learning how things worked, discovering methods to improve products, and even inventing my own. I worked hard in high school to earn my way into MIT to study mechanical engineering and product design. I fulfilled my childhood dream in graduate school when Hasbro sponsored my education to develop Nerf blasters and Super Soakers. After graduating, I took a job at IDEO in Chicago practicing user-centric design with consumer products and medical devices. I continued consulting for the next seven years before I took the plunge to be a full-time entrepreneur pursuing several hardware based startup companies. But I it wasn’t easy alone. I found it difficult to develop concepts at the speed and efficiency without the tools I had at the product development firms. So I spun up a not-for-profit co-working space called Catalyze Chicago. The goal of Catalyze is to provide the resources necessary for hardware startups to develop physical products and scale to production. With a digital fabrication shop, electronics lab, and machine shop Catalyze provides the rapid prototyping tools necessary to develop products along with a community and mentorship of hardware professionals.
What is the most exciting or rewarding part of your job?
Bill: Day-to-day the most rewarding times are always the “ah-ha! Eureka moments” when I realize how to solve a problem. It’s even more rewarding to power up a prototype and have it work on the first try, then spending the next couple minutes celebrating and collecting high fives while forgoing the countless hours of iterations and refinement. The feeling is like waking in grade school and finding out that school has been cancelled with a day of snow play ahead.
Mike: I like figuring out how to bring new technology to customers and businesses to make them more effective and efficient.
What inspires your passion in your work? What inspires you? What are you passionate about?
Bill: I’m passionate about executing creative ideas. Ideas and thoughts are always seeded from observations and experiences as well as generated from collaborative input from others. Many times ideas are formed from ad hoch brainstorms as colleagues rapidly iterate and transform one thought to another, constantly transforming an idea or diving deeper to refine a particular thread. Sometimes inspiration and passion is generated from learning about a new materials, technologies, or processes I encounter. I could be inspired by a method of mass production and create a game, or hear a funny sound and build a ketchup crapper or be a victim of bicycle theft and invent the BikeSpike, or be curious about the laws of motion and dynamics and fabricate a complex electro mechanical system like the slinky machine. Sometimes the challenge is more framed and presented—as when a client asks me to solve a problem or develop a product like Scout Alarm, or it’s the adrenaline of a 72-hour competition that drives me to fabricate a musical instrument, or an event like Halloween that encourages me to go above and beyond and build an exoskeleton like the Inspector Gadget costume. But the most inspiring thing is always the challenge, the journey, and quest to success. It’s the process of getting the numbers to crunch and the gears to turn to gets me out of bed in the morning.
What big innovations will we see in the years to come? What are some of today’s trends or issues that new product development professionals and/or retailers face in the housewares market?
Bill: I think this year and in the future we will see more connected products as sensors, embedded microprocessors and the internet of things find their ways into homes. Devices are coming more intelligent and more connected to their user. We have smart phones, smart TVs, smart thermostats, smart lights, smart watches, smart locks, smart scales, smart toilets, and smart wearable devices monitoring our daily lives and crunching data. More products will use the super computer that we carry in our pockets and we will use apps to control the devices in our homes. We are entering an age of mass customization where consumers demand overnight solutions for their specific needs. Amazon pushes the boundary with same day delivery while Netflix delivers content immediately on demand. Consumers expect to refresh their technology every year as companies panic to push the next iteration. But advances in product development have not kept up with the impatient buyers. “How is this now possible?” and “Why is it important?” are questions we ask ourselves.
Tell us what you will be speaking about and how and this topic is important for Show audiences.
Bill: I will be speaking about the modern methods of product development, digital manufacturing tools, and touching upon new lean methods and business tools for product deployment. Lean startups are beginning to have a competitive advantage. Open source hardware and software has driven down the cost of development and has made it possible to rapidly iterate and develop products to meet increasing consumer expectations. Advertising has become less formulaic as companies are using gorilla marketing campaigns, social media, and viral videos to reach their customers. Young, small, and nimble companies can now compete because it doesn’t take capital to be creative. With a couple hundred bucks, all inclusive, the BikeSpike team produced their promo video.
In the past few years, what has changed most in your business?
Bill: The cost of rapid prototyping has gone down significantly in the past couple of years which allows more design iteration in a truncated product development cycle. This technology has also become affordable to smaller companies allowing them to swing competitively in the big leagues. Crowd funding has given startup up companies the capital to rival big firms and more innovations are being spearheaded by the agile entrepreneur. Crowd sourcing has enabled engineers to download and print parts from sites like Thingiverse. Services like O-desk make it easy to contract individuals for a variety of tasks like managing customer relations so entrepreneurs can focus on the business. All these tools are available to the masses.
Mike: I do a lot of work in the 3D Printing space so the biggest change that I have seen is the general public has become aware of the technology. It has certainly increased the amount of visibility that some of my work gets.
This will be your first time presenting in our Innovation Theater. Why did you choose to speak at the International Home + Housewares Show?
Bill: I thought it would be a good opportunity to shed some light on the digital manufacturing tools and methods used in product development. As a product designer and entrepreneur I have a unique inside perspective of how and why products get developed.
Mike: We will be talking about how to develop products using 3D Printing. This is an emerging technology that enables a whole new generation of inventors and designers to create new products and get them to market faster than ever before. Whenever I appear at conference or make presentations, I always look forward to the questions that come up and discussing specific topics that people are interested in. I love talking about how to develop new products using new technologies and materials. If I can inspire someone to take a new approach or improve their product it is very rewarding.
Thank you, Bill and Mike. I’m sure your presentation will energize and surprise the audience. You’ll inspire us with your visions for Chicago’s future and for exciting new developments in manufacturing. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday March 15 at 12:30 pm in the Innovation Theater, Lakeside Center E350.
To learn more about Bill Fienup and Catalyze Chicago see:
Get your smiles ready — watch Bill demonstrate how play makes science fun: