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Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab Invited to White House

By Colin McEvoy on August 18, 2016

The Northampton Community College's Fab Lab has been invited to a meeting at the White House. (courtesy photo)

The Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab has been invited to a meeting at the White House. (courtesy photo)

The Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab has been invited to speak at the White House for a discussion of notable individuals who run, support, or are involved with maker spaces around the country.

The meeting next week is being organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which, among many other initiatives, encourages young people to create and invent, and promotes entrepreneurship in hardware and manufacturing.

“It’s a true honor to be invited to the White House,” said Jeff Boerner, Director of Entrepreneurship and director of the Fab Lab. “I think we were invited because we’re a mature, well-established fab lab and we’ve been doing very well, so they’d like to hear what we have to say.”

The NCC Fab Lab in Bethlehem offers open access to state-of-the-art technologies, including a full metal and woodshop, spray booth, 3-D printers, laser cutters, a sound lab, a guitar-making and repair studio, cold casting, and more.

While this marks his first invitation to the White House, Boerner has been sharing his experiences and expertise with labs across the country through events organized by the United States Fab Lab Network (USFLN), a connected network of fab labs who exchange knowledge, ideas, and resources.

Located at 511 E. 3rd Street, the NCC Fab Lab has 80 classes and 27 instructors that include master craftsmen, entrepreneurs and expert technicians. The space provides an unpretentious environment for prototyping new product ideas, improving on existing ones, or crafting for recreation.

“When we started our Fab Lab in 2009, we were just at the beginning and didn’t really know what would happen with it,” Boerner said. “Since then, just about every community college has done one, but we had a huge head start, which is probably a factor in why we were invited (to the White House).”

The Fab Lab has grown consistently each year, adding an average of between $20,000 and $30,000 of new equipment annually. Several new pieces of equipment were installed this year, Boerner said, including a full metal mill, woodworking pieces, new laser equipment, a new 3-d printer, and metalworking equipment like a bandsaw, lathe, and gear-driven drill press.

Boerner thinks part of the reason the Fab Lab has thrived is that NCC has given them a great deal of flexibility to make it the best space possible.

“There are a lot of other fab labs in the country that have been hamstrung by administration, but NCC gave us free rein to get it up and running,” he said. “That means we’ve been able to follow our mission of putting as many manufacturing processes in as possible. You can come in here and build almost anything.”

In addition to the White House visit, the lab is hosting a Fab Lab Boot Camp on November 10-12, during which fab labs from around the nation will visit and observe the facility first hand. That even is being organized by the National Association of Community Colleges and Entrepreneurship (NAACE).

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