North Texas Daily

The Factory expands, offers more equipment to students and staff

The Factory expands, offers more equipment to students and staff

February 04
04:39 2016

Haley Yates | Staff Writer


Slumped in a corner of Willis Library, the Factory buzzes and whirs as students interact with machines, creating gizmos and gadgets. Locked behind cabinets are tools to build interactive robots, virtual reality goggles and enough audio and video gear to film a professional movie.

When the Factory opened in October 2014, the main attraction was a new 3-D printer that was available to students, faculty and staff. Before, only engineering students had access to the only 3-D printer on campus, which is located in the FabLab.

Factory lab administrator Judy Hunter said she wanted to create a cross-disciplined three-dimensional learning space in the library.

“We wanted the library to be a place where anybody could come and work together,” she said.

This semester, the Factory received a Texas State Library and Archives Commission Grant, which provided a chance to get new equipment for the lab. This was used to collect feedback from the university on what they wanted. A survey was sent out to students and faculty to see what curriculum-based projects might need special equipment and what the students wanted.

“Some people had some really in-depth projects that they were throwing at us,” Hunter said. “We want to be able to support the variety of what students need.”

Hunter said without the survey, they might not have gotten sewing machines with the new grant, but it was such a common request that they decided to get two. The Factory offers a seven-day checkout for most equipment, and items can be placed on hold for personal and class projects in the future.

Last semester, the 3-D printer did more than three times as many print jobs as the previous semester.

“The numbers keep escalating each semester, which is fantastic,” Hunter said. “It’s what we’re here for.”

The 3-D printers use filaments to make board game pieces, phone cases, toys, functioning tools and any other tangible object students or faculty might need.

The only roadblock one might encounter during a project is precision. The printers in the Factory are considered “hobby-grade” equipment, meaning they aren’t advanced enough to print motor parts or professional-grade gear.

“We have to be clear with students to make sure that their expectations match what we can provide for them,” Hunter said. “We limit only if we feel it’s something our equipment isn’t designed to do, or if it’s not appropriate for the quality they’re looking for.”

Jeffrey McCullui, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate and Factory employee, said many students stop by to look at the equipment and ask questions.

“I’ll ask them what they’re interested in and try to relate something we have to their interest,” McCullui said. “It’s not hard because there is so much stuff, and there’s a lot of relate-ability with what we have here.”

To make room for the new equipment received through the grant, the Factory will expand and take place of the printer room in Willis Library. Students and faculty will soon be able to work on projects in an open space equipped with resources and a staff available to help answer questions.

“There’s not a lot of space to hang out and work on stuff, but once we get a larger area I think a lot more students will be coming by,” McCullui said.

The Maker Movement is a term used to describe the new push of hands-on involvement in technology and engineering in kindergarten through 12th grade schools. Many universities caught the tail end of this movement and are just now receiving the tools to create a “maker space” like the Factory.

“I’ve hired a few students that worked at Dallas’ maker space or Austin’s maker space,” Hunter said.  “A lot of the times, people who worked at children’s museums have experience with the equipment.”

Maker spaces have opened up across the country, offering a similar environment to that of the Factory. The community gathers together to share resources, work on projects and have access to equipment like 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics kits.

The Factory offers student-led workshops for those who want to learn more about the new tech. Each workshop focuses on a specific item or program that the Factory has available, and there are technical assistants onsite to answer questions and ease concerns about the complicated systems.

“Our goal is to be able to show that we’re making an impact on students to have a better experience while they’re here at the university,” Hunter said. “And to walk away with a larger skill set that will help them as they move forward.”

Featured Image: Two miniature radial airplane engines printed by UNT’s first 3-D printer, located in the fabrication lab of the Art Building. The engines took roughly four hours each to make. File Photo

Erica Wieting

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