Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) began offering tours of its Fab Lab this summer. The Fab Lab is short for digital fabrication laboratory, which gives students and local businesses access to 3D design and prototyping equipment to create new products and inventions.
The Fab Lab concept originated at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. In November 2011, PHCC, the New College Institute and Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation sponsored a two-week visit from the Mobile Fab Lab of the Carolinas. During that time the lab received more than 300 visits from interested students and community members.
Working with the same partners, PHCC was able to obtain funding from the Virginia Community College System to purchase equipment and establish its own Fab Lab.
Located at the The Artisan Center in Martinsville, the 1600-square-foot Fab Lab houses a Roland MDX 20 mini mill, Roland CAMM-1 Servo GX-24 vinyl cutter, Stratasys uPrint SE Plus FDM 3D printer, Morgan Industries Morgan Press G-100T Injection Molder, Formech 686 Vacuum Former, Universal Laser 4.60, Routermate 4’ x 4’ CNC router and Torchmate 2’ x 4’ CNC plasma cutter.
The 10 Dell workstations in the lab offer open source software, which allows entrepreneurs and students to seamlessly continue their work at home or in other locations.
The Fab Lab has generated a lot of interest among students and business partners in the community. Lab Coordinator Matthew Wade estimates the lab has seen more than 100 visitors since its soft launch in April.
The lab will host a grand-opening event this fall to coincide with its first class, a basic manufacturing class that will teach students and entrepreneurs how to use the equipment in the lab to bring their ideas to life.
“Inventors can create designs with our software, use the vinyl cutter and CNC mill to fabricate and carve out a circuit board, and then utilize our 3D printer to produce a working model of their new product idea,” said PHCC Lab Coordinator Matthew Wade.
The PHCC Fab Lab is another example of the cutting-edge technology available at Virginia’s colleges and universities, helping prepare a strong pipeline of technically-skilled workers. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s recent Enterprising States study, Virginia is the No. 1 state in STEM job concentration and has the No. 1 share of high-tech businesses.