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Manufacturing a space for design

Nov 20, 2017
  • Article by Online Editor

With manufacturing in Australia in decline, it is increasingly difficult for young designers to see their concepts through to completion. But an innovative new concept called Space Tank Studio is helping designers, artists and product developers turn their ideas into reality. We spoke to the man spearheading the project, Holger Dielenberg.

Space Tank's Holger Dienlenberg
Space Tank’s Holger Dielenberg

Australian Design Review: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became involved in design?

Holger Dielenberg: I grew up in a family of scientists, builders and artists so the fascination with creating things is part of my DNA. I then spent around thirty years doing boat building, oil painting and visual effects in the film industry and feel privileged to have worked with very talented people across many different industries. I like innovation and helping others achieve their goals and so I feel like Space Tank has become the vehicle to bring all of that together.

ADR: What is Space Tank Studio and how has it evolved?

HD: Space Tank is a product development incubator where designers, niche manufacturers and innovators come to use affordable machinery and technology to prototype and commercialise their design concepts. I saw a way to merge incubator with makerspace to provide the right supportive environment where business meets making. It turns out there is a lot of demand. We’ve had over 450 makers use the facility since it started and now universities and government organisations are starting to take notice.

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ADR: You’re working with RMIT’s furniture design program, why is it important to support the next generation of designers?

HD: Victoria has world-leading universities that produce thousands of passionate designers and product developers every year. But due to our high priced dollar, gutted manufacturing industry and sky-high rental market; when students graduate they face huge barriers to entry. I want to help level the playing field so that our emerging talent can realise their full potential. When a single product developer receives affordable support at the beginning of their business journey, they can go on to prosper and generate millions of dollars of revenue in design and manufacturing goods and services. Supporting grassroots designers starts a ripple effect that is felt through all support industries, raising levels of productivity and innovation.

ADR: What is the state of furniture manufacturing in Australia?

HD: Dwindling. To put it simply, it’s not good. The cost of machinery, technology and rent is simply too expensive for talent to take root and grow and it’s not just furniture makers who suffer from this. Equipment suppliers are taking a hit because there is a decline in machinery purchases. In Victoria, emerging product developers and designers have the lowest access to manufacturing technology and yet they represent our highest economic growth potential. If emerging furniture makers can access affordable technology, then we will see significant growth in niche manufacturing productivity.

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ADR: What are the biggest challenges you see emerging furniture makers facing in Australia?

HD: Every challenge presents an opportunity and we happen to find ourselves in the middle of a pivotal time of global disruption. China is not the world’s factory anymore and industry 4.0 supply chain trends are uncovering huge opportunities. The challenge for emerging furniture makers is to be flexible and use technology as their labour force. We like to push responsibility down the food chain and leave it up to the little people to solve big problems on their own. But I believe this is a systemic issue. Universities and Government policy needs to take a longer-term view on this because they can be the biggest part of the solution. We need more education around disruptive industry trends and more government support for product developers in general.

ADR: What exciting things have you seen coming through Space Tank lately?

HD: High-performance carbon fibre and 3D-printed titanium bicycles, smart furniture that can be adapted to multiple interactive uses, instant human-scale 3D scanning, the most beautiful handmade culinary knives you’ve ever seen, sculpted beer tap handles that triple bar sales, healthcare-enabling devices… almost every week, someone walks into Space Tank with a brilliant idea that they need to make. It’s always a hive of activity and such a huge buzz to be around.

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ADR: What advice would you give to your younger self?

HD: We all tend to bang our heads against walls of adversity, but with a little creativity and courage to jump outside your comfort zone, you can find loopholes of opportunity. Bring focus to your disruptive energy. Have discipline and don’t be afraid to fail, just fail fast.

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