The Makerspace, a build area located within the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center, offers access to a wide array of tools, machinery and software that allow community members of all backgrounds to bring their inventions to life. Here, users can design, test and manufacture their own prototypes, using equipment like laser cutters, 3D printers, metalworking and textile machinery and more. Users also have access to hands-on training on how to use all these resources safely and effectively.
The space is open and available to use for free by University faculty, staff and students. Other members of the public can access the space by making an appointment and purchasing a day pass at the front desk of the Innevation Center.
Grace Chou, director of the Innevation Center, said having this space available gives the community a place that introduces them to new and creative ways to innovate, and also provides practical real-world experience for students.
“We hope that the Makerspace will help community members and entrepreneurs to explore their creative ideas and get inspired to bring innovation to the marketplace,” she explained. “We also hope to help students develop 21st century skills of solving complex problems, critical thinking, creativity and other cognitive skills to prepare for a future workforce.”
A terrific example of the Makerspace actively encouraging high school and university students to use the space for innovation is the first ever Makerthon competition, March 12-14, 2021, featuring three student teams.
The many possibilities of the Makerspace
Daniel Smith, Makerspace specialist at the Innevation Center, described plans to expand what the space can offer. A new woodworking shop will soon be added as will more hands-on training for their more complex manufacturing machinery.
Smith said these initiatives will increase the amount of services so a greater diversity of people can utilize the space and its equipment for more purposes, ranging from entrepreneurialism and business development to artistry and workforce training.
“Every day we get a new person to come down to the Makerspace is a good day,” he said. “Seeing [the space] expand, seeing people take full advantage of it and really unlocking their own potential for what they can build…I always love seeing [that]. As soon as they see the space, you can see that spark in their eye.”
Joseph Hill, a senior mechanical engineering student at the University, is an example of someone who takes advantage of the Makerspace’s resources. As a part of the College of Engineering’s mechanical engineering capstone class, Hill and four other University students are developing a product prototype. Although the group isn’t required to make a physical prototype this semester due to COVID-19, they thought it would be a great opportunity to use the Makerspace to design and test their project.
Hill and his group have spent many hours working with the Makerspace since January, and he said he has gained a lot of practical experience in just two months. He had some knowledge of the machinery prior, but getting additional training from the staff and then using the hardware is helpful for his project and his future.
“If I know how the machines work and what their limitations are, it helps me in the design process going forward to design around what’s easiest or what I’m limited on,” he said. “Specifically talking about engineering students… it can be helpful to understand the basic operational things of those machines before you start designing. I think it can save you a lot of time at the end, instead of having to modify your design.”
In addition to training, the Makerspace staff has helped Hill in other ways. In the future, the group hopes to form a startup and pursue grants or seed investment to continue working on their prototype, and possibly building a commercial product.
The University also provides two other makerspaces: one in the DelaMare Library and the Art Fabrication Lab in the Church Fine Arts building. All of these spaces, in addition to other labs on campus, provide access to machinery like 3D printers and other tools and collaborate with one another.
Realizing potential with the “Makerthon”
The Innevation Center, in collaboration with Click Bond, Inc., will hold its first Makerthon, an event where three student teams – one from Reno High School and two from the University – will compete to “invent a new product based on a real-world challenge.” During this event the teams will have 48 hours to develop, produce and then present a prototype of their product to a panel of judges.
Smith said this competition will be a great opportunity for the contestants to recognize their innovative potential.
“When people realize how much you can do in 48 hours, it makes developing a product seem like a much more accessible goal,” he said. “Everybody has this great idea that can solve a real-world problem. It’ll be really great to see all these students face that challenge head-on…and maybe what they come up with is going to be a product that will go on and be something real and profitable.”
Smith added the event can also be a way for competitors to network with others in the community. He said they hope to make this an annual event and eventually get more community partners involved. Then, competitors can make connections with local businesses that could be beneficial to their future careers, and those same companies can see the talent of students in the area.
“Making connections is so important, and the Reno community is great but it’s growing,” he said. “So finding new ways to make those connections is more and more important every day.”
For more information on how to get started in the Makerspace, visit the Makerspace website.