NextFab Studio launches, opens Science Center to the community - Technical.ly Philly

NextFab Studio launches, opens Science Center to the community

In December, the University City Science Center announced a seven-month revitalization of Market Street between 34th and 41st streets, working with the University City District, and with a $2 million grant from the City of Philadelphia. The goal? Create a notable and noticeable tech corridor in University City. This week, the center will open up […]

Next Fab's NextEngine 3D scanner can import a real, three-dimensional object into CAD and 3D-design tools. You can see the scanned object on the screen behind it.

Next Fab's NextEngine 3D scanner can import a real, three-dimensional object into CAD and 3D-design tools. You can see the scanned object on the screen behind it.

In December, the University City Science Center announced a seven-month revitalization of Market Street between 34th and 41st streets, working with the University City District, and with a $2 million grant from the City of Philadelphia.

The goal? Create a notable and noticeable tech corridor in University City.

This week, the center will open up a piece of that aesthetic when it launches its anticipated Next Fab Studio, a high-tech, street-level, membership-based prototyping studio. Next Fab is like a big boy’s Hive 76 or Hacktory where commercial prototypes can be developed using high-tech, presumably expensive machinery.

Next Fab founder Evan Malone has been negotiating for more than a year on the collaboration, after members of the Science Center’s arts and technology program most notably represented by the center’s Klein Art Gallery, and recently renamed to and marketed as Breadboard helped him pitch the idea to UCSC executives.

Next Fab Studio Grand Opening
Fri., Jan. 22, 2010
5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
FREE

University City Science Center
3711 Market St.

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Wanting to be involved with projects that touch people outside of academia, Malone modeled Fab after studios like MIT’s FabLab, which is opening these types of DIY labratories in tech-deprived areas of the world like India and Africa.

“[FabLab] opened up labs in places where people need job skills because employment bases are diminishing, to teach people to use high-tech tools to invent their way out of poverty,” he says.

A big piece of Malone’s pitch to the Science Center was its community aspect; that students, nonprofits and businesses will be able to utilize the space. For a nominal fee, of course: a hundred bucks per month for individuals, $75 for students. Corporate and institutional rates are still being established.

“Breadboard [and NextFab are] designed to make the Science Center and its resources much more accessible. We’re trying to bring community to the Science Center and discover new ways that it can tap into tech as a way of driving innovation,” University City Science Center President and CEO Stephen Tang told Technically Philly in a telephone interview last week.

Malone crossed paths often with Breadboard staff and the Science Center. He got his bachelor’s degree down the street at UPenn, later earning an engineering Ph.D at Cornell. He’s also the point-man for Fab@Home, a globally-known open-source 3D-printing kit that lets users manufacture and prototype products with a relatively cheap, compact in-home printer.

No one involved is disclosing how much the project cost, but Malone puts it in the ballpark of more than $1 million for construction and equipment, backed by the Science Center and campus partners, along with some angel investment. Tang puts it this way: “He’s got a lot of support. The investments are to fully build out the space and give Evan an economic model that will help him survive and thrive.”

One of Next Fab's seven employees holds up the space's logo etched with its laser engraver.

The space has a wide and impressive assortment of professional-grade manufacturing equipment; several three-dimensional printers, a 1,000dpi laser engraver, and a three-dimensional laser scanner, are perhaps the most high-tech. But those flagship pieces trickle down.

Next Fab’s metal and wood shops house equipment like a plasma cutter for metal, and a studio favorite, the IronWorker, which puts holes through metal in a second, what would take a drill bit minutes. CNC, computer numerical control, machines let members create intricate metal, plastic and wood carvings using state-of-the-art user-friendly and intuitive CAD programs. There’s even computer-controlled sewing machines which can embroider fabric from a bitmap for vector image, and signmaking machines, like a vinyl printer and cutter. The list goes on and on.

Gain access to the electronics workbenches, with soldering equipment and circuit printing capability, work your way up to the 3D printers, and with enough training, you’ll have full-access to the metal and wood machinary. Color-coded smocks delegate authority. Those access levels are important, given the necessary training. After all, Malone says, one amputation eak could put the space out of business.

With all that equipment, how will the studio affect smaller players, like Hive76 and the Hacktory? Malone says they’re different focuses. “They are cultural organizations as much as they are facilities,” he says. “We joke [with those groups] that what we have here is more diluted, [while they are] a little more hardcore about their philosophy.”

Tang, too, sees the space as a compliment to incubator-style collaborative settings like Hive76 and Independents Hall.

“This is yet one more seed we’re planting to try and nurture all the creative talent that’s available. We need places that support innovators,” he says.

Below, watch a video of Jay Leno using a 3D scanner and 3D printer to prototype a vehicle part. Both pieces of equipment are available at NextFab.

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