February 26, 2024

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Digital fabrication facility provides learning opportunities

Photo Credit: Swinburne University of Technology

ProtoLAB, the new digital fabrication facility of Swinburne University of Technology, has formally opened recently.

According to a recent press release, the expanded state-of-the-art workshop space is home to industrial robots for large scale architectural design prototyping.

About ProtoLAB

The ProtoLAB design features a glass façade, allowing natural light into all corners of the workspace.

Prototyping, digital fabrication, design and making in progress can easily be observed as the façade generates interest and creates a spectacle at the northern end of Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus.

People are often staring in and checking out what the students are creating.

Children press their faces against the glass, mesmerised, watching something being machined out of a block of foam – as if to appear by magic.

Additionally, the lab has a new high-speed 3D Printer that allows students to print complex geometry without needing to remove support material.

The Lab also boasts of the following technologies:

  1. A new Okuma CNC turn mill
  2. Seven laser cutters
  3. A Biesse CNC router
  4. A Multicam router
  5. Two KUKA collaborative robots designed to work with humans and
  6. A new larger KUKA KR120 robot, which is in constant use.

The KUKA KR120 runs on a 7.9 metre linear track, and reaches out to 3 metres. It has a sync table at one end and a horizontal positioner along one side for multi-axis machining.

Students learn about different technologies

Computer programs, and the students tethered to them are getting smarter. They are utilising parametric software to control not only a model’s shape but also the robot or machine attached.

By using data and analytics they work out what is required, reducing waste material and improving user experience.

Generative design and parametric design are not new ways of working, but easier ways of producing designs and communicating to the machines are progressively being discovered.

By teaching the full potential of Industry 4.0 machines, the students are enabled to translate these capabilities back into their designs with a deeper technical knowledge and understanding.

Providing different kinds of support

The ProtoLAB supports students in design, engineering and architecture and meets the needs of academic research, testing and industry partnered work.

In research, it supports conversations with research partners. There is an available space and large-scale robotics to undertake prototyping, fabrication and assembly at architectural scale.

A ‘soft prototyping lab’ integrates with design studios.

As ideas developed in the studios mature and upscale, they are translated to the main workshop space to use the large-scale robot to fabricate at full scale.

In doing so, they embrace the added risks and complexities that the ideas entail.

The ProtoLAB provides the luxury of space. Multiple classes and research activities occur simultaneously. Time consuming fabrication activities continue alongside student teaching.

In design, access to a top-quality workshop is a major attractor for both students and researchers for testing and developing ideas.

The quality of the workshop and expertise of staff are critical and regular access invaluable.


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