A lab that’s fab

Gazette photo by Avery Cropp
Stillwater Area High School student Max Kelly lines up his project correctly before starting the SAHS fabrication lab’s CNC Mill Nov. 3

SAHS fabrication lab lets students work on variety of projects

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Students at the Stillwater Area High School are about to get some real-world machining experience.

The school’s new fabrication lab, or fab lab, features new technology that lets students to do a variety of projects.

New lab equipment includes a 3-D printer that allows students to create plastic prototypes, a laser engraver that allows students to put designs into various types of materials, a CNC Router that cuts a 2-D image signs and a CNC plasma cutter that cuts flat steel and irregular shapes like the router as well as a CNC mill and lathe that cuts and shapes metal.

The equipment arrived at the school in September with the help of donations from area companies. After training, technology teacher Todd Kapsner is letting his students get their hands on the machines to practice their skills.

“The students are excited to use and try new things, and they’re just champing at the bit to use this,” he said.

The Huelsmann Foundation donated $25,000 for the new lab. This donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000 a year through a challenge grant from the Hubbard Broadcasting Foundation.

Heavier use of the machines will likely take place next semester. But Kapsner says the possibilities for the fab lab are endless. The equipment can be used for wood projects and model building while signs, cabinets and personalized products can also be made.

Kapsner added that students could possibly help build desks and furniture as they begin to re-do the high school library. He also said there was the opportunity to team up with other classes as well to use the equipment going forward.

But the most important part of the new lab for Kapsner is the new equipment lets students to go through the process of creating something with machinery from a prototype to final product.

“It gives real world practice to students and allows them to see how things are done in the industry and machining and manufacturing,” he said. “This is stuff that technical college students and four-year college students do. It allows students to get hands-on experience applying design skills in the math and science curriculum. They’re also gaining information and knowledge with hands-on experience and that’s what we intend to do.”

Though new, the fab lab is not unique to area schools. Mahtomedi has a fabrication lab, but Kapsner said the high school’s fab lab has more of a capability to do real-world application since Mahtomedi has more desktop-based technology instead of SAHS machining capability.

“It’s pretty cool to see all this technology and doing actual machining makes it easy,” said student Max Kelly, “Seeing all the different parts come together makes it fun.”

Kapsner said going forward he hopes more community engagement becomes part of the fab lab experience.

“Eventually we’d like to get the community more involved,” Kapsner said. “We’d like to create partnerships where we could maybe help create something, or ideally I’d like to get something set up where people can work with students and community experts in machining going forward.