The noise of steel on steel that once deafened visitors of the Rotterdam shipyard has now been replaced by a gentle hum. Find out how the Dutch maker space RDM helps to shift the creative industry towards a third industrial revolution.
It’s a rainy Monday afternoon in Rotterdam and things seem quiet on the quay of the former Rotterdam Drydock Company (Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, RDM). Around forty years ago, newly constructed container ships would regularly slide down the ramp, but this has since become a thing of impossibility.
Due to continuous upscaling, today’s container ships are hundreds of meters long and tens of meters wide – much too large for this old part of the Rotterdam seaport.
Despite these developments, the façades of the old machine hall are still proudly standing tall. In big, white letters the words ‘Innovation Dock’ adorn the top of the large garage doors. The vast space behind these doors offers work space for innovative companies and start-ups that carry out research and development (R&D) activities.
Apart from some former RDM cables and rigging dangling from the ceiling, few remnants of the past are visible within this concrete structure. Yellow lines on the floor divide the open space into smaller zones, most of which are covered in high-tech manufacturing equipment.
One zone features a large pool used for testing submarine robots, while another has been configured as a testing area for drones.
A bit further down we find architect Leon Spikker of Studio RAP working on a bright yellow robot arm. The robot is part of RDM Makerspace, a public workshop housed in the Innovation Dock.
Using software he has developed himself, Spikker gets the arm to process a piece of wood.
“Robotics offer a whole array of opportunities, but for budding entrepreneurs, purchasing equipment like this represents an enormous investment,” says Spikker, himself a budding entrepreneur and specialist when it comes to using industrial robots in architectural design.
“RDM Makerspace offers the ideal solution. You can get started right away and you don’t need to look for an investor or take out a bank loan.”
RDM Makerspace makes professional machines available to self-employed people, start-ups, and other creative professionals. Users pay €35 to use the building for the day or €129 as a monthly membership fee. “Regular users also benefit from our wealth of knowledge and close-knit community, free-of-charge,” says Vincent Wegener, co-founder of the initiative.
He promotes the space as a great location for exchanging knowledge and cross-pollinating ideas. “Designers, furniture manufacturers, and artists come here to work on exciting individual and joint projects. They advise and assist each other with assignments. There is also a regular group of self-employed people who give workshops on how to use certain machines. This provides added value for our members.”
RDM Makerspace opened its doors more than three years ago. Initially, Wegener and his business partner Jurjen Lengkeek only rented machines from the nearby Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences when the students weren’t using them.
However, they quickly realized they needed a location accessible to creative professionals around the clock. This prompted them to invest in 3D printers and laser cutters, followed by all sorts of manufacturing equipment requested by their users.
Since then, RDM Makerspace has evolved into the world’s largest space dedicated to the creative and manufacturing industry, providing a welcome boost to the region’s creative and manufacturing sector.
Furniture manufacturer Mark Langen, for example, leases affordable work space to experiment and construct his specimens. Meanwhile, architect Elisabeth Boot uses state-of-the-art computer numerical control (CNC) technology and teaches courses on CNC.
At the same time, Studio RAP is also constructing an office pavilion to be housed inside the Innovation Dock. This project was commissioned by the Port of Rotterdam Authority and uses advanced robot technology.
Unleashing creative powers
Wegener and Lengkeek are eager to “unleash the creative power to embrace the opportunities of a third industrial revolution,” according to the RDM Makerspace’s website.
Wegener explains: “Rapid technological developments open up knowledge for everyone. Now that industrial machines and high-tech manufacturing equipment is within everyone’s reach, self-employed people can accomplish the same things as the R&D departments of large companies. This, in turn, explains why an increasing number of established companies are collaborating with start-ups in order to drive innovations.”
Wegener believes that Innovation Dock is the ideal experimental playing field for urban and harbor-related issues. “It offers large companies – as well as small, independent entrepreneurs and researchers – a shared space to experiment with civil engineering and urban redevelopment.
In the same vein, RDM Makerspace facilitates a new manufacturing and creative industry for a broad clientele. I think this element alone makes us a front runner in tomorrow’s economy.”
All the images, incl. the header image: Marieke Odekerken