5 mins read

Maker mindset: Turn your ideas into reality

October 23, 2023
Beritakini Biz
5 mins read

From workspaces to collaborative hubs, the concept of makerspaces and the maker movement is all about having a place where ideas can come to life.

According to Shee Tze Jin, the makerspace expert at Taylor’s University Makerspace, it started off as a place where people could get access to costly equipment that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to use.

“Going back to about 10 years ago, things like laser cutters and 3D printers were very hard to get.

“Usually, they had industrial parts that were not easily accessible to the public. So in the earlier stages, what makerspaces did was buy or build these kinds of things for cheaper and open them up for other people to use.

“Makerspaces became something like a library, but a library for people who like to make stuff,” says Shee, also an artificial intelligence and machine learning specialist.

Thanks to the significant reduction in the cost of 3D printers, Shee says individuals can now afford their own devices, with prices ranging from RM700 to RM1,000.

As a result, there is a shift in the reasons people visit makerspaces. In the past, it was often a matter of necessity that they needed a place to bring their ideas to life.

Nowadays, people visit makerspaces more as an opportunity to explore and expose themselves to new experiences and equipment.

Makerspaces offer a selection of tools, machinery and components for a wide variety of uses. — Photos: IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

Something from nothing

For tinkerer Sean Lee, his fondness for the maker movement centres around plastic modelling and electronics.

“I would say a maker is a person who makes something; the kind of thing can vary from person to person.

“It could be woodworking, electronics, plastic and clay models, 3D-printed items, basically anything.

“In my opinion, it’s all about challenging myself to learn something new and create something that is difficult to make – in a way, it’s sort of like self-improvement.

“In the process, you’ll essentially collect tools, skills, and knowledge along the way.

“When it comes to creating, it really depends on the person and what kind of project they are working on. It could be plastic models or everyday use stuff like a replacement part of something around the house,” he says.

Lee also mentions that despite his background in an unrelated field as a multimedia designer, he managed to learn via resources such as YouTube, social media, and websites like Reddit and X (previously Twitter), along with in-depth resources on the software development platform Github.

Enthusiast Ian Hoh Wen Yang shares a similar view, believing that the maker movement is synonymous with the idea of DIY (do-it-yourself).

“Makers most often create from scratch, and the point of it all is to solve problems and develop skills, which can be intellectually stimulating.

“One of the greatest appeals of being a maker is having the ability to ‘will things into existence’. With enough willpower, your creativity will become your only limit.

“I create devices that help my family, 3D print gifts for friends, and also create devices for fun, such as VR (virtual reality) gloves based on online guides,” Hoh says.

He adds that the types of tools and equipment required for a project vary, particularly for electronics, as some may require just simple soldering, while others may need some level of coding or even custom 3D-printed parts.

In Shee’s view, the makerspace can serve as a valuable learning opportunity for students or those who have ideas for a project but aren’t familiar with some of the elements required for it.

“A lot of students come over here and say they want to make something for fun – toys, their own card game, personal projects, and even parts for stage plays.

“It’s no longer for the sake of just making, but it’s for the sake of solving problems and developing their own hobbies.

“I think it’s a good thing because it becomes something much more approachable – rather than forcing them to learn this thing or light this LED up, and then the next day they forget about it.

“It’s better if they come to us and say, ‘I’ve got this problem, how do I solve it?’ I think they learn better this way; right now, I believe that is what makerspaces can contribute,” he says.

Shee (standing) offers guidance to students who are building a carrier for food and pets during floods.

The building blocks

If the prospect of turning an idea into reality sounds attractive, the next question is, where do you begin?

For students still pursuing their tertiary education, it’s worth checking out if there is a makerspace open for student or alumni use on campus.

If not, explore public options, like the MakersLab at the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (Mranti) Park in Bukit Jalil.

Similar to many public facilities, Mranti imposes a rental fee and requires advance slot reservations, which can be made through its website.

There are also alternatives like the Me.reka Makerspace in Publika, which charges a RM50 rental fee per person for access to its space and equipment. It is necessary to make advance reservations via phone.

The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) also has a list of maker hubs on its website.In Shee’s view, the main thing to keep in mind is that makerspaces are not classrooms.

“We don’t have a syllabus with the same expected learning outcome for everyone who comes in.

“You need the initiative to decide what you want to make – check online communities and resources.

“Once you have a general idea of what you need to achieve for your idea to become a reality, consulting those at makerspaces can help make that path clearer,” he says.

Consultants at makerspaces also guide visitors on how to use the available equipment.

Hoh recommends that those interested start with the basics of building a foundation of knowledge beforehand.

“Watch a couple of videos on YouTube related to your project, and learn to code if required.

