Do-it-yourself and local manufacturing continues to innovate the New York City industrial sector while the industry experiences modest growth and stabilization after decades of steep declines.
The six fellows of New York’s Next Top Makers incubator program announced last week exemplify what people in the maker movement see as the future of New York City manufacturing. They want lean and sustainable production with an emphasis on a connection between the creative makers, designers and manufacturers—in Brooklyn, of course.
“New York is the best and most appealing place to be, especially with the current wave of tech manufacturing rising here,” said William Watts, one of the six winners of the fellowship. Watts is the owner of BlackBox Manufacturing, which designs and makes high-performance personalized carbon fiber products. His company, located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is one of four fellow’s whose product’s design and manufacture is based in Brooklyn.
The total number of manufacturing jobs in Brooklyn increased marginally in 2012 and continued to grow throughout the next year. In 2012 manufacturing jobs in Brooklyn rose by 2 percent and then rose again by another 1 percent in 2013.
Those increases are the first in more than a decade of sharp job loss. From 2000 to 2011 the manufacturing industry in Brooklyn has shed more than 23,000 jobs, a decrease of 55 percent.
The job increases in Brooklyn were in apparel and food manufacturing, according to a report released by the Comptroller in May. From 2009 to 2013 food manufacturing jobs in Brooklyn increased by 4 percent. And from 2010 to 2013 apparel manufacturing jobs in Brooklyn rose by 17 percent.
But the success of the hardware startups like Watts’ company depends largely on emerging technologies like 3-D printing. Watts uses 3-D printing “not only to lower the cost of producing molds for carbon fiber composites, but using the advantages of the process to allow freedom of design unavailable to traditional mold making methods,” he said.
Watts is the only maker fellow whose product is currently in commercial and market deployment, but other fellows have already made use of 3-D printers beginning in the development phase of their products.
Tenoch and Tlacael Esparza, two brothers who founded Sensory Percussion that makes an electronic percussion system that can be used with any standard acoustic drum, use the popular MakerBot 3-D printer to build their sensor’s enclosure.
“There really isn’t any other way we could create something as high quality for the money during out development phase,” Tenoch Esparza said. “Being able to print out a design, test it immediately, and make changes on the fly is incredible.”
3-D printers like the one from MakerBot that the Esparza brothers use are popular for personal home and commercial business use, but there are other companies like Shapeways Factories, also based in New York City, that use 3-D printers to produce upwards of 1,000 products a day for designers, although large-scale mass production is not yet a reality.
Watts and the Esparza brothers will join four other fellows whose hardware startup companies will benefit from both mentorship and financial support in the yearlong incubation program. The program is an initiative by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.