Rose State College Fab Lab

okc-66On Tuesday, the sun began to shine again over a rain-soaked Oklahoma City, just the thing to bring out the bright colours of the Rose State College Health and Environmental Sciences Building.  Its blue and gold veneer faces Interstate 40 just off Tinker Air Force Base.  A column past the grand carport holds up a glowing marquee inviting passersby to register for Spring Classes at this “military friendly” community college.

okc-89Veering off I-40 presciently before this display, or perhaps backtracking circuitously from Southeast 15th Street, where Google and the campus newspaper say Rose State is, one may find this building’s parking lot, sunk into the ground just out of sight from the cross street.  You’ll have to drive through a couple other lots to find the large banner strung across the rear entrance of “HES” announcing the location of the FAB LAB at Rose State College.  Entering in the automatic double-doors, you find the foundry just to the left, announced by bright acrylic panels stuck to the wall, its double doors angled to face both the entryway and the passing hall.  The computer lab ahead is also part of the space and the restrooms are just to the left down the hall.

okc-5As soon as you enter, you see the entire World to your left, brought here via webcam and a big-screen TV.  (Europe isn’t awake right now.)  You can pantomime, draw, or fiddle with the remote until the microphone works, and trade questions with the other FabLabs – “Do you speak Portuguese?”   Moving clockwise,  the Laser Cutter, the Mill, the Moulding station, the vinyl cutter, the T-Shirt press, the Makerbots, and the in-house design lab.  At each step, my host shares insights into how the membership has been uses each to benefit students and the community.

okc-46For laser-cutting, the materials of choice here are cardboard – in vast supply, donated from a restaurant – and acrylic, which holds a sharp edge without mess or fumes.  Various cardboard structures are placed upon the space’s Christmas Tree, topped with a star-like ball made of 30 well-styled sigmoid curves.  Tour groups of schoolkids get to build their own papercraft butterflies and pterodactyls, just like the ones flying under the tile ceiling.  Starting with the files from Thingiverse, taking them through 1-2-3D Make, and finishing with laser-cutting and assembly.

okc-18Another cornerstone of the lab’s toolbox is cast moulding, the simple joy of being able to copy objects!  Imagine having a precious family heirloom, like Grandma’s ceramic turtle.  A layer of silicone, a layer of rubber, then set in some liquid plastic, and now all the aunts have a copy!  Or cross the streams – combine a lasercut acrylic or 3D printed master, and cast as many decorative chain links or Commander Shepard Paragon Points as you like, no need to do them one at a time on the slower machines.

okc-27Of course, the 3D Printer can build parts that cannot otherwise be cast or cut – for example, the NASA socket wrench recently designed to replace a part on the International Space Station!  Not satisfied with bland squares and hexes inside these 3D parts, the lab has a certain fondness for changing their infill pattern.  One build is filled with tessellated cats, another with sharks!  It’s showy – when you print in an opaque plastic, you’ll only see the pattern until it’s sealed off.  But who needs practicality when you have fun?

When it comes to building or refining concepts, the staff is very eager to assist area makers; Community entrepreneurs have prototyped a few inventions at the space, and there is also a fair bit of academic interest in the facility, especially from a medical perspective (handy being in a health building!).  Along that line, it’s being used to build prosthetic arms and there’s an edgy project to model tumours inside brain tissue, there’s all those sticking points with data ethics and privacy of MRI scans.  More practical is the service the FabLab provides the local facilities staff, replicating hard-to-find or out-of-production replacement parts, things like window clips or ceiling light mounts.  And as a bit of fun, the lab has made Oscar-like statuettes for awards events, it is Oscar Rose State College, after all!

okc-31They feed the MakerBots with PLA and the uPrint with Stratasys ABS and support material.  in the eternal back-and-forth between Painter’s Tape and Kapton, there is no contest here.  50mm rolls of Blue Painters’ Tape does it all!  Rolls of it sit everywhere in the facility.  Use it on the 3D Printers for a stick-free build, use it to cover the seam of a casting, and naturally you can even use it as tape!  They try to keep food out of the lab, it’s not exactly the sort of place tor heavy collaboration over lunch or dinner.  Still, every now and again, the go-to crowdpleaser is Hot-and-Ready Little Caesar’s Pizza, fetched as carryout from the nearby location.

There’s nothing in the way of woodworking, though there are other campus shop spaces where that’s possible.  This Lab is in a Health Science / Environmental Science building, and a bunch of sawdust everywhere would be hard to manage.  The space is safer and more accessible with a clean room design.

okc-43In Tulsa, I had mentioned that FabLabs are often limited in their reach.  Yet here is an academic institution getting it right, in my book, by being open to the community as a whole, and certainly not shy of doing a tour on short notice.  They’re working on getting the space integrated into more of the engineering and technology coursework, to help familiarize people with what they can do here, and get more Rose State students excited and invested into the space.  It’s definitely worth the hike from the middle of campus, or from anywhere in Central Oklahoma!