I had the opportunity to tour the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab this afternoon. This amazing resource is part of a network of digital fabrication labs around the world. SocioTechnical Systems Professor Betty Barrett gave us a tour of the facility. The lab is primarily operated by volunteer staff and is open to anyone in the community. In addition to open-source software work stations and a huge variety of tools, the lab also houses impressive machinery including a Roland Servo Desktop Vinyl Cutter and an Epilog Helix 350 Laser Engraver.
A few things I learned:
-The laser engraver doesn't require extremely advanced design skills or obscure file formats. It uses PDF files (exclusively) to engrave areas up to 12" x 18." Users must determine the size, speed, and frequency of the laser. An initial test run is always conducted on cardboard to ensure an acceptable final product. You can read more about this machine on the Fab Lab CU site.
-Inkscape is an open source scaleable vector graphics editor that is popular in the lab (SVG file format).
-It's possible to make inflatable steel furniture (not in the lab, I just thought this was neat).
-The lab occasionally hosts workshops. I'm disappointed that I'll be missing their workshop on wearables this weekend (there is still space, if you want to sign up). We were able to check out the amazing textiles they ordered from Inventables, like temperature sensitive polyester, conductive elastic fabric, and glass fiber metallic mesh.
Fab Lab Art Annex 2 1301 South Goodwin Avenue Urbana, IL 61801