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Manufacturing Labs Network Boosts Creativity and Innovation in Students

There are currently eight workshops for the development of prototypes and models in different UC Chile campuses. Students and faculty members can work in these interdisciplinary and collaborative spaces to come up with actual solutions to real problems.

Two young men and one woman are discussing during a manufacturing workshop.

photo_camera The manufacturing workshops have a variety of equipment and tools that allow students and professors to design "solutions" to the country’s needs in various fields. (Photo: Víctor Valenzuela)

A few days before one of the most challenging pandemics of the last centuries hit Chile and the world, UC Chile decided to create the Manufacturing Labs Network to promote the development of prototypes and models, encourage collaborative and interdisciplinary work, and respond to societal challenges.   

The initiative is promoted by the Office of the Research Vice President, the UC Anacleto Angelini Innovation Center, the faculties of Architecture, Design and Urban Studies, Arts, and Engineering, and the UC Libraries; and it could not have come at a better time.  

Faced with the needs and emergencies caused by the pandemic, the network was swift to respond. 

Before there was more information about SARS-Cov-2 and how it spread, the network had already designed a connector and air filter to turn diving masks into effective shields for medical purposes. The initiative, which was coordinated by professor Ivan Caro from the School of Design, was so successful that it was used in several Chilean health centers.  

Meanwhile, a team led by Engineering Professor Ángela Decar devised a 3D printed transparent face shield to protect health professionals. During the pandemic, this device was widely used in the San José and Sótero del Río hospitals. 

What is a Manufacturing Lab? 

The manufacturing workshops have a variety of equipment and tools that allow students and faculty to design "solutions" to various national needs.  

They feature: 

  • 3D printers  
  • CNC milling machines  
  • Laser cutters  
  • Embroiderers  
  • Scanners  

They also have grinders, drills, sanders, heat guns, dremels, and saws, among many other tools. 

“The Manufacturing Labs Network is a space that seeks to foster productive interactions among all our students. Here they have the opportunity to develop projects, design products in different environments, and generate a genuine dialogue between different disciplines," explained Pedro Bouchon, Research Vice President.  

The network seeks to prototype and design models through collaborative work between different disciplines of the academic curriculum.  

It also promotes the talent and creativity of students and generates new technologies within the university.  

“It is important to promote this initiative in close connection with society. This type of collaboration reflects very well the spirit of our university.” 

An Idea is Born 

A male student is checking a machine during a manufacturing workshop.
The workshops are places for students from different degree programs to come together, which creates a learning environment where they can share experiences and perspectives. (Photo: Víctor Valenzuela) 

For Francisco Chateau, a faculty member at the School of Architecture and one of the driving forces behind the Manufacturing Labs Network, an important part of this effort is its interdisciplinary approach. 

"The university's Manufacturing Labs Network stems from interconnecting different nodes dedicated to manufacturing, present in various faculties. We would like to achieve synergy between different actors and have common security protocols, in order to create a system of exchange between different teams at the university," said the professor.  

The labs also have a team of professionals who are ready to assist in the development of ideas or projects.

Interdisciplinarity in Labs 

As the workshops are a meeting place for students from various degree programs, they create a learning environment in which experiences and perspectives can be shared.  

In our labs, we experience interdisciplinarity. It arises from the interaction between students who come with different ideas and who are working on projects with different approaches, through curiosity, and seeing what others are doing. Naturally, this leads to interest in other areas and approaches that are enriching. For us, that's what interdisciplinarity is all about," said Ángela Decar, coordinator of the manufacturing lab at the UC Chile School of Engineering. 

Examples of the Labs’ Projects  

A group of people are working with wood in the lab.
The labs network is an initiative promoted by the Office of the Research Vice President, the UC Anacleto Angelini Innovation Center, the faculties of Architecture, Design and Urban Studies, Arts, and Engineering, and the UC Libraries (Photo: Víctor Valenzuela).  

The costumes for the artwork Autofagicxs, directed by acting student Olemma Leyton, were designed at the facilities of the UC Chile Manufacturing Labs Network.  

This project is a great example of the interdisciplinarity that can be achieved with this network. 

"Thanks to Autofagicxs, an interdisciplinary project between the Theater and Biochemistry departments, I was introduced to the San Joaquin manufacturing lab, where I was able to make the costumes for this project. It was useful because I had access to technological facilities—they had 3D printers and laser machines—, I met other people who also do interdisciplinary work, and I discovered how to take advantage of the labs network," said Olemma Leyton.  

Another initiative that has been supported by the network is Paperlux. It is a low-cost optical device developed by UC Chile students that transforms screens into interactive whiteboards.  

It is a very attractive solution for classrooms in developing countries and has been internationally recognized. 

According to Luciano Lizana, co-founder of Paperlux

"The interdisciplinary environment has directly influenced the development of this product. Not only because we have the equipment and tools necessary to manufacture and prototype different ideas, but also because once the manufacturing process is finished, there are many experts who provide feedback. There are industrial designers, engineers, people from the biomedical area and from different disciplines who can give you feedback on what you are doing." 

Makerspace: A Space to Teach and Learn 

During the first semester of 2022, a Makerspace was inaugurated in the premises of the UC Library at the San Joaquín Campus.  

The free space, open to students and professors, provides 3D printers and other tools to develop models and prototypes, so that they can be incorporated into the teaching processes of the regular curriculum.  

It has been operating since April, and it is guided by the logic that the best way to learn is by doing.  

It works within the Library, as today, libraries are more than just repositories of books and printed texts, they are places where one can learn and create. 

Labs Open to the Community

A girl is interacting with a computer and some wires during a workshop for school children.
The Manufacturing Labs Network have developed a series of workshops for school children to promote interest in technology and creativity. (Photo: Pablo Gutiérrez) 

In order to boost the creativity of children and young people, the Manufacturing Labs Network has also developed a series of workshops with local communities. 

An example of this is the work carried out at FabLab Austal with 11- and 12-year-old children from the Donald Mc Intyre Griffiths High School in Puerto Williams. Using a microcontroller called Makey Makey, with joystick controls, the children learn to create simple programming and simulation functions. 

Through the use of technology in a fun way, students learn basic notions of electronics.  

The workshops were given by Pablo Gutiérrez, who is in charge of the FabHaus UC Chile Laboratory. As he explained: 

"The idea is to encourage young people to use and create new technologies through electronic devices. Especially among those who do not have many opportunities to explore these types of environments because they live in remote parts of the country." 

Manufacturing labs are becoming meeting and creative places with extraordinary possibilities for the future. 

Watch this video about the UC Chile Manufacturing Labs Network 

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