In this blog we are featuring the iForge CREATE Education Hub at the University of Sheffield.
The iForge is a student run makerspace based in the Engineering department at the University of Sheffield.
iForge representative Aiden Findlay, who is also a first year aerospace engineer has kindly shared some details about the hub, it’s use of 3D printing, projects and activities.
Becoming a CREATE Education Hub
How did your 3D Printing journey start?
The University of Sheffield’s new engineering building, The Diamond, was completed in 2015 and one of the labs within it is a manufacturing teaching space. The aim was use 3D printers to facilitate student projects and teach students about rapid manufacturing techniques. However, we quickly discovered the demand for 3D printing was much larger than anticipated. Students wanted a space where they could drop in and print things for all sorts of projects; from business ideas to home improvements.
Seeing this gap, a small team of students and staff created the iForge; a student-run makerspace where students can work on whatever they like. Kitted out with laser cutters, hand tools, 3D printers, an electronic workbench and many more pieces of equipment, the Ultimaker 3D printers very quickly became the backbone of the manufacturing capability within the space.
What was it about the CREATE Education Project that inspired you to become a CREATE Education Hub?
The opportunity to work with like minded people to encourage the use of 3D printing through outreach events for the Sheffield community. Also, to see the work of the other CREATE Education hubs and to inspire more makerspaces around the UK.
How did you go about persuading the university to support you in terms of budget and investment?
Working off the makerspace model that has been developed in the USA over the last decade we put into practice many of their ideas to show the University of Sheffield that the plan was feasible. Since we were also working with traditional workshop equipment, and requesting 24 hour student access to labs, a lot of work was done on the health and safety side to convince University management that students could take responsibility for the safe running of the space. The 3D printers were initially funded as part of the multi-million pound investment in the Diamond, but the recent creation of the iForge has been primarily funded by generous donations from the Reece Foundation, Sheffield alumni and industrial partners.
What qualities are needed in a Hub Leader?
The iForge is an entirely new project within the university and so a lot of the work done in setting up hardware, organising rotas, maintenance, finance, communicating with the rest of the department, organising events, and training reps has been done by students and a couple of key staff members.
The most important qualities are being able to work as part of the student/staff team and to have the drive to improve the space for the users.
About the Hub’s 3D Printers
How many 3D Printers do you have?
Are these all located together in one space?
Currently we have ten Ultimaker 2+ Extended printers. Two of these are dedicated to the iForge and are for direct student use. The other eight are in the same room but are in use by the Project Space lab and are overseen by university technicians. These are used by students as part of a manufacturing class but are also available when demand arises. In the future we would like to have many more Ultimaker printers whirring away in the iForge to increase the number of projects we can accommodate
What subject areas do you use the 3D printing technology in?
Immediately after opening the iForge in September at the start of this semester, we have seen extensive use by both students in their own time and students working on projects as part of a module. This includes primarily mechanical and aerospace engineering students, but also bio-engineering, civil, chemical and students from other faculties such as architecture, medicine and music. The number of departments and students using the space is only set to increase as the university makes use of the potential of a makerspace like this and lecturers gear modules to have a more practical and hands on focus.
The scope of potential iForge users extends to every student enlisted at the University of Sheffield and to every academic and teaching staff member. We have had first year engineers like myself, PhD and masters students and lecturers using the space. This just goes to show how universal the desire to get creative is and how far reaching an open workshop can be. In addition to university students, we want to open the space to young students across Sheffield. We are currently working the MakEY project, the iMechE and the Really Neet project to help us achieve this.
How has using the Ultimaker printers impacted your results and learning outcomes?
Using Ultimaker printers has made rapid prototyping accessible to our students and allows them to visualise their designs quickly and easily. It brings a physical element to the CAD modelling they do, and enables them to manufacture custom shapes that would not be possible with traditional workshop equipment. Testing and optimising designs before making the final product is a process that is very difficult to teach or understand unless a student goes through it first-hand. Having a fast and accurate printer allows this to happen and results in more practically minded, rounded engineers.
An advantage of using Ultimaker printers is the simplicity of the Cura software that gives students the opportunity to learn how to set up prints and to optimise settings for individual usage. This dissuades from the ‘one setting fits all’ mentality that commonly causes poor quality and failed prints.
Do the Ultimaker printers make any real difference as opposed to other brands of 3D Printers you may have used?
We use several other brand printers and in comparison, the Ultimakers are easy to use and maintain. We have had very few hardware issues with them and they run almost around the clock. Additionally, the Cura interface is very friendly for first time users, making it quick to get to grips with.
About the Hub’s 3D Printing Projects and Activities
What type of projects have you worked on?
In the iForge we have had users working on personal, research and university projects. Some examples include making drone/UAV parts, medical models, lithophanes, producing components to fix other 3D printers and even some potential start up products. For me, the most inspiring thing has been seeing the number of students using the space for their PhD projects.
Do you get other schools involved in any activities?
We are planning an event in partnership with the iMechE this June for National Women in Engineering Day, bringing local schools into the University of Sheffield to use the workshop for a Bloodhound SSC themed project. We regularly host widening participation and outreach events and are looking to work with the School of Education on their makerspaces for kids. Along with the Really Neet project and the MakEy project, we hope to run outreach events with local schools.
Do you allow your feeder schools access to the printers?
Are there any out of school or after school 3D printing activities?
We have held regular events in the iForge such as Christmas, Halloween and opening events. In the future we will be running more evening and weekend events such as these due to their popularity with students.
Currently the iForge is open 12:00-20:00 each week day and in that time, it is constantly staffed by trained iForge Reps. This is the best time for us to be open as it allows university students to relax in the early evening and work on personal projects whilst socialising with the maker community. It is also open 24-7 for our student iForge Reps.
How has our CREATE Education Project supported you so far on the journey?
So far, the CREATE Education Project has spread the word about the iForge through blog posts and we would like to continue to develop our relationship with them.
What could we do better to support and/or promote you as a Hub?
Our primary need is printing capacity. We have a huge demand for printing, but the iForge is essentially a student initiative and so doesn’t have huge resources to fund new machines and material. We hope that Ultimaker and other supporters will see the benefits the iForge provides to students and look to partner with us to allow us to continue doing what we’re doing.
After seeing the incredible amount of growth and progress the iForge has made over the last four months it is exciting to consider how the space will grow over the next few years. We think the CREATE Education Project can be an important part of this, making 3D printing accessible to all our students at The University of Sheffield and inspiring the next generation of makers in Sheffield.
The CREATE Education Project would like to thank Aiden Findlay for sharing the details of the University of Sheffield iForge CREATE Education Hub with us. You can learn more about the iForge at: