Gateway Technical College's Fab Lab Creates Opportunities with 3D Printing

Greg Herker is the Fab Lab Program Coordinator for Gateway Technical CollegeGateway Technical College. He designs and coordinates the programs and is in charge of Fab Lab operations. Herker describes the Fab Lab as “A movement. A place where ideas and innovations happen.”

The Lab is open to students, businesses, and the entire community.

Fab Lab: The Movement

“Our Fab Lab was started over a year ago. Fab Labs started in a class out of MIT by Dr. Neil Gershenfeld, the class “How to Build Almost Anything” and quickly found, that through digital fabrication, there would be a revolution allowing individuals to make all kinds of items for personal use. This sparked his idea: to bring digital fabrication to the masses with the Fab Lab, so they could design, create, and build their own items. The labs are meant to engage people in innovative learning experiences that bridge manufacturing and engineering, and provide experience with the entire design process.”

At our Fab Lab, we have a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, scanners, hand tools, a small CNC milling machine, and four Afinia 3D Printers. It’s great to have multiple printers so classes can come in and work on them without being limited to one. Using he 3D printers instead of the CNC machine also really speeds up how things work in the real world, especially for prototyping.”

Success for Students

“Gateway students are able to work on their class projects in our space.

Students draw parts in SolidWorks, which are then printed on the Afinia 3D Printer.
Students draw parts in SolidWorks, which are then printed on the Afinia 3D Printer.

They can design in SolidWorks and then print and assemble in the lab. We have art students, graphic designers, welders, and machinists coming in all the time. High school robotics teams also use the lab. It is really a great asset that Gateway provides to the community, increasing awareness of the excellent programs we have here. There are many students who attend Gateway for 2 years and then go directly to Milwaukee School of Engineering with junior status.”

“Although we focus on engineering, we get just as many art students who come through with new ideas to express their designs. One guy in 3D animation drew a Frankenstein animated drawing and then came to lab and printed it out. Another student had a scenery painting, scanned it, then took it to the laser and lasered it into denim fabric, which turned out neat, too.”

Bringing in Businesses

“For businesses, we give them access on a fee basis. We typically assist them with prototyping, model making, and getting business going. Here, they really get the idea of the capabilities of 3D printing.”

One local company uses the Fab Lab for all of their basic model prototyping. “When they first came to us, they didn’t have any orders for their product. The founder had been showing prospective customers models on the computer. We started making the prototypes on the Afinia 3D printer for him, and since he began showing the models, his business has skyrocketed. We do prints for him every month and he’s is now in the stage of needing to hire sales force!”

The Afinia 3D Printer is used for making a local company's models.
The Afinia 3D Printer is used for making a local company’s basic model prototyping.
The finished models.
The finished models.

Community Engagement

“As for the community, we attract a lot of inventors and entrepreneurs, and we offer workshops for a small fee. We’ve done lots of outreach to increase STEM in education, including Project “Lead the Way,” where we bring in middle and high school students to teach them about different manufacturing and engineering careers, and the skills and tools needed for them.”

“Gateway Technical College offers camps in the summer, like ‘Maker Camp’ and ‘Fun with Graphics & 3D.’ This year in the Maker Camp, kids built rockets. They gained experience making using a variety of tools. In the Fun with Graphics & 3D camp, everything is about the learning software. Kids work on designs and then bring them to life. They really enjoyed it when we showed them the 3D printing process.”

If You Can Design It, You Can Make It

“One student we worked with was an inventor. He came to us with an idea, which he had carved out of wood. We did some scans and printed it out. It came out pretty good and we went from there. He now has a patent on his idea.”

“Students keep coming up with new things and different ways to do stuff. Electrical students couldn’t find replacements online for the broken wheels on their old electric train. So they used SolidWorks to design new wheels and printed them on the Afinia 3D printers.”

“The fact that a design student can measure the parts, and design it, and print them is huge. When they print, sometimes they realize they missed something. They physically see it, instead of having to run analysis on assembly drawing. These students are getting experience that they need in the job market.”

Offering More Opportunities

“Gateway’s Fab Lab and 3D printing is a great way to help college students expand their opportunities. 3D printing is appearing at more facilities as an addition to their equipment. Since CNC works differently than additive manufacturing, students need to learn how to design for both processes, as each has different limitations. By having access to both machines at our facility, they are becoming aware of them – that’s a big plus.”

Gateway Technical College will also be hosting the US Fab Lab Network’s national symposium from March 24-25th, 2015. More details will appear later this fall on the USFLN Symposium webpage.

Attracted to the Afinia

“Gateway Technical College decided on the Afinia 3D Printer because of its outstanding reviews. It’s worked great for us. We had the first one running within 20 minutes of opening the box. The software that’s included is also terrific. It’s very simple to use and allows for easy model orientation and placement. Sometimes 3D printer companies add too many bells and whistles – but this software really does what it is meant to do – simply run the machine. On the rare occasion that we’ve needed tech support, it’s been great. We usually get things resolved right over the phone.”