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Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association

Prototyping with MAKLab

MAKLAB and Fearsomengine Logos

Prototyping was the theme of the February SPRA meeting, held at the premises of MAKLab at The Lighthouse in Glasgow.

Bruce Newlands, Founder Director of MAKLab, opened the meeting with a presentation on the origin, philosophy and operation of this open access workshop. The concept of a fabrication laboratory first surfaced in USA, arising from a popular course at MIT, entitled “How to Make (Almost) Everything”.  The FabLab network has now gone global with over 150 FabLabs throughout the world.

Bruce Newlands of MAKLAB in conversation with Colin Hindle

As the first workshop of its type in Scotland, MAKLab got its name from the local vernacular (as in “dream it, design it, mak it”).  Users of all ages and backgrounds can access the facilities at MAKLab to make and repair anything from jewellery to furniture and beyond.  Designers and inventors have a low cost opportunity to ‘make their ideas reality’ through ready access to expensive equipment and technical advice.   In its first 2 years MAKLab has attracted over 200 members and over 1000 individual users. 

A selection of 3D printers

Plans are in place to open similar facilities in other cities in Scotland, starting with Aberdeen. The Glasgow centre will be moving to larger premises in Govan. MAKLab’s business model is to offer low cost access to expensive equipment linked with advice and training.  Currently it has CNC milling machines, CNC routers and several 3D printers as well as vacuum forming, access to computers, an extensive range of hand tools, textile equipment and an electronics bench. 

Delegates enjoying the tour of MAKLAB's workshop and viewing the 3D printed objects on display

The resources are ideal for the production of models and prototypes, particularly in the crucial step of producing several design modifications.  One of biggest projects that MAKLab has assisted was the design and construction of a rowing boat and a boat shed on Tyree.

3D printer creating cup protoypes

Delegates then had an opportunity to tour the MAKLab workshop and discuss specific technologies with MAKLab staff.  Most interest centred on the array of 3D printers.  The Ultimaker is a low cost, open source design 3D printer, using Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) in various colours of ABS, with a maximum build area of 210 x 210 x 220 mm.  The HP Designjet Colour 3D printer also uses FDM with ABS and a similar build size.  The Envision Tec Micro uses a different principle, stereolithography (SLA), with a photo-curing resin.  Maximum build dimensions are much smaller (40 x 30 x 100 mm) and it is used mainly for the production of jewellery, using the models in a lost wax process.

MAKLab membership is available for students (£72 per year), individuals (£144) and SMEs (£432), which entitles users access to machines at a hefty discount rate, materials at trade prices/advice and entry to events.  Alternatively users can drop in on a pay-as-you-go basis.

MAKLab offers plastics manufacturing companies low cost opportunities for developing innovative ideas in order to remain competitive.

Ellen McDermott and Alex Mitchell of Fearsomengine

Alex Mitchell and Ellen McDermott, two young product designers from Fearsomengine, a Glasgow based Design Consultancy, rounded off the evening with an insight into how Fearsomengine tackles the production of models and prototypes, a crucial stage in any design project.  The object is always to glean maximum information from prototypes, at low cost, in order to make significant savings in time and money later in the project.  Recognising the importance of 3D printers for producing prototypes, Fearsomengine has designed and built its own 3D printer, using open-source design.

Fearsomengine's mask prototype process

Ellen described a recent project in which 50 prototypes of a face mask device had to be produced for user testing.  The usual process of hand sculpting a prototype was not an option in this case.  She had to resort to an improvised, low cost, semi-production approach.   First it was established that the material of choice, a thermoplastic foam, could be thermoformed by heating the foam sheet in an oven and compressing it between mould plates, using simple clamps.  To explore variations in refined design detail, the initial mould plates were made in ABS using a 3D printer.

top: Occles prototype frame;  bottom: prototype frame being produced on Fearsomengine’s 3D printer

Once design detail was fixed, mould plates were fabricated in aluminium, using CNC milling, and a screw press was constructed with a wooden frame to produce the 50 prototypes for clinical trials.

Alex and Ellen then went on to describe a second case study, in which they had exploited ready access to 3D printers, firstly at MAKLab and later with their own homebuilt machine, to evaluate a range of complex shapes for frames for an optical product.

Report by Charlie Geddes, SPRA Hon Secretary, February 2014

Because registrations for the Prototyping meeting on 06 February had reached the maximum (40) and a substantial waiting list had developed, MAKLab and Fearsomengine agreed to repeat this meeting on 10 April, at which a further 21 attended.  By April, MAKLab had moved from The Lighthouse to new premises at 30 St George’s Road, Glasgow G3 6UJ.  Bruce Newlands again gave an introduction to MAKLab, followed by a tour of the facilities. Andrew Simpson and Ellen McDermott delivered the presentation from Fearsomengine.

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Technical Info from SPRA

  • Materials Thermoplastics, Thermosets, Elastomers, Additives.
  • Processes Moulding, Extrusion, Thermoforming, Ancillaries.
  • Design Product, Mould, CAE, Testing.
  • Applications Healthcare, Packaging, Electronics, Other Markets.
  • Environment Waste, Recycling, Sustainability, Legislation, Energy.
  • Business Issues Network, Seminars, Competitiveness, Innovation, Regulation.