Undergrad Architects Get Hands-On CNC Experience

The mission of the digital Fabrication Laboratory (dFAB) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), according to its Director Jeremy Ficca, “is to foster a context within which students and faculty are better equipped to understand digital design and the manufacturing processes.”
At a size of approximately 3,000 square-feet, the dFAB houses a wide range of computer-automated prototyping and manufacturing equipment. It is available to all students enrolled in its five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree program as well as those enrolled in Masters and PhD studies.
To create manufacturing programs for producing materials and models used in their advanced courses, the university relies on Mastercam software to program a 4-axis router with a 4’ x 8’ table and an ABB 4400 6-axis robot (made possible by a gift from the Enkeboll Foundation).

Students have access to four floating licenses of Mastercam, so they rarely have to wait. They program the ABB 6-axis robotic mill with tool changer via powerful Robotmaster software, which was designed to reside within Mastercam’s open architecture. It takes full advantage of Mastercam’s 5-axis toolpaths for milling while providing advanced robotics simulation and manipulation capabilities.
During the spring semester, freshmen take courses that require them to learn how to use the laser cutter. As sophomores, they learn how to use Mastercam and the router within the context of design studio projects. For example, they may use the router to make molds for the manufacturing of cast building materials. Subsequently, students are introduced to the 6-axis robot in some of the more advanced courses.
However, students don’t have to wait to complete required courses. They can always go to “dFAB boot camp.” With this experience under their belts, students are free to use the lab to transform their own visions into physical reality.

Many examples of work performed in the laboratory can be found in the extensive project galleries maintained on the dFAB web site: http://www.cmu-dfab.org. “A common theme for all of these activities is finding better ways to get the work we develop digitally into the physical world,” Ficca said.
He explained that the purpose of the lab is not to train students to become highly proficient CNC fabricators. Rather, the goal is to expose students to the tools so that they can be familiar with them and discover how they might be used to enhance the effectiveness of their work as students and, ultimately, during their careers.
Ficca believes that his students’ hands-on dFAB experience will inspire them to have meaningful discussions with fabrication professionals, resulting in unique solutions that sometimes push the envelope of architectural design and fabrication alternatives.

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