FABWorks Debuts as UCI’s First Maker Lab
Feb. 19, 2015 - With a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony, speeches and lab tours that showed off an impressive array of do-it-yourself machinery and equipment, FABWorks officially opened its doors this week.
A joint venture between the Samueli School of Engineering and Calit2, FABWorks houses 3-D printers and scanners, vinyl and laser cutters, an assortment of sewing machines, an electronics lab, a lathe, CNC (automated milling) machines and a variety of woodshop tools. The facility is partially funded by a generous donation from the Kay Family Foundation, and its mission is to reinvent the way people create and innovate, offering a space where students, faculty and the community can design and fabricate almost anything.
The festive grand opening on Feb. 17 attracted a capacity crowd of more than 200 guests, who networked and nibbled on hors-d’oeuvres while waiting their turn to tour the lab, located on the second floor of the Calit2 Building.
Samueli School Dean Gregory Washington initiated the Mardi Gras-themed event by welcoming the crowd to “our first annual Fat Tuesday celebration.” More seriously, he noted that FABWorks is an integral part of the school’s goal to incorporate experiential learning into its curriculum, an effort he seeks to extend to the Southern California community. “What you’ll see on your tour tonight is essentially every single piece of equipment necessary to conceptualize, design and actually make,” he told the crowd. “This facility is open not only to our students, our faculty and our staff, but it is open to the whole community. This is a one-of-a-kind facility: one-of-a-kind for UCI, and one-of-a-kind for you.”
Calit2 Irvine Division Director G.P. Li explained that FABWorks is an extension of Calit2’s long-term goal to advance research from the lab to the marketplace. “This facility will encourage innovation and facilitate that process,” he said, adding, “With the opening of FABWorks, Calit2 continues its ongoing quest to innovate, integrate, incubate and ignite.”
FABWorks Director Sarah Hovsepian thanked the Kay Family Foundation for its generous support, noting that the funding gives students the ability to say, “I know how to design and build things with my own two hands.”
She hopes to make FABWorks the cornerstone of an ecosystem that will help turn ideas into reality. “We want to connect creative people with other creative people. We want to give users the access to create invaluable technologies for future generations.”
“That’s the 21st century Rosie the Riveter right there,” Dean Washington commented after Hovsepian’s remarks, eliciting laughter from the audience.
Guests toured the FABWorks facility in groups of 20. Students and staff gave short introductions to individual pieces of equipment, showing off some of their handiwork, which included microfluidic devices, race car upholstery, gadgets made on the 3-D printers, and intelligent electronic sensors and actuators.
Additional printed information for each tool in the lab was available, and Hovsepian and her staff have compiled comprehensive training manuals for every machine in the lab.
The Kay Family Foundation was established in 2005 by Web executive Steeve Kay and his family. The foundation seeks to promote new models and systems that produce 21st-century global leaders, primarily in Orange County and across their four pillars of faith, education, medicine and the arts.
Mark Percy, Kay Family Foundation vice president for strategic relations, said FABWorks is an important component of developing the next-generation workforce. “Steeve Kay is really dedicated to putting this process in a university where there’s hands-on learning,” Percy said.
The foundation, which several years ago funded the Kay Family Foundation Innovation Lab, deemed a design lab and housed in the UCI Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, wanted to complement that with a maker lab. “The concept of ‘design’ and ‘make’ gives students capabilities as they go out into the job world,” Percy said. “[Steeve’s] vision is for UCI to be the epicenter of a startup ecosystem in Orange County. There’s still more work to be done but this is a good start.”
-- Anna Lynn Spitzer