Past the full service café, past the welcoming desk with the NextFab Studio logo carved out of a generous cut of wood, is a massive workspace in the former warehouse of a decorative iron works.
It’s five times the size of NextFab’s former location and it features a new flagship machine: a quarter-million-dollar monster that spits a grit-infused water jet faster than the speed of sound.
“It can cut beautiful, precise shapes out of almost any kind of material,” said NextFab president and founder Evan Malone, over the whir of a work in progress. “So stone, thick slabs of metal, things that you just can’t cut any other way.”
NextFab has outgrown its former space at the University City Science Center. Now, the so-called “gym for innovators” is putting the finishing touches on its new digs southwest of Center City.
Thursday night, the company is throwing a party for its grand opening. Malone says over 500 people are expected to attend.
NextFab is entering its fourth year as a playground of sorts.
“We are a coworking space for people who like to make things,” Malone said.
NextFab has about 150 members who pay monthly dues for access to the high-tech tools that turn ideas into physical products. That means 3-D printers and other expensive gizmos that local innovators or startups wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Malone and his team of 17 employees also do work for outside clients. He says the move into a bigger home, in what he calls the “making things district” of Philadelphia, will allow his members — and his business — to pursue more ambitious projects.
“In West Philadelphia we had a real difficult time getting large objects in and out of the building,” said Malone. “And it’s much more, over there, about laboratories and computers and people sitting and thinking — and not so much about the physical making of things.”
NextFab’s new spot on Washington Avenue features space for wood-working, welding, hacking electronics, even a spray paint room. There’s also office space for a couple of startups.
The new space is big, and so is the vision.
“We’re really counting on this to be a home run here,” Malone said. “We went from nearly self-sustaining [financially] in West Philadelphia to really stepping over a cliff here. So we’re really going to be in deep trouble if people don’t respond well to this.”
Still, Malone is confident that the new NextFab will be warmly received by local makers. NextFab is expecting its expanded offerings to boost membership. Malone says the new space is a major milestone for the maker movement, “for both us and the city.”
“I think a lot of other cities are going to be very jealous,” Malone said.