By Myra Saturen
July 29, 2013
Innovation is "in" at Northampton Community College's Fab Lab, at the Fowler Family Southside Center.
At the Fab (Fabrication) Lab, you start with your imagination and take it from there. Using computer-aided design equipment and computer-networked machinery you can make a 3-D model, fabricate a sturdy plastic prototype for testing and create your product. The Fab Lab includes a laser cutter-etcher that can be used to engrave and cut wood, plastic, marble, glass, acrylic, coated metal; a rapid prototype 3-D printer; CNC router; a woodworking lab; ten computers; and sewing-embroidery equipment.
NCC students and individuals and corporate clients from the community use the Fab Lab. Creating a prototype enables businesspeople to test ideas to see whether they work. They can fabricate etched nameplates at a lower cost than ordering it from a company. One business owner used the industrial straight stitch sewing machine to make heavy plastic straps enabling paraplegics to ski. She sells the straps in Colorado. Once a prototype of any product has been made, that prototype can be used repeatedly. What's more, changes can be made to a product right on the computer.
EcoTech Marine, a salt water aquarium company, frequently uses the Fab Lab to make prototypes and test their products before mass manufacture. Their newest invention is the radion, an LED (light-emitting diode) lighting system for fish tanks that outputs less heat, consumes less power and can be programmed to shed light in varied colors and create illusions such as clouds.
Working in the Fab Lab NCC computer assisted design students get to use their training with real clients helping to put their ideas into the computer and then create prototypes using the 3D printer, the Laser or CNC Router.
The fastest-growing segment of the Fab Lab is the woodworking lab. Here, for example, a student designed and made a tabletop clock carved out of a single piece of wood. After sanding and staining the wood, he cut out the shape with a computer-networked laser. Other students have fashioned humidors for storing cigars or jewelry.
Ricardo Orench, lead technician at the Fowler Center, created a Christmas present for his sister--a beautifully wrought mahogany and spruce acoustic guitar, embellished with her favorite pattern, that of butterflies. Starting with a pile of flat wood, he molded the shape, cut, sanded, and glued. Using a laser, he etched the butterfly design into the wood. As he worked, he tracked an image of the musical instrument as it took shape on a computer. "It was like following a good recipe," he says. "It was hands-on, doing something I'd never done before, using top-of-the-line equipment. I made a guitar that you cannot find on E-Bay."
Users of the lab have also made electric guitars, including the circuit boards. All guitars are built to C.F. Martin specifications. Recently, a class in ukulele-making has been added.
The concept for fabrication labs, also called table-top manufacturing, was first developed at MIT. Through the vision and generosity of local entrepreneur Shahri Naghshineh, NCC started its own fab lab in 2007. The lab has grown over time, with an electronics lab envisioned for the future.
At NCC's Fab Lab, one can take noncredit courses; attend open enrollment sessions from Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. or by appointment; get technical support for your business's projects; and bring your ideas to life as an entrepreneur.
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