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Students bring their innovations to life

Technician Eric Olson sets up the Oculus Rift

By Matt Fulkerson, The Shorthorn Staff

New technology and additional workspace mean the sky is the limit for UTA’s expanding FabLab.

In its initial launch, the lab took up 800 square feet of space on the first floor of the Central Library. That space, formally called the Fabrication Laboratory, is now expanding to 8,000 square feet, with new tools and more workspace.

“We started off with a mix of different 3D printers, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, all kinds of technologies for our students to come in and make almost anything,” FabLab director Katie Peery said.

After working with students and other users to determine what technologies and tools would be most beneficial, the library and FabLab set to work on expanding the available offerings. While all of the tools are not in place, she said, they will roll them out as equipment is received and the staff is trained in its usage.

Along with the laser cutters and Oculus Rift development kit, seven new poly printers, sewing machines, drill presses, a variety of wood and metal saws are in place at the lab, FabLab technician Eric Olson said.

The new layout also includes additional computer workstations in the center work area, allowing users to design projects before moving to the edges of the lab to bring their ideas into the physical world, Peery said.

“We wanted this to be a very porous, open space,” Peery said. “Students will be able to see this creative atmosphere of invention around them.”

The most popular tool, Peery said, is the laser cutter, which allows for even larger projects. The original system was limited to projects that fit into the bed of the machine, but with the new cutter, material can be fed through.

“You can basically cut anything organic in this thing,” Olson said. “You can even engrave certain rocks, like marble or sedimentary rock.”

If this is starting to sound too technical, experience with the tools isn’t a requirement, libraries associate dean Suzanne Byke said. Some pieces of technology do require training and safety considerations, but free classes will be offered beginning in the fall semester. In the meantime, students can speak with the on-call FabLab technicians and student workers for assistance.

“People can use it for fun or for academic purposes,” Peery said. “We don’t prioritize one over the other, so you can just come in and get acquainted with the technology by making something for your girlfriend, or you can use it for research.”

The Fabrication Laboratory was created as a hub for students, faculty and the Metroplex, providing access to technologies, equipment, training and inspirational spaces in support of invention and entrepreneurship.

Some materials are available for purchase, but users can also bring in their own materials, Peery said.

“For the 3D printers, we provide the filament, because we were getting a variety of cheap filaments that were clogging the machine,” Peery said. “But for something like the laser cutter, there’s such a variety of materials that you can use. We just keep a small stash on hand and point them in the direction to where they can purchase more.”

The overarching purpose behind the FabLab, Byke said, is to meet the goal of President Vistasp Karbhari’s Strategic Plan through interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurship. A student with a strong background in design can work with another student with a strong application background to create new projects and build relationships.

“This is a space where differences and strengths are really highlighted,” she said.