Gas station without pumps

2023 January 19

UCSC’s soon to be fab lab (and an existing one)

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:21
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Yesterday, I took a tour of the space in the basement of Baskin Engineering that is being converted to an “Experiential Learning Facility” (a name only a bureaucrat could love—but at least they are looking for a new name!). The space used to be two machine shops: a professional one that only the lone machinist was ever allowed into, and a student machine shop that was never used, because you had to get someone with a recharge number to pay several hundred dollars for the once-a-year training then $12 an hour to step into the room.

Most of the old machine tools were sold as surplus, because they were too difficult to use for a student space. Some of the more basic metal working tools were kept (a bending brake, a large shear, an arbor press, a Rotex punch).  There is also a small CNC mill and a lathe.  There are some basic woodworking tools and a laser cutter, and some 3D printers will be moved in once they get the next room over (before March, I think).  I believe they will also get some sewing machines, though what sort is far from clear.

The space looks like it could become a fabulous maker space for students, but I suspect that it will not, because of stupid policies by the administration.  They outlined 4 uses for the space: a first-year design course, 1-year group projects (like senior capstones), thematic areas (like the S-lab on sustainability that has moved into much of the space and provided equipment for that portion of the space), and engineering clubs.  The engineering clubs will get permanently (or at least annually) reserved spaces for the club to meet, work on their projects, and store their projects and tools.  The lion’s share of the space is reserved for 4 clubs, which will have to apply for the space, but it is expected that FormulaSlug (car building), SlugBotics (robot building), and Rocket Club (rocket building) will get 3 of the 4 spaces.

Note: what is missing?  There is no provision for someone to come in and use any of the tools unless they are in one of the classes or clubs! You take the freshman design course (which has not been created yet) and learn to use some tools—great!  Now you never get to use those tools again until your senior design course—too bad!  Unless you are interested in one of the 4 things that the 4 clubs are doing, in which case you are set up in style!  Why the administration omitted such a critical part of the facility is a mystery to me.

I urged the few students who were there (interns working on helping create and advertise the space) to get students to start a new Maker Club and apply for one of the club bays.  That way anyone could join the Maker Club and (after getting suitable safety training) use the space and tools! The Maker Club could also provide “super users”, who could help maintain the facility, providing training and safety supervision. It would also be good to open the tool use up to faculty, staff, and emeriti (again, with appropriate training), so that a community can be built that has some continuity from year to year. With the current administration, though, I’m not holding my breath waiting for a sensible outcome.

If the administration gets their heads out of their behinds and figures out how they are going to make the space actually useful to individual students (rather than just instructional space and a clubhouse), then I’d be glad to help out with things like short workshops, 1-unit courses, and even some scheduled supervision of the space.  But I fear that the administration is going to silo it up so that very few students and no faculty or staff have access—repeating the mistake that PBSci made with the old machine shop (though not quite as badly, since a few hundred students will have access, instead of 1 or 2).

This bad management is not an essential part of creating a makerspace at UCSC.  The Digital Scholarship Innovation Studio (DSI) on the lower level of the Science and Engineering Library has a much more open policy—anyone with a address can take their training (online), do a simple in-person assessment, and use the equipment. Actually, I’m not 100% certain about alumni—they can take the training and sign up for the assessment, but they may need a current ID to actually use the equipment. The answer in the FAQ for “Who is allowed to use DSI equipment?” is “Any UCSC affiliate (students, faculty, and staff) who has completed Library training.”  That is a little ambiguous about affiliates who have retired or graduated.

DSI has 4 Ultimaker 3 (2-nozzle) printers and plan to get 2 Mini Prusa printers with a Mosaic Palette accessory (for 8 colors) set up during Winter quarter. They also have 4 small GlowForge laser cutters (11″×19.5″), but lack the ventilation to cut acrylic—so just cardboard, MDF, and thin plywood (or engraving on some harder materials). Currently you need to use materials provided by DSI, but they don’t have a recharge mechanism: they provide a small amount free to students. They provide PLA filament (the 3mm Ultimaker filament, not the more common 1.75mm filament) and sheets of birch plywood. I imagine that they’ll have to set up a way to charge for materials if they get really popular.

I took the online training for the 3D printer this evening—it is fairly simple, though there are a few bugs in the Canvas course that I pointed out in the feedback form at the end.  I suspect that they’ll get those bugs cleared up soon. I’ve signed up the in-person assessment Monday morning, and I’ll see if they let me use the 3D printer.  If they do, I’ll take the online training for the GlowForge laser cutter and get checked out on that also.  I’ll also find out if there is any role for me to play in their space—I’d be glad to help students learn to use Cura or OpenSCAD—perhaps even FreeCAD, once I’ve learned how to use that myself.

I have something to print that is too big for my little Monoprice Delta Mini: a die for a clay extruder, to fit a 4″ round Scott Creek extruder. Unfortunately, the extruder die design I had to match my broken soap dish will not fit—the biggest dimension is more than the 4″ diameter.  I decided to try scaling the design down, making a soap dish only 80% of the size of the existing one.

The Scott Creek extruder is designed to work with ⅛” aluminum dies, with no allowance for different thickness of dies. So plastic ones have to be made with an ⅛” flange, with the body of the die as a plug that goes into the extruder tube. I think I like the NorthStar extruder design better, but I’m not about to spend $400–500 to get one.

If they let me, I’ll try printing this on Monday (it uses 50g of PLA, for a cost of about $3.33, or about 13 minutes of minimum-wage staff time).

1 Comment »

  1. […] UCSC’s soon to be fab lab (and an existing one), I talked about two of the fab labs on campus and mentioned that I was planning to try using the […]

    Pingback by 3D-printed clay-extruder die | Gas station without pumps — 2023 January 26 @ 10:18 | Reply

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