Manufacturing Day at the Illinois MakerLab

The Illinois MakerLab hosted tours as part of the National Manufacturing Day events that happened in Champaign County on October 4, 2019. National Manufacturing Day celebrates modern manufacturing with a goal of inspiring the next generation of manufacturers. As a manufacturer, the Illinois MakerLab was given the opportunity to give tours of their lab, explain the ways 3D printing can advance manufacturing, and answer questions.


The Illinois MakerLab created 3D-printed keychains inscribed with the hashtag #MadeinCC (Made in Champaign County) for the tours they hosted on Manufacturing Day. Because of the speed and efficiency of the 3D printers, the Illinois MakerLab is able to manufacture small-scale products like keychains in bulk. This emerging technology has implications for many areas of business, and can improve consumer education about manufacturing.


Making wood from .....

Gabe Tavas, a freshman in Industrial Design, and founder of Novel Printers, first began his venture in order to explore the idea between maintaining regular use of wood while still preserving the ecosystem. Gabe wanted to figure out a way to use 3D bioprinters to make commercial wood without the need of actually cutting down a tree. After prototyping with printers from MakerLab and Community Fab Lab, he entered Future of the Forests Xprize. This is a global competition which focused on using technology to improve our current situation around deforestation and eventually ended up winning a prize!

Here is the story of how Gabe got started, in his own words:

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Growing up in Chicago, I had the benefit of being immersed in two different settings: the forest and the workshop. One was teeming with life and nature’s ingenuity, and the other hummed with machinery and human creativity. On first glance, the two seem completely incompatible. Wood, for example, is a material that nature makes and humans either use or waste. In 2018 alone, enough trees to cover all of Belgium were lost to deforestation in countries like Brazil and Indonesia to make room for agricultural land and harvest valuable timber. In the workshop, some of this timber is highly prized for its structures, colors, and patterns. In the forest though, losing that many trees so quickly threatens to ruin the local environments and exacerbate climate change. So when I began my venture, Novel Printers, in October 2018,  I wondered if there was a way to still support human craftsmanship while preserving the ecosystems that make it possible in the first place.

At first, I presented this line of thinking to an audience of about 100-200 people attending 54, a weekend-long event run by an organization called Founders that helps student entrepreneurs form teams for startup ventures. In my case, I wanted to figure out a way to use 3D bioprinters to make commercial wood from the ground up without harming any trees, which would allow them to slowly recover from human lumbering. One thing led to another, and I teamed up with a few engineering students before reaching out to the Illinois Makerlab to borrow an older 3D printer and convert it into a bioprinter with retraction abilities that can extrude cellulose acetate — a derivative of the cellulose found in wood — dissolved in acetone.

After three months of trial and error, we not only succeeded in the conversion but also secured a small workspace for the bioprinter in the Community Fab Lab where we could conduct more research as well as share our work with visitors. Even before we moved in though, I was fascinated with the Fab Lab’s biomaking tools, which some people used to grow bowls of mycelium mushroom — an eco-friendly alternative to styrofoam packaging — and analyze small samples of DNA. As I worked more and more in the Fab Lab, I realized that, although I had been able to print simple objects with cellulose acetate, biomaking could allow me to achieve better results with materials that — unlike acetate — are not created with hazardous chemicals like sulfuric acid. Ultimately, what I really had to do was take a hint from nature and find a way to shape and refine cellulose without any toxic downsides.

Soon enough, I was tinkering with cellulose grown by (slimy and stinky but otherwise harmless) bacteria. Since paper is made of cellulose that normally has to be extracted from trees with harmful chemicals and a large amount of energy, cellulose-producing bacteria can make a purer product more safely and easily at room temperature. In fact, while the bacterial paper I made started out brown and wrinkled, I eventually got it to the point of looking white and fairly even.

At the same time that Novel Printers was having some success with the paper prototypes, we also submitted an entry to the Future of the Forests Xprize, a global competition that sought to define the framework by which innovators in a future Xprize should develop technology that addresses deforestation. In total, the Xprize had six categories for six winning teams: decoupling land from food production, fighting deforestation, value of forests, renewable energy production, carbon sequestration, and alternative wood products. Out of over 200 total entries, we were selected as the winner of the alternative wood products category by a panel of judges and emerged as one of only two winning American teams. Now, the $2,500 prize money we received will be used to fund more research into bacterial cellulose and support more biomaking in the Fab Lab.

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Thanks for sharing your story with us Gabe! We look forward to seeing what other great things you have in the future. If you want to get in touch with Gabe, send him an email at gtavas2 AT illinois DOT edu.

