Reviving the Arts through 3D printing at the Cabrillo Fab Lab

With the purchase of an Ultimaker 2 in 2014, Payson McNett’s Cabrillo College Fab Lab was well on its way to success. The Fab Lab benefits faculty, students, and community members alike, offering a fresh opportunity for design and entrepreneurship.

Bridging gaps between art and science

For Cabrillo College adjunct professor Payson McNett, reversing an 8-year decline of art student enrollment was a top priority when he joined the school in 2014. The Cabrillo graduate knew that revitalizing the art department and maintaining the college’s reputation as a leader in arts education was essential for success.

Cabrillo Fab Lab Ultimaker Printers

Ultimaker 2 printers at the Cabrillo College Fab Lab

Payson saw that—despite coming from an accomplished program—these arts courses lacked the content necessary to challenge more experienced students from a variety of backgrounds. The transformation he envisioned would require not only donations to build a brand new design space, but also a reimagining of curriculum to support newer technologies like 3D printing on Ultimaker.

“I have students from all different walks of life, from retired computer engineers from Silicon Valley to kids right out of high school.”

Today, activity in the Cabrillo Fab Lab is buzzing with four Ultimaker 2 printersregularly used by over 50 people. Students, faculty, and community members keep the space busy; Payson often brings his own Ultimaker 2 from home to alleviate production bottlenecks during busy parts of the school year.

Ultimaker Cabrillo Fab Lab

An Ultimaker in action

A student project

Students from a wide range of programs enjoy the Fab Lab, whether they’re interested in Engineering, Nursing, Digital Media, or aren’t yet sure which career path to take. Payson feels that integrating 3D printing into his curriculum has helped bridge the gap between art and science, as well as create interdisciplinary collaboration through student clubs and local organizations. It’s also beneficial, he finds, to effectively show the importance of the entrepreneurial mindset through product development and a self-sustaining lab.  

The ultimate “Time Machine” solution

The path to Ultimaker was one of careful consideration. As he set out to build the Fab Lab, McNett spent a couple of years extensively researching 3D printers and their assembly. He discovered Ultimaker when he came across Cura, impressed by the ease of use and consistency that Ultimaker machines offered. He found other 3D printers too complex for students to master—Ultimaker was just the right blend of user-friendliness, affordability, and streamlined processes.

“The printing process prior to Ultimaker was slow, complex, and full of unnecessary obstacles.”

The Cabrillo College art department accepted his proposal to bring their curriculum into the future as fellow administrators and faculty recognized the immense value 3D printing technology has to offer. Payson made the decision to go with the Ultimaker 2, boxed up his other 3D printers, and never looked back.

The art department has enjoyed the benefits of 3D printing since they made the upgrade. Not only are they able to teach complicated concepts, but also Payson has seen a notable improvement in project management. Ultimaker printers on campus have even earned the nickname “Time Machines” to highlight the measurable time and energy they save Fab Lab patrons.

Cabrillo Fab Lab Student Design

Student art project at the Cabrillo Fab Lab

Collaborating for a better community

The Cabrillo Fab Lab launched digital fabrication classes in the fall of 2016 and the program shows no signs of slowing down. Colleges and Universities across the country are adopting similar techniques into their curriculum, which Payson feels presents an important opportunity to share knowledge on creating these 3D printing programs in schools.

Cabrill College 3D Printed Parts

Student design with 3D printed parts

Art students in the Fab Lab are also working closely with the engineering department on a collaborative project to produce prosthetics. By teaming up to design and build these prosthetics for children and veterans, Cabrillo hopes the project will benefit the community while teaching students valuable lessons about entrepreneurship.

With the Cabrillo Fab Lab continuing to generate excitement from the campus and the community, Payson says there’s a need to expand their fleet of Ultimaker printers to offer extra classes and workshops. More exciting projects are sure to come for the Cabrillo College Fab Lab as students speculate about the possibilities that the future holds.

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