Fab Lab @ AUC

By: Amr Helmy

Today’s creators enjoy the advantage of cutting edge technologies that aid them in their designs and bring life to their ideas and creativity. Education institutions across the world have utilized technologies, such as 3D printing and laser cutting, to enhance the learning experience of students and encourage them to be creatively involved in it.

Thanks to two members of the Mechanical Engineering Association of AUC (MEA); Abdelrahman Shalaby and Mohamed Ragab, who introduced the first Fab Lab at AUC at the beginning of March this year. These technologies are now only a couple of classrooms away for every AUC student to benefit from.

A fab Lab is a small community-run workshop that offers personal digital fabrication. Fab labs are equipped with a collection of advanced computer-controlled machines that enable making “almost everything” in a safe working environment, ranging from simple architectural design templates all the way to smart devices such as robots. The aim of Fab Lab’s is to encourage individuals such as entrepreneurs or engineers to try out and execute their ideas without needing help from professionals or industry experts.

The AUC Fab Lab is a nonprofit laboratory that uses the income to maintain and upgrade the existing facilities. It is open to all the students of the university. The lab offers an array of advanced machines to help students practically test and create their own designs on campus, including a laser cutter, a 3D printer, and a milling/turning machine.

In the speech at the opening of the Fab Lab,Shalaby and Ragab tell their story of when they were on a summer abroad in UC Berkeley and visited the Fab Labs as well as the students running them on campus. UC Berkeley has more than one Fab Lab on campus, and Egypt has six. After being inspired by the digital fabrication labs found at Berkeley, they decided they needed to bring it to the AUC. For the past two years it is exactly what they’ve been trying to do until they were finally able to see the fruits of their labor this year.

The dire economic consequences following the devaluation of the Egyptian pound made the task harsher for the two aspiring engineers. Nevertheless, this project was made possible through the funding provided by both university associations including the MEA, the Parent’s Association, and the Clubs and Conferences Committee. As well as individuals, including provost Dr. Sherif Sedky, who was very supportive of the idea, and the Dean of the School of Sciences and Engineering, Dr. Hassan El Fawal.

Besides funding, workspace was also needed to locate the new lab. The duo looked for workspace through the department but failed to have any space allocated for the Fab Lab. However, Dr. Mustafa Arafa, professor at the Mechanical Engineering department at the AUC, allowed them to share space in one of his classrooms in support of the initiative.

The program of Fab Lab’s began in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2001 and has been growing ever since.The MIT is also responsible for accrediting different Fab Labs across the world if they meet the requirements. The accreditation is focused on four aspects; the machines in the lab, safety of the lab, projects performed by the lab; and finally, if the lab adheres to the open source initiative or not.

Fab Labs follow the -do it yourself- notion as well as the free and open sources initiative in which the managing entity gives anyone the right to use the lab for any ethical purpose. The MIT accreditation would help the AUC Fab Lab team members attend an annual Fab Lab conference as well as give them the opportunity to send two members to the Fab Academy for free There they will learn about advanced technologies used in Fab Labs and acquire new skills in the field of digital fabrication.

Despite the technologically advancement equipment the lab already has, it lacks two additional machines, a CPU-controlled wood-cutter and a vinyl cutter that are necessary for the AUC Fab Lab to be accredited by the MIT.

The lab will be continuously run by students from the MEA and supervised by an advisor from the School of Sciences and Engineering, currently Dr. Lamyaa El-Gabry, associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering department. It is located at the Mechanical Engineering department and provides services to all students of the AUC regardless of standing or major discipline at a fee.

Hopefully the Fab Lab endeavor will boost the imaginative capacity of AUC students as well as motivate them to pursue more sophisticated projects with the convenience of a high-tech digital fabrication lab at their fingertips allowing them to transform imagination into reality.