The Hardware Store by Bi-Link is where ideas begin to become realities.
The 2,000-square-foot space is a technology-driven “home away from work” for design engineers and entrepreneurs, said Bi-Link President Ray Ziganto.
Designers have access to manufacturer-based input from the three engineers on site. There is also equipment to test initial proof of a concept.
“This is not a place to work on an arts and craft project,” said Ziganto, 51, from his Illinois office. “Our niche is for the serious entrepreneur or product development specialist.”
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The Hardware Store, which opened Nov. 5, is the first of its kind for Bi-Link, a contract manufacturer headquartered in Bloomingdale, Illinois.
“We are a 53-year-old family-owned business,” Ziganto said. “In the years since the economic crisis in 2008, America is looking different and is going to be different. There is so much activity happening, even in bad times, with companies doing product development. We saw a huge opportunity.
“What that meant for us is that for the average person at home with an idea, he can start tinkering again,” Ziganto said. “People used to come home and fix something. They had skills; 3D printing made that cool again.”
An existing customer base led Bi-Link to select the Triangle for its first Hardware Store.
Ziganto likens the store to a retreat for engineers, who can get away at lunchtime and toss around ideas with industry professionals.
“A lot of engineers testing a concept will whittle away something at their desk, but they’re having a hard time getting into their own model shops,” he said. “We’re giving them another option. Away from the day-to-day, engineers can tinker and push the boundaries on design projects. They’re able to ask questions and get input from our resident engineers and other staff, even create early iterations of their ideas by getting some parts made.
“This is nothing new to us, providing that level of support,” he said. “What’s new with the Hardware Store is that we’ve learned there’s a tremendous sense of community. There’s a sociological aspect to how engineers collaborate with each other in a noncompetitive way.”
Within the Hardware Store is the Midnight Lunch Lab, which tips a hat to an early inventor. In collaboration with Sarah Miller Caldicott, grandniece of Thomas Edison and author of “Midnight Lunch,” the space is designed to ignite innovation.
“A bit of it is homage to Thomas Edison and a bit of it is a look to future,” Ziganto said. “What worked then works now.”
There is no cost to use The Hardware Store. Bi-Link expects its collaboration with some engineers to continue through manufacturing of a final product.
“We are one of the only companies that can take an idea from the very earliest stage to high volume manufacturing without any handoff,” Ziganto said.
“It used to be if you wanted to develop a prototype, it was expensive and long-term,” he said. “Now it’s a day or two. The cost has come down so dramatically. This is the most exciting time in my career.”
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