ProtoLAB opens to provide large scale digital fabrication capability

Friday 19 July 2019

Students working in the new ProtoLAB with glass façade

Students working in the new ProtoLAB with glass façade, image by Doris Dai

In summary

  • Swinburne celebrates new ProtoLAB opening
  • Large scale prototyping facilities supported by industrial robots

Swinburne’s new digital fabrication facility, ProtoLAB, formally opened this week. The expanded state-of-the-art workshop space designed by H2O Architects is home to industrial robots for large scale architectural design prototyping.

The ProtoLAB design features a glass façade, allowing natural light into all corners of the workspace. Prototyping, digital fabrication, design and making in progress can easily be observed as the façade generates interest and creates a spectacle at the northern end of Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus.

ProtoLAB’s light-filled workspaces

ProtoLAB’s light filled workspaces

ProtoLAB’s light filled workspaces

ProtoLAB’s light filled workspaces, images by Steven Vidovic

“Often people will be staring in, checking out what our fantastic students are creating. Children press their faces against the glass, mesmerised, watching something being machined out of a block of foam - as if to appear by magic,” says Manager of Technical Services, Architecture and Design, Andrew Tarlinton.

The lab has a new high-speed HP Jet Fusion 3D Printer that allows students to print complex geometry without needing to remove support material. A new Okuma CNC turn mill; seven laser cutters; a Biesse CNC router; a Multicam router; two KUKA collaborative robots designed to work with humans and a new larger KUKA KR120 robot are in constant use.

small KUKA robot in the ProtoLAB

Small KUKA robot in the ProtoLAB, image by Tom Gilfillan

large KUKA robot in action

large KUKA robot in action

“The KUKA KR120 runs on a 7.9 metre linear track, and reaches out to 3 metres. It has a sync table at one end and a horizontal positioner along one side for multi-axis machining,” he says. 

“Computer programs, and the students tethered to them are getting smarter, utilising parametric software to control not only a model’s shape but also the robot or machine attached.

“By using data and analytics they work out what’s required, reducing waste material and improving user experience. Generative design and parametric design are not new ways of working, but we are progressively finding easier ways of producing designs, and communicating to the machines.

Student drawing on workshop board

Student drawing on workshop board, image by Jono Lucas

“By teaching the full potential of Industry 4.0 machines, we enable students to translate these capabilities back into their designs with a deeper technical knowledge and understanding," he says. 

The ProtoLAB supports students in design, engineering and architecture and meets the needs of academic research, testing and industry partnered work.

Academic technicians at work

Academic technicians at work, image by Steven Vidovic

“In research, it supports conversations with research partners. We also now have the space and large-scale robotics to undertake prototyping, fabrication and assembly at architectural scale,” says Dean of Design, Professor Jane Burry.

A ‘soft prototyping lab’ integrates with design studios. As ideas developed in the studios mature and upscale, they are translated to the main workshop space to use the large-scale robot to fabricate at full scale, embracing the added risks and complexities that entails.

ProtoLAB provides varied workspaces

ProtoLAB workspaces

ProtoLAB provides varied workspaces, images by Gertie Hall and Mary Pangalidis

“The ProtoLAB provides the luxury of space. Multiple classes and research activities occur simultaneously. Time consuming fabrication activities continue alongside student teaching,” says Professor Burry.

“In design, access to a top-quality workshop is a major attractor for both students and researchers for testing and developing ideas. The quality of the workshop and expertise of staff is critical, and regular access invaluable.”

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