Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

New Fab Machines

By Anna Fiorentino
July 2012 • CoolStuff

Thayer School Machine Shop
Thayer School Machine Shop

Christian Ortiz '11 Th '11 took any remaining guesswork out of the Thayer School Machine Shop's new easy-to-use equipment. He built an app, which will be housed on an iPad next to each machine, that guides students to use the new computer-controlled tools. It's just one more feature of the new shop, in an area called the FAB Lab, that will make machining at Dartmouth easier and safer than ever before.

"These new machines in the FAB Lab are all sensorized and more or less have computers attached to them that allow you to export your Computer-Aided Design (CAD) images onto them," says Ortiz, who is now finishing up his year term as Thayer Design Fellow. "Once students discover this new functionality, and how fast they operate, they will be overwhelmed with excitement."

Walls are being torn down, windows are going up, and the floor plan of the Machine Shop reconfigured to aggregate new work spaces to completely remodel the shop by August 1. This will free up staff to keep an eye on up to 55 students from every vantage point in the Machine Shop at a given time. About $700,000 in new mills, lathes, and digital and other equipment will replace machinery that in some cases date back to World War II era.

A section of the shop will be dedicated to designing production materials, such as molds, dies, jigs, and fixtures, while a larger subset—the new FAB lab—will serve as a space for students to get down to hands-on project work. They can improve their functional prototypes with 3D scanning and digitizing, computer numerical control of the machine tools, conversational programming, and onsite video tutorials.

"Our re-engineering effort recognizes the key role of design software to support the fabrication process, and maximizes the power of these tools to help students build the projects of their imaginations," says Manager of the Machine Shop Kevin Baron. "A FAB lab can be a stepping stone to more industrial production methods that take place in the larger machine shop, or it can meet the needs of engineers who do not want to dive deeply into the product development process."

The first Fab Lab opened at MIT in 2001, where Baron worked before joining Dartmouth, as a high-tech, small workspace with computers that help students digitally fabricate functional working models of basically anything quickly and with ease. While traditional machine shops are a place for students to make things out of metal, at Dartmouth's FAB Lab students will be able to make things out of foam, fiber glass, plastic, fabric, wood, rubber, and other materials using a variety of processes from sewing to scanning to sculpting. These approachable-scale machines, which don't require staff supervision, will be available to students during extended evening hours.

"We expect this area to serve as a launch pad for student designers to gain familiarity with the techniques of production and to make small models independently, before moving out to the larger-scale capabilities of the workshop," says Baron. "The FAB Lab will provide powerful fabrication tools that designers can learn to use in less than a couple hours. This space provides a resource for designers who want a fast and easy way to produce functional working models of their product designs on their own, whenever they want."

Baron, who proposed the improvements, says that since Computer-Aided Design software is driving engineering design at Dartmouth, it makes sense to provide students with computer-controlled fabrication tools. In addition to embracing the digital revolution, he will also now staff the shop with a large cadre of temporary, part-time student assistants to support other students working in the machine shop.

"Our challenge has been that nearly all projects that students work on are accomplished in a 10-week course, but it can take longer than 10 weeks to really learn how to use many of the tools we had," says Baron. "Our new machines will now input data from design software and coach students through the design process, allowing them to make something in just a couple of hours."

New FAB Lab Machinery:

Tags: facilities

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