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Volunteer Reflection - Jakob Lteif

The MakerLab volunteers are a really important part of the lab. They help day to day welcoming makers, assisting with workshops and fixing printers. Today graduating senior Jakob Ltief, is reflecting on all that he has learned during his time as a volunteer at the lab!


Since my Junior year at the Gies College of Business, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer at the U of I MakerLab. At this point in my life, I’d never even seen something 3D printed let alone worked with the machines and software that do the heavy lifting. Walking into the MakerLab for the first time, I thought I’d primarily be helping with marketing efforts and working with the printers on the side. My first task was even to collect stories from customers in the lab for reposting on social media. Instead, I’ve gained invaluable first-hand experience with technologies and software I couldn’t have imagined of working with all while being exposed to bright minds making use of 3D printing in imaginative and innovative ways.

During my time in the MakerLab, I’ve worn many hats and been asked to do many tasks. From helping with numerous workshops and standing in the atrium to raise awareness on Homecoming Weekend, to helping establish MakerLab on Gies Groups. Each has been an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn something new, as well as explore a truly disruptive and growing field.

I’m immensely thankful for the time I’ve spent in and around the Makerlab. I’ve met incredible people, been a part of incredible projects, and most importantly learned a lot along the way. While the MakerLab’s status as the only 3D printing lab in a business school is a well-touted fact, I can assure you that the cross-exposure from different students and majors working together and within the lab is invaluable.

Thank you Jakob for all your hard work this semester! Come join the MakerLab staff for Fall 2019 and learn valuable life skills. Stay tuned for MakerLab updates by subscribing to our newsletter, liking us on Facebook, or following us on Snapchat(uimakerlab),  Twitter or Instagram.

Reaching Out to the Community at the Library

The MakerLab isn’t just on Illinois’s campus anymore! Every Monday, guru William Jones heads over to the Champaign Public Library to help with the after school program for teens. Will and a high school volunteer, Shreya, helps the kids learn basic 3D printing and TinkerCAD, a 3D design software. There is even 2 Ultimaker printers at the library for the kids to use and print their models on! The MakerLab is really excited to be able to continuing to teach kids 3D printing and TinkerCAD and encouraging them to learn more about 3D design and STEM with 3D printing! Be sure to stop by and see us at the teen lounge next time you are at the Champaign Library on a Monday!

Stay tuned for MakerLab updates by subscribing to our newsletter, liking us on Facebook, or following us on Snapchat(uimakerlab),  Twitter or Instagram. Have an event you want to have the MakerLab at? Contact us and we will help you get started!

From Social Innovation to Sustainable Impact: How to Turn Good Intentions into Global Change

Everyone is constantly talking about 'changing the world' but how many people foster real and actual change? 'Innovation' has become such a buzzword that we are losing sight of its real meaning and potential. So many hackathons, conferences or workshops just end, without any real follow up or concrete next steps that harness the incredible energy and ideas that have been brewing. Something has to change in order for there to be change!
In this talk, the Milestone team will share their years of experience in the design, innovation, and social sectors around the world. We'll discuss the failures on why such little measurable impact emerges from so many good ideas and intentions and what we are doing to change that.

The talk will touch upon Milestone's unique approach to user-centered design for change and on how we break down existing silos to get people talking and working together around common goals. 

The firm is on campus to help with a course ( Their visit is sponsored by the Gies College of Business(Office of the Dean). The collaboration with Art+Design (Dr. Deana McDonagh) and DRES (Adam Bleakney) is sponsored by the Siebel Center for Design.


MakerLab Hosts Physics Department Class

The Illinois MakerLab was proud to host Professor George Gollin and his design class, Physics 398DLP, at the lab recently! Their plan was to print PLA cases for the environmental data loggers that the students are building.

Professor Gollin has a lot of experience with 3D Printing and was even able to give us some tips to make sure prints run smoothly. He stated that four factors must be considered to ensure a perfect print. First, the glass build plates must be scrupulously clean. Second, the print job must run with the correct build plate temperature for the particular color of filament loaded into the printer. Third, the print job must also use a proper nozzle temperature, which varies from spool to spool of filament. Lastly, the clean build plate must be swabbed with 70/30 isopropanol/water immediately before printing.

So, Physics 398DLP arrived with cleaning supplies, 70/30 alcohol, cardboard plates to seal the open fronts of the printers and adhesion test print jobs that were run before the main print job in order to find the best temperatures for each machine’s build plate and nozzle. They began by cleaning all the build plates with dishwashing detergent and hot water in a sink elsewhere in BIF. By running the test print jobs, they established optimum temperatures (which varied from machine to machine), reapplied alcohol, then ran the main print jobs. Check out the final results! Eleven out of the twelve prints were flawless!