Oklahoma's Doing Fab in Pioneering Digital Workshops

A Fab Lab, short for fabrication laboratory, is a one-room digital workshop that can make precision gears, blood testing devices, wireless networking units, and, as they say at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where the idea originated, "almost anything." You'll find a Fab Lab at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and a few dozen other places around the world.

Those places now include Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore and Pioneer Technology Center in Ponca City. Claremore's is the only Fab Lab in the nation in a public school and the only one in the world in a junior high. Ponca City's Fab Lab, based in a customized semi-trailer, is the world's only truly mobile Fab Lab.

The Pioneer Tech Manufacturing Education Training System (METS) Skills on Wheels Mobile Lab started out as a way to show a third-grader why he should learn math. Now third graders and others put math and jaw-dropping technology to work to make plastic dinosaurs and other objects.

But it's not just child's play. A local company used the same equipment to make, in a few hours, a prototype that normally would involve an eight-week wait.

In Claremore, where David Isenbart's technology education students were already scooping up prizes in national competitions, the Fab Lab has added to the excitement and to the ability to make better projects. In 2008, students used the Fab Lab to build prize-winning ping-pong-ball launchers and rubber-band-powered racers. They're also designing and building two-person cardboard boats that will have to survive a trip across a swimming pool. The lab was a gift from Claremore philanthropist Frank Robson.

One Fab Lab highlight is the rapid prototype (3-D) printer, a device that "prints" 3-D objects by building up paper-thin layers of plastic. The labs also have laser cutter/engravers, and computer controlled milling and lathing cutters. In addition, Pioneer's lab has a plasma torch and an inert gas welder.

The labs serve to whet young appetites for a possible future in manufacturing and, in Pioneer's case, to train today's workers on the state-of-the-art equipment. For more on Fab Labs, see the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's
Fab Central.