Creating mechanical parts and experimenting with complex materials was once the realm of industrial-scale business. But methods for the production of parts and the modification of materials are now cheaper and easier to use, at both benchtop and prototyping scales. Inventions like 3D printers and laser cutters mean that even small-scale businesses and academic centres now have the ability to fabricate intricate and durable objects.
Makerspaces have emerged as one way to centralize a variety of technologies and tools for working with different materials, so that communities and businesses can take advantage of them. Grenfell Campus hosts both a Makerspace and a Fabrication Shop, or ‘Fab Shop,’ with abundant equipment designed to take a project from concept, to design, to reality.
“The Makerspace serves many communities and its main role has been to help with new entrepreneurship,”
explains Maria Kilfoil, Manager of Grenfell’s Makerspace.
“We do have people already coming in through the door in the entrepreneurship centre. Now we have the Makerspace to support the prototyping of products for new businesses and early-stage entrepreneurs, along with the Business Incubator to incubate those new entrepreneurs.”
Expanding the scope of what can be accomplished with these tools is something Kilfoil is eager to explore. But making further connections between those who might be able to use the Makerspace, and forging partnerships along the way, requires finding those individuals through research. Researchers in other fields of study on campus are also bringing a new angle to the space and are using the facilities to further their own explorations.
Makers Making Things for Makers
The ability to print, cut, or otherwise create unique objects could be invaluable for new businesses interested in using the Makerspace, but the benefits do not end there. Industries may well be sourcing key components for their operations from outside the province when established local businesses, with the assistance of the Makerspace, may be able to manufacture those components for them here instead. Researching solutions to problems like these is one of the benefits of the project that Kilfoil wishes to bring to nearby communities and the province at large:
“The research comes in, in finding who these people are. I want to create a platform for connecting manufacturers in Western Newfoundland. I’m thinking particularly of small-scale manufacturers, supply chain manufacturers, who may not have web presence because they don’t sell directly to consumers. One thing we could provide to that group would be that they could come in and prototype some new tooling or some new thing that they would like to make; by creating a network for them they can also find out who else is making something that might complement what they make.”
Kilfoil has found that in-person conversations with local business owners and organizations has been the most effective method to gain potential users of the Makerspace. The people she talks to are often eager to participate but need to be sought out. The key is identifying individuals in communities who know the local business environments and can point her in the right directions:
“Finding out who to talk to in those communities and working with them to help identify and put together that list of people who are manufacturing on the west coast, that’s the first step. Basically, it’s asset mapping; identifying the Western NL community’s strength in manufacturing and then building a capacity inventory tool that will be a combination physical and digital map that embeds those narratives. That’s what my research is.”
Materials Research and the Mill
Other researchers at Grenfell are also involved with research in their own fields; research that is connected to the Makerspace. The study of materials is often important in Fine Arts, for example, where research is sometimes manifested as creative practice. Far from simply creating new objects the Makerspace can be used to explore the use of materials in creative ways, helping with the pursuit of research on topics like fibre arts or artistic practices involving mechanized parts, like printmaking.
“There’s the Fab Shop in Fine Arts and we developed a strong collaboration last summer,”
“We see those spaces [Makerspace and fab shop] as supplementing one another. There are amazing facilities already on campus for making via ‘traditional,’ analog, practices in Fine Arts… They are researching all the time and particularly researching materials.”
Kilfoil is also contributing to work on a proposed innovation-centre which would see the Makerspace be housed in an off-campus location near Corner Brook Pulp & Paper Ltd. This move would place a campus resource at the heart of the community. Mill staff could do training at the innovation centre and students could work directly on topics connected to the mill. The centre would also facilitate greater research into how waste materials from the mill could be reused to make new products. The potential benefits are multifaceted, Kilfoil elaborates:
“It would be down in the town, in the community, centrally located. We will be able to do research in that location as well…. Some of the research would be around how to use that carbon, that last piece of organic material, embedded in the sludge and wood ash, the last bit of thermal energy in the outflow [from the mill]. What I would be interested in doing is inventing a wood-based 3D printable material that would use the lignin, that’s a waste-product material now, as a background material; why that’s exciting is that that would be a second-generation material. You’d have the warmth of the wood and feel of the wood, that’s something people migrate to, and you’d have the mechanical properties intrinsic in wood filaments in that they respond to the local humidity, in what you print. Now with the degree of control one has with 3D printing, you could bring out this unique property of wood and design in shape changes over time after printing – ‘4D printing’.”