VCU opens new Innovation Laboratory

At the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, students are designing the future — and printing it in 3-D — in the new Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Innovation Laboratory.

VCU’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering worked with 3-D printing industry leader MakerBot to establish the commonwealth’s first Innovation Laboratory featuring a MakerBot Innovation Center. The MNE Innovation Laboratory facilitates rapid prototyping of devices with a manufacturing suite that features 30 MakerBot Fifth Generation Replicator Desktop 3-D Printers and three MakerBot Replicator Z18s for producing extra-large objects. It also houses 3-D scanners and digitizers to allow for reverse engineering capabilities.

Due to the enhanced networking capabilities of the facility in East Engineering Hall, students have the ability to use the 3-D printers from off-campus locations, via the MakerBot Innovation Center Management Platform. MakerBot’s high-quality 3-D printing output, reliability and superior technical support factored into VCU’s decision to work with the company to present this state-of-the-art learning resource.

“The new MNE Innovation Laboratory will provide VCU students with the latest tools to rapidly turn their creative ideas and inventions into working prototypes,” said Gary Tepper, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering. “Students learn academic concepts in the classroom, but they get tremendous satisfaction and a much deeper understanding when they apply their engineering skills to build and innovate.”

The ability to design, fabricate and test sophisticated prototypes quickly in-house allows students to investigate unforeseen problems and improve functionality early in the design process.

The laboratory also equips the university to challenge and inspire future engineering students. Its resources will figure prominently in a middle school outreach program starting in summer 2017.