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A "Cathedral of Manufacturing" Opens in Brooklyn

Posted By David Brousell, October 11, 2016 at 6:11 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

New_Lab.jpgI stumbled upon Scott Cohen and his “New Lab” creation in Brooklyn, New York, through a Google search. It was early 2015 and I was trying to identify innovations in manufacturing for that year’s 11th annual Manufacturing Leadership Summit.

Up popped New Lab, which described itself as an “independent, interdisciplinary” place for entrepreneurs working in robotics, artificial intelligence, connected devices, nanotechnology, 3D printing, energy, and other fields.

Illustrations on New Lab’s website of what was to become a shared working environment in a former ship building factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard immediately captured my imagination and I contacted Cohen, a co-founder of New Lab, about speaking at the Summit later that year. One thing led to another, and in June, Cohen gave a keynote to a rapt audience of executives mainly from established manufacturing companies. Think Ford, GM, Lockheed, Raytheon, etc.  https://vimeo.com/frostsullivan/review/132473958/ff4cf9570b

New Lab’s vision of a collaborative workspace for start-up and early stage innovators, companies that are attempting to break new ground by being in a non-traditional, creative environment that benefits all,  shook up the thinking of many of the executives in the Summit conference room that day. Could New Lab be a new model to help manufacturers innovate faster and better?

After nearly five years of development, New Lab is now ready to begin answering that question. On September 24, New Lab staged its “grand opening”, which drew more than 2,000 people, including my wife Irene and I, for an evening of presentations, food and drink, networking, and wonder about the possibilities.  

“This building (which was built in 1902 and was known as Building 128) was state of the art in World War I and World War II,” said David Belt, Cohen’s co-founder, at an opening ceremony, “But we thought: what is the state of manufacturing today? We wanted to create a place where people working on technologies could have shared space and could collaborate.”

Upon entering the 84,000-square foot building, which New Lab calls a “Cathedral of Manufacturing”, you are met by a cavernous space divided by a wide hallway with a concrete floor. Glass-lined offices and working spaces on either side of several floors rise above the hallway. An exposed beam ceiling lets in natural light. Cubicles and common areas pepper the space. The feeling one gets is a combination of expansiveness, openness, newness, and a sturdiness and strength borne from massive amounts of concrete and steel. The building easily accommodated the 2,000 people there on opening night.

Developed under a public/private partnership involving the Brooklyn Navy Yard; New York City, state and federal agencies; technology partners such as Autodesk and Stratasys; and Goldman Sachs, the building now holds 280 people working at 41 companies. Belt says maximum occupancy is about 450 people. The companies have access to private and shared studios, meeting rooms, event space, and seven prototyping shops. These include shops for CNC milling; metal fabrication; electronics assembly, testing, and diagnosis; spraying; laser cutting; and 3D printing.

Here’s a sample of the companies that presented at the grand opening:

  • RockPaperRobot – Founder Jessica Banks described RPG as a manufacturer of “kinetic” furniture, lighting, and wearables. What this means, she said, is that the furniture moves, changes shape, and responds to the environment. She showed RPG’s “Ollie” chair and table, which are built using interconnected slats and which fold for storage.
  • Questto | Nó – Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and New York, this company describes itself as an innovation consultancy “working at the intersection of design and tech by utilizing research and strategy to bring insights to life.” Shown were a truck design it had created and a smart kite.
  • Light – This company’s mission is to design products that “respect and inspire”. Co-founders Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang have been working on their first product, called Light Phone, that is a credit card-size phone that is meant to “be used as little as possible – a phone away from phone”. The Light Phone was expected to be introduced on October 5.
  • Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology) – This company, a non-profit, practices organic systems design. “We put the funk in functionalism,” co-founder Mitchell Joachim said. Among Terreform’s creations and projects are: the Urban Farm Pod, described as a “living” room for individuals and urban families to grow their own vegetables; the Post Carbon City State, which involves the use of what is described as “upcycled” car tires to build a new Manhattan; and a Cricket Farm, to produce protein from insects that humans can eat.

Also now part of New Lab is Studio Bitonti, whose founder and namesake, Francis Bitonti, spoke at the 2014 Manufacturing Leadership Summit and was interviewed in the June 2015 issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal. Studio Bitonti was originally focused on developing luxury goods and clothing designs using advanced computational design methodologies and 3D printing but is now also involved in electronics design.

In an interview following the grand opening, I asked New Lab co-founder Cohen about how the collaborative idea is playing out in New Lab, how traditional manufacturing companies might employ the New Lab innovation model, and what he foresees for New Lab in the next 10 years.

On the collaborative idea, Cohen said that New Lab companies are clearly focused on growing their own businesses, but, periodically, individual companies are sharing resources and working together. The important thing, though, is the nurturing environment that new Lab provides.

“Healthier companies will grow out of New Lab because of the adjacencies,” Cohen said. “They’ll move faster and joint ventures will happen. It’s a little like Noah’s Ark – a collective intelligence.”

On the subject of whether older, more traditional manufacturing companies could leverage the New Lab model, Cohen was very positive about this possibility, saying it is already happening to some extent.

“Innovation is happening more quickly outside these institutions,” he said. “New Lab is an opportunity for companies to identify teams within these companies that are dying to create something new. We can create a culture that will enable them to innovate, making it possible for them to take risks, and then spinning it back into their institutions.”

And, looking ahead, Cohen said New Lab’s ambition is to be present in other cities besides New York, and helping them to grow. He also expects that some of the companies now on the New Lab premises will outgrow New Lab itself.

“We’re growing companies for the next phase of industrialization,” Cohen said. “We want to build New Labs in other cities and network them.”

If that should occur, this “cathedral of manufacturing” now taking form in the Brooklyn Navy Yard could become a cathedral for the industry at large.





Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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