MTU inventors explore ideas in the high-tech MakerSpace workshop
MTU Aero Engines is supporting its community of inventors. In the high-tech MakerSpace workshop in Munich, they tinker with their own products and turn their ideas into reality.
09.2020 | Text: Nicole Geffert
Nicole Geffert has been working as a freelance journalist covering topics such as research and science, money and taxes, and education and careers since 1999.
Dr. Giovanni A. Brignole is an expert in compressor aerodynamics, working in development at MTU Aero Engines. Some of his inventions have even been patented. Not many of his colleagues know this, but one of Brignole’s great passions in life is playing the guitar and synthesizer. Even outside of work, his creative mind is always ticking and he likes to spend his free time playing with new ideas. “I was thrilled with MTU’s offer to explore my creativity at MakerSpace,” he says.
Located in the north of Munich, MakerSpace is one of the largest prototype workshops in Germany. It’s a place where hobbyists, researchers, students, company founders or anyone can go to use high-tech machinery for water-jet cutting, inert-gas welding, sandblasting and powder coating, for example. Where ambitious do-it-yourselfers work alongside start-ups, tinkering with software and professional tools to create prototypes of their product ideas.
MTU became a member of MakerSpace this year to give twenty of its employees the opportunity to turn their own ideas into reality. It didn’t take Brignole long to decide which of his ideas he wanted to bring to life at MakerSpace. “I’m designing and building an effects unit to hook up to the guitar and amplifier,” he says. He recalls his first experience of dabbling with electronics at home: “Back in the 1980s, we’d etch circuit boards in etching baths in the basement. Thankfully, more elegant solutions are available these days.” The circuit board milling machine at MakerSpace, for instance. Brignole had already simulated the electronic circuits for his effects unit on the computer at home.
Largest prototype workshop in Germany: At MakerSpace, hobbyists, researchers, students or company founders can use high-tech machinery for water jet cutting, inert-gas welding, sandblasting, powder coating and more.
Christian Grünberger, head of Intellectual Property Management at MTU, keeps in regular contact with the 500 or so inventors in the MTU Group: “We want to give our community of inventors an even stronger incentive to realize their innovative ideas. At MakerSpace, they can tap further into their individual creativity by working on their own, very personal projects,” he says. This fosters new, imaginative patterns of thinking that they can then apply to their work at MTU. MakerSpace’s innovative and productive environment is the perfect setting for the inventors to keep coming up with new ideas.
Grünberger recognizes the benefits: “It doesn’t take long for your imagination to start stalling when you’re dealing with new subject matter; I know that from experience,” he says. He himself has worked at MakerSpace, where he developed a prototype for an idea his kids came up with. It now stands in front of his house: a garden bench that is comfortable to sit on and incorporates a locked storage space for parcel deliveries.
“The inventors are in their element here, where they can completely lose themselves in their work,” says Florian Küster, Sales and Marketing Manager at MakerSpace. “In today’s increasingly digitalized world of work, very few people actually make things with their hands anymore. But here they get to physically hold their inventions. This makes the product development experience tangible and brings it to life.”
But the first draft doesn’t always immediately translate into a prototype. Paper is patient, as the saying goes. But even the best drawing of an idea is useless if you can’t actually produce it. Brignole: “Experimenting with ideas at MakerSpace teaches you to think ahead: Will my design work in practice? Is it possible to process the materials the way I want?” In his role at MTU, too, he’s always thinking about the production side of the concepts he develops. “If you want to do a good job, you have to look beyond your own field,” he says.
Before inventors can start actually building their products at MakerSpace, they first have to learn how to use the high-quality machinery. “You’re not allowed to operate the machines until you’ve had the proper training,” Küster explains.
Petra Kufner, who works as an expert in MTU’s Advanced Programs department where concepts for future engines and components are developed, has already been trained on four machines at MakerSpace, including for the CNC wood milling machine, the laser cutter and the 3D printer and scanner. The idea she wants to bring to life is a cylindrical stand with an oval base to hold her cats’ water bowl. She developed a 3D model of the stand on her computer at home. Kufner is an enthusiastic DIYer and also enjoys working with fabric and paper, but at MakerSpace she is discovering a whole new world of possibilities: “Here I have access to high-tech machinery and professional tools.”
Like Brignole, she works closely with the production department in her job. As an engineer, she is always very mindful about using materials and other resources sparingly. “Materials like plexiglass, for example, are expensive. You don’t want to use more material than you actually need, so it’s important to make a detailed plan of how you’re going to realize and produce your idea before you start.” And if the researchers get stuck at any point, there is a professional crew—usually master craftsmen—on hand in the workshop to assist and advise them.
Kufner’s water bowl stand is still in the development stage, but working at MakerSpace is already giving her a creative boost and that feel-good factor. “And, unlike at work, I don’t have to wait for authorization or approvals to proceed with my invention, so the path to success will be shorter,” Kufner says.
A paradise for inventors and creative types:
MakerSpace offers members access to machines, tools and software. The 1500 m² high-tech workshop has everything a tinkerer’s heart desires. MakerSpace is a place to bring ideas and innovations to life as prototypes and small batches. Members have access to various areas, such as a machine, woodworking and metal workshop as well as a textile and electrical corner. In addition, 3D printers, laser cutters and water jet cutting machines provide ways to create new shapes and process a wide range of materials.
More details at www.maker-space.de