CSAD launched its MIT accredited FabLab three years ago to enhance the digital manufacturing facilities offered to its students and staff and as a commercial venture that would both generate an income for the School but, as importantly, bring innovative, entrepreneurial businesses into the building. The facility is also used by schools and voluntary groups to give them access to facilities that would not otherwise be available to them. FabLab has also invested in kit that can be used off site, most recently running workshops for students, staff and members of the local community on a remote Scottish island, run in the islands cattle auction shed.
Development and Delivery
The School has built links with other Fab Labs, in the UK and in Europe, and with the worldwide network through annual meetings that have taken place in the USA and China. These have been crucial to determining the FabLab’s facilities so that they meet the School’s wide ranging objectives including its role in promoting entrepreneurial skills to students.
Funding was raised through University seed funding, research funding, and through income generated from commercial clients and workshops and through. A fund established within the School to support staff and student innovation projects has recently been set up bringing together early stage researchers working on projects that can lead to commercial applications and new knowledge transfer. The challenge has been to balance commercial and curricular demands on time and facilities so that students feel that they have access to facilities that are not available elsewhere within the School.
The staff, students and Graduate Incubation Unit users now, therefore, work alongside commercial users, gain an understanding of the challenges they face and why digital manufacturing technology can provide innovative design solutions and take part in commercially focused design projects.
The impact of having developed FabLab Cardiff as an integral part of the School’s facilities is significant. Students and staff have access to a wider range of digital manufacturing technologies than they had previously, they have the opportunity to work alongside business people, entrepreneurs and inventors and gain an understanding of what they do and why they use digital technology to develop their products.
Students have benefitted from research undertaken by staff within the FabLab and the School’s Graduate Incubation Unit members have access to its specialist facilities and can continue to access these at a highly affordable rate once they leave the Unit.
The School has also been able to create volunteering roles for students, graduates and the public plus a number of new paid roles, again creating opportunities for staff, students, graduates, Incubation Unit members, entrepreneurs and the public to work alongside each other and share skills and ideas.
Impact is measured in several ways. The numbers of students using the FabLab has increased each year as has the number of projects undertaken by students, staff and the School’s Graduate Incubation Unit members as well as by commercial clients.
We were delighted that one of the Graduate Incubation Unit members successfully applied for the FabLab manager’s role and restructuring has also lead to more opportunities for CSAD graduates to become technical specialists in the FabLab working alongside and advising commercial clients. Volunteering opportunities for students have also increased, again increasing their chances for working alongside businesses and enhancing their entrepreneurial skills.
The opening and on-going development of the FabLab has brought more business people and entrepreneurs into the School who serve as role models to our students. Some provide informal opportunities for our students to support them in their initiatives, others organise formal live projects so enriching the curriculum. Work placements have also been provided for students that have lead to full time employment and to the knowledge transfer projects and the cementing of long term relationships.
This is all underpinned by the maker space’s ethos of skills sharing and co-operation, and the use of technology to develop commercially viable designs.
We are introducing more commercial projects that students can undertake as individuals or as groups which gives them extra-curricular opportunities to engage with businesses and the design and product development challenges that they face. More entrepreneurial projects are being introduced into the curriculum for 2017-18 in response to student demand, including more opportunities to launch micro-businesses, where students will be able to access the FabLab and the funding for staff/student projects which use FabLab facilities is also being increased.
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