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Chad Stuemke: Turning Napkin Sketches into On-The-Shelf Products

Chad Stuemke, design director of Objex Design, was no stranger to maker culture before joining TechShop. As one of the shop’s first members, he brought decades of industrial design experience with him when he joined.

“I’m a little envious of the people who come to TechShop totally green,” he said.

Stuemke uses TechShop as an extension of his smaller shop at Objex Design, a firm that he described as a full-service product development consultancy capable of guiding ideas from napkin sketch to on-the-shelf product. For 15 years, the firm has developed a wide array of products – from remote-control cars and antennas to eyewear and fishing reels.

“We hang our hat on our ability to maintain that initial design concept and intent all the way through to the packaged good on the shelf,” Stuemke said.

TechShop has helped streamline their product development process.

“We’ve got access to things here that would have been inappropriate to have in our shop, from a budgetary standpoint,” he said.

This newfound access has enabled Objex Design to offer its clients better services, like improved rapid prototyping. Stuemke recalled how a vending machine company had asked Objex Design to develop a fascia part for its machines. Using TechShop, Stuemke was able to fabricate a prototype in record time.

“We agreed on some files on Wednesday and delivered the parts on Friday, which is pretty quick by anybody’s standards,” he said. “We would have never been able to do that before.”

Stuemke said the combined expertise of TechShop members and staff has helped him pick up some new skills. And given his deep experience in the industry, it’s a welcome change.

“When you’re the senior-most guy, learning new things can be tricky when all I have is information to give and there’s no one giving anything back,” he said. “But here I have a place where I can come learn a new skill. So for me personally, that’s been super gratifying.”

Perhaps most exciting for Stuemke is his new role teaching STEM and STEAM classes to local school children and Boy Scouts at TechShop. He said that a healthy sense of community is part of what makes TechShop a great environment for learning.

“It’s not a super common thing to be setting up next to someone in a shop and have them be willing to help you,” he said, noting that he’s encountered some people in the industry who could be standoffish, or overly protective of projects. “Nobody here is like that. There’s no protectionism. It’s more like ‘We’re doing this really cool thing, come check it out.’”

What’s been the most surprising thing about working at TechShop?

I’m surprised by the wide variety of people, and the ways they utilize TechShop. I didn’t expect to see artist, crafters, students and retired machinists all working in the same space. It’s weirdly awesome.

What do you hope to accomplish through teaching at TechShop?

I’ve found that I learn new things and polish dormant skills while I’m teaching. I also really enjoy the opportunity to share some of the skills and “tricks” I’ve picked up over the last 25-30 years of “making.” One of the primary reasons I’ve taken on a teaching position is so that I can help inspire and equip the next generation of makers, including my own kids, and so far that’s been the most rewarding part. My normally difficult-to-impress 14-year-old son actually really enjoys his evening class at TechShop. And I enjoy the simple fact that he and I can share that little bit of time and connection.

What kinds of companies might benefit from TechShop?

I truly believe that everyone in any sort of creative or engineering role should be involved in TechShop – if for no other reason than to draw inspiration from the maker community that thrives there. I’ve personally been able to expand my skill set and meet people who’ve inspired me to pursue ideas I’ve had locked away for years. The tools and people that TechShop has to offer open up tremendous opportunities for people to explore. Companies that have any type of creative staff will benefit from getting involved at Techshop.

How do you plan to use TechShop to grow Objex Design going forward?

By simply using the new tools I have access to, I’ve been able to offer prototyping services to clients that I would have previously had to send to other agencies. We’ve more than recouped the cost of our membership in just these first few months by providing a wider range of prototyping options. I actually believe the greater benefit is coming from the introductions and relationships that are happening as a result of our presence and involvement at TechShop. The shop is frequented by some of the brightest and most talented “makers” in the St. Louis region, and having access to that pool of talent is incredibly valuable.