“For 3D printing, it would be best to start by learning to create 3D models (using software like Fusion 360 or Solidworks) while simultaneously learning the limitations of what a 3D printer can and cannot print,” he says.

Lee shares similar thoughts, describing YouTube as a good place to start.

“There are channels dedicated to helping people out for all sorts of projects, which can make things much more accessible and easy to join in.

“They can also serve as inspiration for people to work on something they’re not familiar with,” he says.

Lee recommends channels such as 3D Printing Nerd and Made With Layers for guides and tutorials on 3D printing. Additionally, he points to Adam Savage’s Tested, I Like To Make Stuff, and GreatScottLab for more general inspiration.

Hoh, on the other hand, relies on GitHub for open-source guides and code to complete projects like LucidGloves to provide finger tracking and haptic feedback when playing video games with a virtual reality (VR) headset.

There are also repositories such as Hackaday.io, which houses a collection of open hardware projects others can learn from and contribute to.

According to Shee, makerspaces have become ‘something of a library, but a library for people who like to make stuff’.

The next stage

According to Shee, makerspaces typically cater to individuals with limited knowledge on a subject, while those who have developed more expertise tend to rely on their own online support networks.

This rings true for Lee and Hoh, who, despite their interests, don’t regularly make visits to makerspaces.

Hoh, for instance, opts to rely on online community resources rather than visiting a makerspace.

“I prefer joining groups on social media to ask for advice, and I have my own equipment at home since I already have the technical know-how to figure things out,” he says.

Nevertheless, Lee acknowledges the potential benefits of such a location, even for individuals who are experienced, although practicality might limit their visits.

“There aren’t any makerspaces close by to where I live, and my schedule has been relatively tight, so finding time to visit one hasn’t really been an option nor a particularly high priority for me.

“But even though equipment has become cheaper over time, it can still stack up and get expensive. Rather than spend thousands to buy it yourself, visiting a makerspace is a more economical option.

“A big plus is that I would be able to get hands-on experience with gear I would otherwise be unable to afford or learn how to use before I buy it myself.

“At the same time, I can get guidance from the people working there on how I can move forward with a project if I get stuck,” he says.

Lee also highlights that some gunpla (a portmanteau of the popular anime series Gundam and the word plastic model) stores offer similar areas with tools for visitors to use, such as airbrushes and painting booths.

Shee explained that visitors to a makerspace typically seek consultations, establish their proof of concept, and create initial prototypes.

However, the subsequent development of a market-ready solution to address specific problems would require external efforts, including seeking funding from other sources.

“Let’s say a student wants to work on a robotics project, if they are not self-driven, then they will be very clueless – they won’t know where to start.

“If they are able to come over here, at least we’ll be able to provide some guidance and maybe kickstart their passion to continue and solve some of their problems.

“If the student already knows what they want to do, they usually just do it first, and the makerspace serves more as a place for them to build and store their stuff with the tools available,” he says.

Shee emphasised the essential interplay in makerspaces: those with greater knowledge can maximise the space’s potential, while those with limited know-how require inclusion, exposure, and guidance.

He gave the example of the students in the newly formed Taylor’s University lion dance club, who needed tall platforms for their performance.

They approached a makerspace for consultation on how they could get it done cheaply and then proceeded to fabricate the structures by themselves.

In Shee’s view, the makerspace can serve as a valuable learning opportunity for students or those who have ideas for a project but aren’t familiar with some of the elements required for it.

Trust the process

From Lee’s experience, the most appealing part of being a maker is having personal involvement in the creation process.

“When I work on a custom controller like a fight stick (used for fighting games and retro arcade titles), restore an old figure, or build a plastic model, I know that I could buy something off the shelf instead.

“But I like being involved in the process of something being made. There’s a sense of accomplishment in watching the process move forward with your own hands, even if you do have to follow instructions,” he says.

He stresses that embracing the maker mindset involves having confidence in the process, leveraging the available resources, and ultimately finding a way to accomplish the set goals.

Savage, of MythBusters fame and a longtime advocate for the maker movement, believes that makers are those with a desire to create.

“Whenever you set out to make something from nothing, using your point of view, you are a maker,” he says in a Q&A video posted on his YouTube channel in 2020.

He adds that all it takes is an interest in creating to become a maker, with even working on a small project that you find interesting turning you into one.

“Maybe you don’t show it (the project) to anyone, but it feeds you, and you look at it, and you’re like, ‘I’m really happy I made this’ or ‘I made this and I can make it a little better’.

“So you make it again, and then you feel like you’ve made that thing, so now you move on to another thing.

“Slowly, you build this roster of tools for exploration, explanation and exultation, because when you make something that you love, it’s a really remarkable experience.

“And then you start looking out; you might make something for somebody else.

“When you make something that somebody else loves, the whole world cracks open,” Savage says.