NextFab Studio is a very different space from any other I have visited. It is has a highly visible location on the street level of a busy main street in Philadelphia amidst university buildings. Almost all the workspaces are visible from the street through large windows. Clean, bright, extremely well equipped, it primarily serves small businesses, artists and students out of the University City Science Center rather than scruffy hackers. My flicker set has a lot more pics of the lab.
NOTE: in the couple years since this was written NextFab Studios has moved. Their current location is 2025 Washington Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19146. I hope to visit them again soon and give an update.
The lab was founded by Evan Malone, co-creator of Fab@Home. It opened in January of 2010 with support from BreadBoard and University City Science Center. The Science Center is an incubator providing space, knowledge and sometimes funding for startups. Locating the lab here brings together the means/knowledge of production and companies in need of it. They have approximately 4000sqft of space with 10 full time staff. These trained staff members have professional backgrounds in sculpture, photography, mechanical and systems engineering, graphic design, etc. This allows NextFab Studio to offer a range of design and consulting services in addition to basic training and machine access.
The space is organized as an LLC. It is funded by some startup grants and a variety of memberships. Aside from student and individual memberships, corporate and institutional accounts are available that provide access for multiple employee, with training included. The web site lists about 25 different classes ranging from basic safety and machine usage, to various software packages (Illustrator, Photoshop, Solidworks) and skills like Product Photography. The “Orientation and Workshop Safety Training” is required for each and every member, including each associate under a corporate or institutional account.
Tour of Space
Evan Malone met us at the reception area and gave us about a 30-40 minute tour of the facility. The reception area is set up like many office areas, but with lots of sample products scattered across counter. There is a fair sized collection of lockers of assorted sizes where members can store projects, etc.
A large open classroom area has an impressive A/V setup. The room is available to members for use on their own projects, for consultations, and classes. It is also home to their 3d scanner and t-shirt press in one corner and large format printers and vinyl cutters in the other. An alcove off this room houses several high end sewing machines.
At the end of the conference area was a doorway to one of the few rooms not visible from the street – the Wet Lab. Here we found a Makerbot Cupcake CNC with a Frostruder right across from a Fab@Home printer. There is also a curing oven, large fume hood extractor, sink, etc. I have yet to find a room like this in any other hackerspace. Perhaps some of the new diy-bio spaces, but I havent been to any yet.
Next we walked back through the conference room, past reception to the other side of the space. Here we found a small room with a half dozen computer workstations – 2 Mac Pros and 4 home-built windows PCs. Thats more than most spaces have in total. This was just off a very well equipped electronics area with two long benches, festooned with soldering setups and test equipment. Droool. Turning around there is a very tall rack of fairly well organized parts. Its not quite the major ‘junk’ collection we have at most spaces but here at last is a corner that feels more like home.
Beyond the electronics area we come to the light metal working and 3d printing room at the corner of the space. Here we find a good set of metal bending, cutting and forming equipment on one side, and some high end commercial 3d Printers on the other. A light drill press, very large tool chest, metal shear, roller and lots of hand tools are neatly arranged around the far side. Opposite, we find a Z-Corp 3d printer and cleanup glove box. The Z-Corp uses a powder that can be infused with colors as well as the glue that holds layers together. This gives the ability to print colorful parts. However the objects do tend to be a bit fragile. NextFab also has a nice Stratasys printer near the door. Oh, yeah and one of those really nice Roland MDX-540 desktop CNC mills. So far, I’ve seen way more equipment than any space short of TechShop.
Then we walk into the heavy machine room. Ooooo. First thing I see is a nice clean JET metal lathe. Behind it is the welding area. Aside from an Oxy-Acetylene rig, a nice MIG, and a TIG setup, they’ve got a bloody CNC plasma table!! Its a Torchmate II and I’m almost thinking of moving to Philly. No. Not really. I’d rather get or build one in Maui, but still this place has an awesome setup… and I’m just getting started in the machine shop. And it is a fully equipped machine shop.
Exiting the welding room, we are faced with a wonderful array of heavy machines. Around the walls we find a large drill press, a knee mill, a horizontal band saw, a chop saw, an industrial SawStop table saw, jig saw, small band saw, sanding/grinding machine and then the big boys: A ShopBot PRSAlpha 48″x48″ CNC routing table and a Trotec Speedy 500 Laser cutter. I could spend weeks in here! Go look at the flicker set and try not to drool too much.
Thats the full tour of NextFab Studios. We’ve walked through the whole of their 4000+sqft space and I am very impressed. But wait, One more thing… Evan walks us out the back door into the University City Science Center building proper and just down the hall is yet another conference room. This is one of those fishbowl rooms with glass almost all around. This is where Evan has had some high school interns working with a variety of 3d printers.
As we completed our tour, Evan told us about an exhibit of art produced at NextFab Studio. Machinato Causa at the Esther Klein Gallery runs till Jan 2nd 2011. A collection of three artists were given six week residency at NextFab Studio and produced set of sculptures and installation pieces. This is across the street and down a few doors, in the lobby of another building, so we stopped in for a look. The hanging sculpture constructed of laser cut materials, LEDs and EL-wire was interesting. The security guard chased me away after the flash went off.
Summary: NextFab Studio is a more commercially oriented space than any other I have visited except TechShop. It is wonderfully well equipped facility. If I was in Philly and had a small business/idea this would be a terrific place to work on it. Someday I hope to create access to a fair portion of this tech on Maui.