To increase connections between manufacturers, sustainability experts, and designers Urbane and Urban Manufacturing Alliance hosted the Green Industrial Design Jam (GIDJ) to share expertise, strategies, and build a network of practitioners working towards shared goals. The GIDJ, sponsored by the Manufacturing and Industrial Innovation Council, brought together subject matter experts across disciplines to talk about today’s challenges and opportunities in scaling sustainable manufacturing in New York City.
Why linking designers with local manufacturing is important
At the height of the Covid-19 crisis in March 2020, hospitals throughout New York City were overwhelmed with patients, leading to a shortage of vital respirators.
Ten years earlier, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had come up with the scientific concept for a low-cost ‘bridge’ ventilator. Understanding the desperate need for new breathing assistance machines, leaders of the engineering firm 10XBeta and New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard developed blueprints that turned the scientists’ concept into a design for a physical device. Then Boyce Technologies, a company that usually manufactured communications technologies for transit systems, pivoted their operations to provide the materials, production machinery, and manufacturing expertise to take these designs and turn them into 3,000 automatic resuscitation devices.
This partnership between research, design, engineering, and local manufacturing was pivotal to producing urgently needed innovation as well as the production scale that could actually make a difference. Even under less frenetic circumstances, many university laboratories, startups, and industrial design companies often come up with brilliant concepts for innovative physical products and technical processes. But when it comes to manufacturing those products at scale, or even producing small numbers of prototypes, they tend to outsource the actual production to contract manufacturers at best in distant areas of the state or region, but more likely in countries as far afield as China or India. This disconnect between local industrial designers and local manufacturers has had an impact on local economic development. In many cases, it’s even meant the offshoring of not only production, but even of the supply chains and engineering expertise that goes into initial research and development.
The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of local industrial ecosystems where design, engineering, production, and consumption happen in tandem. And today, as the city, state, and country plan and support green technology deployment and climate change adaptation, developing stronger connections between different parts of the industrial commons design and manufacturing in particular—are key to making sure that investment and research result in sustained employment and economic activity. Design Jams start to bridge these gaps. By uniting designers with manufacturers to address specific sustainability challenges, this effort builds upon tremendous work that MaiiC, the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, and Urbane Development have done both nationally and locally to reconstitute and strengthen industrial communities. And with a specific focus on garment and food manufacturing respectively the city’s most storied and todays’ fastest growing manufacturing subsectors these partnerships carry impactful lessons for others in the city’s production ecosystem.
The insights from this Green Manufacturing Design Jam are eye-opening. Beyond the impact for the immediate participants, we hope that they will inspire additional collaborations, both one-off and sustained, to ensure that the type of value that we saw brought to the fore in our time of crisis can continue to bring innovation, jobs, energy and resource efficiency, and even excitement to every day in our city.
Design Jams are interactive events that unite designers, manufacturers, and community members, inviting them to explore new product designs, systems, and processes based on locally-available production techniques. Together, they solve problems members in their communities face, all while inspiring greater collaboration within place-based manufacturing ecosystems and creating new supply-chain connections.
Jams establish a strategy for connecting designers, makers, and engineers to legacy manufacturers and policymakers, thus opening up new markets, new scalable businesses, new product concepts, and new relationships. The Design Jam intentionally goes beyond a simple introduction to unite groups who don’t naturally work together and who have preconceived notions of how the other operates and offers a collaborative and supportive environment. UMA’s intention is to foster the change necessary to bring disparate but reliant communities together and it starts with getting disconnected people to spend more time talking to one another.
These events, at their core, are about building community and bringing unlikely partners together. This includes manufacturers interfacing with designers; students with industry; communities of color with manufacturers; economic development practitioners with designers and everyone in between. Increased opportunities combined with a more connected manufacturing ecosystem lead to a resilient, nimble, and equitable economy and engine for innovation.
To Learn more about Design Jams, download reports from previous UMA Design Jam events below: