Visit to Autodesk Instructables/123D at Pier 9 SF, CA

If you thought the SpaceShop at NASA AMES was the coolest makerspace, read on…
I had the lucky opportunity to visit the offices of Autodesk Instructables and 123D in November 2013. These are located in San Francisco on Pier 9, just down the shore from the Exploratorium. Here’s a panorama from just south of the pier. See those big black squares? Thats where the cargo doors would be – but now they are big windows. just wait. the view from inside is fantastic.

Autodesk Space 1

The Pier 9 facility serves as the office for both Instructables and 123D. If you have not been to these sites, stop now and go read up. Instructables is a great place where people post How-To instructions on a wonder full variety of projects. 123D is Autodesk’s collection of FREE 3d software and models… yes free, although there is a Premium version that gives you wider access,etc. I have to say that with these two sites Autodesk is doing a lot for the maker community – although possibly undercutting their main market, they are getting many more people involved in CAD (Computer Aided Design). This may lead some on to buying the regular Autodesk products. And if you want to take a peak at some things in the pipeline, go check out Autodesk Labs. And then go browse around their research group. Their Bio/Nano/ Programmable Matter Group is creating design tools for a whole new realm of engineering. I’m particularly interested in their modeling and simulation tools. IMHO, we MUST do a whole lot of mod/sim before committing these designs to physical reality, as the potential ‘bugs’ could be devastating on a scale beyond any previous engineering tech (i.e. entire planet).

Enough of that… on with the tour… (full photo set is available on the Maui Makers Flickr)
The pier is a shared facility with Autodesk inhabiting a fair bit of the south side. They gave me permission to photograph the lab spaces but not the offices – which might include projects in process, etc. I’ll just say those were pretty nice and interesting office spaces – even if I’m not a fan of open space offices. It was definitely an Artists space, with lots of fun stuff on and around their desks…

Autodesk Space 3

Matthew and Andy outside Autodesk Offices – I think they’ll agree this space rivals theirs at NASA Ames for coolness

First stop on the walking tour was the Kitchen. This is NOT the employee lunch room, and it is exclusively for food and related ingestables … and is a nice setup. While we were there, Amal (an instructables employee) was making toothpaste. I noted that this and most other rooms had a set of ‘trash’ cans for proper sorting of recyclables.
Autodesk Space 4 Autodesk Space 6

Next down the line was the museum/gallery, where some past projects of note are on display. Among the exhibits when we visited were a self-playing drum set and laser cut/3d printed LP records. Note that big view window. Yeah, hard to get work done here… but then again with the toys you’ll see it would be a fun place to play.
Autodesk Space 8 Autodesk Space 9

After the gallery we had to don protective eyeglasses… OSHA rules ya know. The next room did have machines that definitely required these… Like this big beautiful water jet cutter and couple of large CNC machines .. (ladies are our hosts- Karen Howard and Carley Jacobson)
Autodesk Space 11 Autodesk Space 15 Autodesk Space 13 Autodesk Space 14

Continuing north, the next room was the wood shop, with some big wood shapers… and that view distracting Matthew, et al. They also have a rather large paint booth, big enough for a decent sized go-kart or motorcycle. I envy that and the clamp collection…
Autodesk Space 20 Autodesk Space 18 Autodesk Space 19

Last shop on the first floor was the metal shop. Not sure why this was not located next to the CNC room, but it was pretty awesome. I do admit NASA Ames does have a bigger metalworking space.
Autodesk Space 21 Autodesk Space 23

After the metal shop, we went upstairs and started walking back… slowly. The first room was filled with 3D Printers and Laser cutters… big ones.
Autodesk Space 26 Autodesk Space 24 Autodesk Space 25 Autodesk Space 27

Past this room, we crossed a catwalk over the CNC room. This is a view of these machines you rarely get to see…
Autodesk Space 28 Autodesk Space 29 Autodesk Space 30 Autodesk Space 31

Last up was the e-textiles and electronics lab, along with a couple stations setup for product photography. Note the RFID entry panel on the electronics lab. Access to each machine/area is restricted to employees that have gone through a class on how to use the equipment – safely.

Autodesk Space 32 Autodesk Space 33 Autodesk Space 34
Autodesk Space 35 Autodesk Space 36

That brought us back to the offices and conference room. I didn’t get any pictures of this, but they did have an interesting swinging conference table. It was a big slab of wood with hefty swing supports and built in seats. I’m not sure how effective it is. It was kinda distracting and perhaps a bit hard on personal balance.

It was quite an impressive visit. I am envious of the 123D/Instructables employees having this sort of place to play – err work. Then again, I’m sitting in a small shop on Maui with my own laser cutter, 3d printer, and electronics bench within a couple steps. One feature of my space (in planning) that was surprisingly missing from the Autodesk space were cameras. Documenting a project is one of the most onerous tasks, especially getting pictures while in process. Having a time lapse camera overhead (or positionable for closer shots) can be a big help. Otherwise you have to go back and do the project a second (3rd?) time, getting pictures of each step. I dont have mine setup yet, but I expected would have had something in place to make it easier. Maybe it just wasn’t visible or they perhaps they have photographers on staff to get those done right.

2 replies
  1. talmage murray
    talmage murray says:

    Hello my name is talmage. I am trying to recreate 18 mold of decrotive concrete blocks created in 1902. By sears an robuck. Can auto desk 123 d design an auto desk inventor fission help duplicate

    • Jerry
      Jerry says:

      Yes these could help. The first question is do you have example blocks in hand? (ok near by – not asking you to type while holding 18 concrete blocks) If so, then you might use 123D Catch to create a digital model from a collection of photographs. If not, then fusion and other products would work as a CAD/CAM system for you to re-create the blocks from some reference images.


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