Discovery Center Fab Lab open house planned Sept. 24

Space for innovation, creativity now more centrally located on campus
UW-Stout student Spencer Davidsz works in the Discovery Center Fab Lab on campus. The Fab Lab has moved from Applied Arts to room 120 in the Vocational Rehabilitation Building. / UW-Stout photo by Pam Powers
Pam Powers | September 19, 2019

Senior Spencer Davidsz loves seeing his accessory ideas for an animation conference costume come to life in the Discovery Center Fab Lab at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The Fab Lab has moved from Applied Arts to room 120 in the Vocational Rehabilitation Building on campus, 221 10th Ave. E.

An open house for the lab and the UW-Stout Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, next door, is planned from 3 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24. The office and lab will have self-guided tours.

3D printed accessoryDavidsz, a senior majoring in engineering technology from Oak Creek, believes the more central location makes it more accessible to the entire campus.

“The Fab Lab is a great place,” Davidsz said. “You can come in and work on a project. It’s open to all students. It really does show the polytechnic aspect of the university and the hands-on approach UW-Stout has.”

Davidsz used a 3D printer to print different shapes he needed for the accessories, creating detail he couldn’t have accomplished with craft foam. The 3D printer allows for rapid prototyping and manufacturing using resins that are layered on top of each other to create an item. Other equipment in the lab includes:

  • A minimill that can machine solid materials such as wood, plaster and resin
  • A vinyl cutter that can create professional-grade graphics and signs
  • A laser engraver that can cut and engrave on wood, acrylic, glass, plastic, stone, fabric, etc.
  • A router to cut wood or plastic
  • Computer-controlled plasma tool for cutting metals.

The digital fabrication lab opened in 2013 with the assistance of a multiyear $520,000 Growth Agenda award from UW System. Fab labs were introduced nearly two decades ago by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Bits and Atoms  The open fab lab environment removes barriers, such as access to equipment and technology, while serving as an incubator for applied research, innovation, job creation and economic development.

Randy Hulke, executive director of the Discovery Center, UW-Stout’s umbrella organization for applied research and technology transfer, said another advantage to the new location is shared space with Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, which provides assistive technology solutions to positively impact the future of persons with disabilities through services, training and research.

“It’s a nice opportunity for us to work with them and collaborate on technologies,” Hulke said.

Randy HulkeOn average the lab gets about 800 visits from students a semester, racking up 1,500 to 2,000 machine hours, said Mike Cropp, Fab Lab manager. “There are a lot of entrepreneurial endeavors by students and personal projects,” he noted.

The space is set up to better to allow for doors to be closed to minimize noise or light from the plasma tool, Cropp said.

The lab is also valuable for businesses and industries that want to collaborate on product prototype design and development. “We work a lot with entrepreneurs and small businesses, he noted.

The Discovery Center uses the lab to execute part of its Economic Development Administration – University Center grant that aims to advance economic development through innovation. “We can vet a technology relatively quickly,” Hulke said, noting equipment can be used for prototyping and new product development.

The lab also offers WiFAB West Retreats during the summer that teaches educators about fab labs and how to incorporate digital fabrication tools into curriculum that advances science, technology, engineering and mathematics education beginning with prekindergarten.

Students need equipment training before they can start using the lab. “The Fab Lab is a space to be innovative, creative and solve local challenges,” Cropp said.



Davidsz has created accessories for an animation conference costume using a 3D printer

Randy Hulke

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