ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With today’s revolution in digital manufacturing sweeping through industry, the Santa Fe Business Incubator is stepping up to train “new collar” workers in 21st century fabrication.
The incubator’s new Archimedes Fab Lab, which opened in November, offers a full suite of digital, advanced manufacturing tools that incubator companies can now use for rapid product development. And, through a new partnership with Santa Fe startup Fab Lab Hub LLC, technicians and operators can get the hands-on training they need to transition from traditional blue-collar jobs to today’s new-collar work in modern factories.
“People are scared of robots taking over the workplace,” said Fab Lab Hub founder Sarah Boisvert. “But robots are actually opening up a whole line of ‘new collar’ jobs to design, program, monitor and fix them. They’re actually ‘cobots’ that work on the production line with us, but technicians and operators need training to manage it.”
The incubator’s new, 800-square-foot fab lab is equipped with the modern digital fabrication tools needed to make almost anything, Boisvert said. That includes 3-D printers, vinyl and laser cutters, computer numerical control machines for precise tabletop cutting, milling machines and a microelectronics workstation. It’s all tied together with software that allows digital control of the entire manufacturing process.
The lab is named in memory of the late Kim Constantikes, an incubator client whose family donated the equipment from his engineering company, Archimedes Scientific, after he died.
In addition, Boisvert secured donations from a host of manufacturing firms to upgrade the lab into a fully-equipped fab lab, allowing it to become a formal affiliate of the international Fab Lab Network connected to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The network now includes more than 1,000 fab labs worldwide, modeled on MIT’s guidelines for the basic tools needed to make almost anything in a digital workplace, Boisvert said.
Boisvert is also working with Santa Fe Community College to open a second network-affiliated fab lab at the Trades and Advanced Technology Center in February.
The Archimedes Fab Lab is now open for use by the incubator’s resident and affiliate companies. Together with the incubator’s Bioscience Laboratory, a 700-square-foot wet lab that opened in 2014, client companies now have access to a broad suite of high-tech tools for rapid product prototyping and testing, said incubator President and CEO Marie Longserre.
“The Fab Lab is a huge asset for us,” Longserre said. “It provides cutting-edge training and tools.”
The training will be offered by Fab Lab Hub, which Boisvert launched both to help aspiring fab labs nationwide meet the requirements for MIT affiliation, and to provide education in digital fabrication. The company’s “digital badge program” offers trainings that range from six to 16 weeks or more to achieve various levels of certification.
“Students and people in manufacturing need a new training model,” Boisvert said. “We’re talking about technicians and operators, not engineers. They don’t need a two-year degree anymore, because the traditional educational path for journeyman machinists has changed.”
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates a shortfall of 2 million skilled workers by 2020.
“Manufacturers are desperate for workers trained in digital manufacturing,” Boisvert said.
The program will include paid internships.
“We had two interns in the fall, and we hope to reach 10 this year,” Boisvert said. “As it grows, we want train the interns to teach other people, as well, in a train-the-trainer model.”
The lab will offer periodic workshops to the public. And, Boisvert’s company will collaborate with other entrepreneurship programs, including a new partnership in the works with the Creative Startups accelerator and the incubator’s Startup Weekend in February.
“We’ll make the fab lab available and offer a workshop in computer-aided design and 3-D printing for Startup Weekend teams who want to do on-the-spot prototyping,” said incubator Program Director Sean O’Shea.
The incubator also recently expanded and upgraded its co-working space, a 400-square-foot office that offers open access not just to members of the incubator, but to affiliates of the Project Y and FatPipe ABQ co-working spaces in Los Alamos and Albuquerque, as well, O’Shea said.
The 30,000-square-foot incubator, which opened in 1997, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. To date, it’s helped launch and grow about 160 businesses, generating more than 1,000 new jobs in Santa Fe in the last 10 years.
“We’re planning a big luncheon celebration in downtown Santa Fe in early April for our anniversary,” Longserre said. “That will kick off a variety of activities throughout the year, including workshops, panel discussions and public gatherings that focus on current and new programs and collaborative opportunities.”