ALLEN PARK, MI – Ford hopes its involvement with the recently opened TechShop here will inspire employees to come up with the next automotive innovation and provide a new revenue stream for the company.

This downriver suburb of Detroit is the fifth location for TechShop in the U.S., which first launched in Menlo Park, CA, in 2006.

The facility is a collaborative workspace that offers a do-it-yourself workshop and fabrication studio where would-be inventors can access a vast array of equipment, including laser cutters, computer-aided design workstations and 3D printers.

Onsite consultants hand out advice to beginners, and classes are offered to learn how to use the tools. The idea behind TechShop is to lure people with ideas for inventions who don’t have the means to bring them to reality.

William Coughlin, president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies, the intellectual property arm of the auto maker, was instrumental in luring the latest TechShop version to Metro Detroit after reading about it in The New York Times.

“We pitched this at the automotive strategy meeting at Ford, which (consists of) the top officers in the company, and they were very supportive.” he tells WardsAuto during a recent media tour of the facility. “Ford wants to be innovative and be seen as a technology company.”

To convince TechShop to come to here, Ford guaranteed it would provide free membership to 500 of its employees each quarter. To qualify, candidates must submit an idea for an invention to Coughlin’s team, which determines whether it has long-term potential.

Ford employees who don’t receive free membership still qualify for a 50% discount on TechShop’s $100 monthly fee.

Coughlin says employees are encouraged to invent something that can be applied to the auto industry, but notes it’s not a requirement. If an invention is determined to be something that could be put into production, Ford files a patent. Because the inventor is an employee of the company, the patent and any financial proceeds go to the auto maker.

But the inventors are compensated, Coughlin says, although he declines to provide specific financial details. “If you were a repeat inventor, and Ford was using (the invention) and licensing it, you could literally pay for your retirement villa. We want to reward and recognize good, creative successful work.”

Inventions that are not related to automotive but could be used by other industries also are owned by Ford, he says. But an employee is free to patent an idea that is not related to any industry.

While TechShop is celebrating its grand opening this month, it has been in a soft launch phase since December while potential wrinkles were ironed out. Dozens of Ford employees already have received free memberships and others have joined on their own.

Coughlin says he has seen a spike in the number of ideas submitted to the company and anticipates they will continue to increase as more workers become members.

“More engineers are coming (than other positions within Ford), but we hope word will get out that you don’t need a technical background,” he says. “The consultants here can show you what you want to make.”

In addition to nurturing the ideas of Ford employees, Coughlin is hopeful others employed by competitive auto makers and suppliers will become members as well. Ultimately, he would like to see TechShop become a first-of-its-kind intellectual-property exchange and technology showroom.

“This showroom idea can be considered TechShop-plus,’” Coughlin says. “It will be an open meeting place that will enable inventors to showcase what they create in TechShop and then negotiate, network and even sell their idea to players in the automotive industry – from manufacturers and suppliers to research institutions and startups.”

bpope@wardsauto.com