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Brooklyn Navy Yard's Future As Manufacturing Center

Friday, May 10, 2013 - 04:00 PM

There was a time when ships launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Now, it launches companies.

At least that’s what a sign told visitors who made the trek to DUMBO Thursday for the official unveiling of New Lab. And while the tenants of the new space are mostly manufacturing companies, they don’t assemble ships.

New Lab plans to take up 84,000 square feet by 2015. For the time being, however, during its first phase, it occupies nearly 8,000 square feet on the 8th floor of Navy Yards Building 280. The space is a well-lit, open office loft with tables and desks and no cubicles. In one section, a company makes baby spoons. Another creates robotic lamps and another makes cranial implants.

The manufacturing hub aims to bring together designers and engineers occupying the loft space with new technology like 3-D printers, said David Belt the founder of Macro Sea, which is developing the space.

On Thursday, three 3-D printers were humming, manufacturing prototypes for the companies at New Lab. One was printing a tiny robot figurine as a demonstration for visitors. There was little mess and hardly any noise.

For those working at New Lab, having 3-D printers on site makes it easier for them to create and tweak prototypes, thereby reducing the time it takes to move from design to manufacturing.

"You can design something today and have it in your hand tomorrow," said Siavash Mahdavi of Within Lab, a London-based designer but also a tenant at the Navy Yard.

Mahdavi designed software which tells a 3-D printer how to create the mold for a new kind of recyclable coffee cup. The mold, which he also designed, creates a fine, perforated surface that eliminates the need for the thin layer of laminate which typically keeps coffee cups from being easily recycled. It's a design Mahdavi said only a 3-D printer can manufacture.

The tenants of New Lab, however, said they are not there solely for the 3-D printers, but for access to other people who are part of this city's new manufacturing industry. It’s what entrepreneur Marcel Botha called "intellectual cross-pollination." Botha works with Spuni, which is manufacturing an ergonomical baby spoon. 

Other designers are building customized hip implants and submarine antennae.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who attended the event, joked that some of the ideas coming out of New Lab were so good that she didn't understand them. "That’s what we want more of in Brooklyn. Big, smart ideas that I don't understand, that put people to work every day," said city council speaker Christine Quinn who attended the event.

The new manufacturing center is expected to cost $60 million, with $42 million financed by private sources and $18 million from public sources. That includes grants from the New York State Regional Council, the City Council and the Brooklyn borough president's office.

"Make no mistake, an idea is a nice thing, but it's not a particularly productive thing unless it puts people to work," Quinn said. "And that's what we're doing here, creating jobs that are going to be open to all New Yorkers, jobs that are creating actual things," Quinn said.

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