The iLab at the University of Tennessee was created to close the chasm from ideas to prototypes, products and market. This facility provides students, faculty and the East Tennessee community with tools for rapid prototyping of ideas into first prototype products for plastic, wood, metal and software mobile applications. Originally funded by the College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis, the iLab is located at 510 John D. Tickle Building.
The iLab is open to students and faculty at the University of Tennessee and the community in the East Tennessee. A suite of prototyping software is available to users via Remote Desktop who can have access from anywhere anytime as long as they have Internet. Users may walk in to the iLab to have their jobs processed with the assistance of the Lab Assistants; or they may upload/email their files to iLab web site/email account and the Lab Assistants will process the jobs.
The iLab contains equipment and software to convert ideas into tangible and functional prototypes. Key equipment and software packages currently include:
• 3D printer (uPrint from Stratasys): outputs ABS plastic parts up to 8”x6”x6”
• 4-axis milling (Roland MDX-40A); outputs plastic and wood parts up to 12”*12”*4”
• Laser Surface Engraver (Epilog): engraves glass, plastic, wood and metal flat surfaces to 1000dpi.
• PowerEdge R910 Server (Dell): 128G RAM, 48 cores.
• 3D Laser Scanning - Next Engine
• Unity3D (Apple/Andriod Apps development, 3D gaming)
• Solidworks, AutoCAD, Adobe Master Collection
The iLab charges basic material fee for access to the 3-D printer and laser engraver for educational projects. The access to software is free. For commercial projects, the Lab Assistant’s time will be added.
The iLab is managed by the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering. One graduate assistant (GA) student is assigned to the iLab. Dr. Xueping Li and Dr. Lee Martin oversee the iLab.
User manuals and tutorials are provided online on the iLab’s web site. Demonstrations and training are also given by the GA as needed in the iLab.
The iLab has supported programs including the Governor’s School, the Engineering Fundamentals class, Engineering Day, Kids U, and so on. We have given numerous tours. Also, there are many requests from students and faculty who are interested in 3-D printing and/or need to build prototypes for educational/research purposes.
Through the activities (tours, demonstrations, etc.), we gradually foster a culture for “being creative” and develop a community of maker. Since it is open in May 2011, the iLab web site received more than 1 millions page visits.
One challenge we faced was the knowledge transfer from one graduate assist to another when he/she graduates. We started to organize manuals and other training materials online.
One needs to have a budget for daily operation. Dedicated staffs are preferred if resources are allowed.