If you’re a maker, JWU’s Innovation Lab will become your second home at our College of Engineering & Design. It’s where you’ll spend your time away from class, tinkering, creating, building and inventing the next big thing. It’s also where you’ll find Assistant Professor Jeff Tagen, who’s managed the lab since 2013.
“At the Innovation Lab, we serve students in a couple of different capacities,” says Tagen. “We have individual students who are just looking to learn above and beyond what they see in the classroom. I mean, there’s the theoretical side and then the hands-on side. From computerized drafting (CAD) and electronics engineering, to graphic design and software engineering — I see students from all majors here interacting with the designs.”
“We also support some classes that require students to come here and use the fabrication equipment. In the vast majority of classes, it’s optional work for extra credit. But if you want to go above and beyond, and produce something that’s portfolio worthy, then you come here on your own,” he says.
I see students from all majors here interacting with the designs.”
Inside the Innovation Lab
The lab, open to students from any major as well as to faculty and staff, houses everything from simple scanners to the latest fabrication equipment. “It gets pretty busy in here,” says Tagen. “We see everything from nutrition students coming in to engrave menus, and up their game a little bit with some of the displays they need to use, to entrepreneurship students working on new projects. They have a plan but they don’t have the technology background to identify costs, risks and everything else that goes into a project.”
That’s where Tagen and his team of lab assistants come in. They serve as guides, answering questions and setting up the equipment for users who are not familiar with the technology. “We provide a step-by-step guide on how to use the simpler machines. And we work to figure out a good balance for the students’ desire to fabricate things in a way that’s safe.” Inside the lab, students find:
- Replicator 2X 3D printers (for ABS plastic)
- XYZPrinting DaVinci 3D printers (for PLA plastic)
- ZCorp ZPrinter 310 3D printer (powder/binder printer)
- FormLabs Form 1 3D printer (laser/resin printer)
- Solido SD300 3D printer (acetate sheet printer)
- Trotec Speedy 300 80W CO2 laser engraver (for wood, plastic, cardboard, acrylics and more)
- Denford Micromill (for wood, wax, plastic and acrylic)
- USCutter LaserPoint II vinyl cutter (for stick on vinyl, labels, packaging and more)
- Tormach PCNC 770 CNC mill (for metals, aluminums and mild steels)
- NextEngine 3D laser scanner
This is the first time our students are using metals — that’s a game changer.”
The newest addition to the lab is the Tormach mill, which uses subtractive technologies — the opposite of everything else available at the lab. “The 3D printers we have are almost exclusively additive technologies — which means they put down material as part of the process,” says Tagen.
“[This mill] uses subtractive technologies and you have to think about things completely differently. It’s nothing more than a drill head that cuts pieces out, but you have to look at the planning that goes behind it. It’s a process that’s called tool pathing — where’s it going to go, in what order, how much material is it going to bite off, how deep is it going to cut at each pass, what material am I using, etc. This is the first time our students are using metals, we can do things in aluminums and mild steels — that’s a game changer. If you want to start building robots, you have to move into metals.”
‘It’s a big deal.’
“I’d like to see more students working at the lab,” says Tagen. “This lab offers students a lot of possibilities. It offers the value of hands-on versus theoretical. For the people who choose to take advantage of the lab, it’s a big deal. The people I tend to see down here, who are voluntarily just working, are the people who really love what they do and their inner geek shines through. It gives them something to do and to show off,” he says, noting that when the students produce good work, the university also gets to show off.
Compared to other schools in the state, we’re certainly leading.”
JWU is in a good position to pull ahead of the pack when it comes to technology, Tagen adds. “Compared to other schools in the state, we’re certainly leading. We’re definitely heading in the right direction for the future. We have students here who can make pretty much anything. Our students can fabricate products, work on all the marketing behind it, all the packaging design, all the advertising,” he says. “The mix of majors we have at JWU is unusual. Within one college I’m closely connected to having graphic designers and electrical engineers — that just doesn’t happen. We’re a one-stop shop. And I think we’re going to see more employers recognize the value we offer.”
Working to Perfect the Next Big Thing
JWU students are already taking full advantage of the technologies available to them in the lab.
Students recently worked on building a self-driving car. “The car is a small off-the-shelf remote racing chassis, to which students attached an embedded computing system, LIDAR unit, inertial sensors, and installed ROS (Robot Operating System) to enable exploration of the real-world navigation techniques used by autonomous vehicles,” says Tagen.
Another student has been working on creating a 3D printer that’s suspended in the air, not inside an enclosure. “Typically, 3D printers are on a fixed gantry. You have a head which extrudes hot plastic. Imagine putting down a layer of toothpaste, and another one on top, and another one on top, but it hardens very quickly as it cools. This one is suspended in the air, with three lines that tension the head and attach to the lower end of the supports — you can do essentially infinite build volume,” Tagen says. He added that for this project, the student is replicating and improving on an idea that’s already been published online by another maker outside JWU.
At the end of the day, for Tagen, this is what it’s all about. “I like to see the look of wonder in my student’s eyes when they realize they’ve made something. It’s very rewarding and fulfilling for me.”