Lake Michigan College Fab Lab offers creative outlet in Benton Harbor
Published 10:30 am Friday, March 1, 2019
At Lake Michigan College’s Benton Harbor campus sits the Hansen Technology Center, a newer, architecturally creative building with a cavernous entryway.
Through the front doors and just past the long, curved front desk is a tall room with dozens of machines, buttons and oddball pieces of technology that would make a science person go gaga and a technologically incompetent person afraid to bump into something too hard. To the public, this room is simply called Fab Lab (short for fabrication laboratory), and according to Candice Elders, the executive director of marketing and communications at LMC, the Fab Lab is for technologically literate and illiterate folks alike.
“It’s a very unintimidating atmosphere,” Elders said. “Whether you’re a longtime tinkerer working on a prototype, or you just have never made something before, it’s a really great environment,”
“Fab Lab is an open concept digital studio for people to utilize the equipment here to complete their home projects,” said Chad Dee, director of the Hansen Technology Center. “If you can think it, you can make it here in the lab.”
Fab Lab was a concept and brand that originally began at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since its inception, Fab Labs all over the world have opened, many of which are still tied to the original network started by MIT, as is the lab at LMC’s Benton Harbor campus. The Hansen Technology Center Fab Lab opened in spring 2017.
The public portion of the Fab Lab is split into five divisions with a sewing department, laser department, vinyl cutters, a woodshop and 3D printing. At the center of it all are design stations where visitors can conceptualize projects with the available software.
At the Fab Lab, people make everything from cosplay costumes, figurines, variations of wood products and even arcade games. It takes about five to 10 minutes to learn anything in the laboratory, according to Dee, and once the basics are learned the possible outcomes are endless.
“The great thing about it is you can get ten 10-year olds in here, give them all the same project, give them very vague instructions and they’ll come out with 10 completely different projects,” Dee said. “And that’s what’s cool – you let the creativity take over and you don’t have any boundaries.”
The scope of odds and ends made in the lab is as vast as is the diversity of people who utilize the space. Fab Lab is not just for children. In fact, adults who come to the lab utilize the facilities to support their businesses and various craft projects. Lowell Winans is one older local gentleman who uses the laser engraver to cut ornate designs into fine cuts of walnut.
“I was doing this woodworking stuff, and I was looking for a place to do my laser burnings, and I found out I could come over here and do this for $5 an hour,” Winans said as the fresh of scent of lightly burnt wood was still hovering in the air around the laser station.
People like Winans are who Fab Lab technician Samuel Cray most enjoys seeing come to the lab. Cray, who has worked in the Fab Lab for about a year, likes seeing the public utilize such a valuable resource.
“A lot of people don’t have access to this somewhat expensive equipment, nor would they ever have an opportunity to get close, let alone use it,” Cray said. “What I really love about the Fab Lab is its community access. Anyone can come in and use it, especially people who are really interested in knowing how to use the equipment and how it works.”
The LMC Fab Lab has also opened new avenues for campus groups. Lilah Cray, the president of LMC’s cosplay club (and wife of Samuel Cray), was able to move the cosplay club as a result of the easy use of Fab Lab’s sewing department. The club originally met in the cafeteria, but the opening of the Fab Lab gave the group more room to work and more resources to work with.
“Moving here we got a lot more space, we have more supplies and we got three new sewing machines. It was amazing,” she said.
As an easily accessible, navigable and usable community resource, LMC’s Fab Lab has opened new creative doors for young and old, tech savvy and not so savvy and Lake Michigan College itself. It’s a new way for Michiana makers to conceptualize, craft and cut their ideas in a no judgment, no stress space with other creators and learners.
“It can be a think tank where you just conceptualize your project, or you may not even have a project yet,” Dee said. “But there’s also people in here that know exactly what they want to do. They go and do it and 20 minutes later they’re out the door.”
LMC Fab Lab is open to anyone from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Lasers, lathes and other machines can be rented for half-hour minimums and pricing between $5 and $15. For more information about opportunities, registration and events, Fab Lab can be found at lakemichigancollege.edu/community/fab-lab.
Photography by Emily Sobecki