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Developing a FabLab 3D Data Capture, Modeling, and Prototyping Dan Collins, Don Vance, and Carlo Sammarco Arizona State University Digital Culture / 3D Tools August 18, 2011. FabLab.

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Developing a FabLab

3D Data Capture, Modeling, and Prototyping

Dan Collins, Don Vance, and Carlo Sammarco

Arizona State University

Digital Culture / 3D Tools

August 18, 2011


The challenges associated with the use of digital media resonate with other historical moments that produced new technologies--such as photography or video. Digital media are disruptive of existing practice, and thereby highlight both the invention of new practices and throw into relief the methods we have used in the past.


Digital Media in the Classroom and Art/Design Studio

In the 21st century, computers, digital media, and social networking have become integral parts of contemporary experience -- and the studio classroom. 

In our consideration of the development of a new facility for ASU’s Digital Culture program, we began with the premise that digital technologies have radically changed how we make and distribute artwork, exchange information, and construct and maintain identities and relationships.

Along with the expanded creative opportunities afforded by a well-equipped lab, students themselves have embraced a host of digital products -- from iPods, to gaming, to social networking sites that can be utilized (rather than confiscated). These products and associated skill-sets have the potential to be harnessed not only for their social networking potential, but as tools for the creative process and media production.


Embodied Skills and Digital Fluency

Today's students are conversant in the language of electronic media and consumer culture, but they encounter difficulties when trying to navigate the real crises in the health of their bodies and the global environment.

There is a deep sense among many of the artists and educators that we speak with that art programs nationwide are not responding sufficiently to the dramatic changes occurring in the culture at large.

In our lab, we challenge students to take a pro-active stance with respect to their bodies, the tools the culture has developed, and the spaces they inhabit.

history of the fablab concept
History of the FabLab Concept
  • The original FabLab program is part of the MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) which broadly explores how the content of information relates to its physical representation.
  • The Fab Lab program has strong connections with the technical outreach activities of a number of partner organizations, around the emerging possibility for ordinary people to not just learn about science and engineering but actually design machines and make measurements that are relevant to improving the quality of their lives.

more on the fablab concept
More on the FabLab Concept...

Fab labs have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the North of Norway. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research. Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines.

Fab labs share core capabilities, so that people and projects can be shared across them. This currently includes:

  • A computer-controlled laser-cutter, for press-fit assembly of 3D structures from 2D parts
  • A larger (4'x8') numerically-controlled milling machine, for making furniture- (and house-) sized parts
  • A sign-cutter, to produce printing masks, flexible circuits, and antennas
  • A precision (micron resolution) milling machine to make three-dimensional molds and surface-mount circuit boards
  • Programming tools for low-cost high-speed embedded processors
  • These work with components and materials optimized for use in the field, and are controlled with custom software for integrated design, manufacturing, and project management. This inventory is continuously evolving, towards the goal of a fab lab being able to make a fab lab

Physical Space

At ASU, the design of the facility was undertaken by three faculty members drawn from the new Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU—Dan Collins (School of Art); Jason Griffiths (Architecture); and David Tinapple (Arts, Media, and Engineering). The three were charged with making recommendations concerning the layout of the physical space, creating an equipment (wish) list, and prioritizing/budgeting purchases for the first three years of the project.

New home of Digital Culture and the Fab Lab

the hyper collaborative environment hce a new learning creation space
The Hyper Collaborative Environment (HCE) A new learning/creation space
  • indoor and outdoor spaces
  • highly reconfigurable
  • portable, networked technologies
  • few high end labs
  • all 45 digital culture courses
  • student projects
  • Technology in the background – people in the foreground

Physical Space

Physical layout and ongoing maintenance continues to be led by Carlo Sammarco.

Image of the Fab Lab in the new Digital Culture building:


Physical Space

The Fab Lab is part of an umbrella initiative developed by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts called “Digital Culture.” This new program was given space formerly occupied by the PBS affiliate, KAET. A significant private donation made possible the complete renovation of the space, purchase of new equipment, and hiring of new staff lines.

The spaces are flexible mirroring the mixed-used demands of the program and the interdisplinary character of the students.



There was agreement that the lab should provide a full range of traditional and new technologies. As such, initial purchases included a table saw (with instant stop), welding equipment, air tools, and drill presses as well as a bank of computers, an Epilog laser cutter, and a Roland desktop digitizer/CNC mill and a Zcorp 3D printer.


Digital Fabrication Equipment

Epilog laser cutter

Zcorp 3D printer

Roland CNC digitizer and mill

LPKF circuit board maker

LPKF (interior))

LPKF (detail of circuit board)


Digital Modeling and Computation

PC Work Stations

Apple Laptops in power dock carts (30 per cart, 90 total)

Diagnostic tools


Bench Testing and Comparison ShoppingCarlo conducted an extensive set of bench tests to aid in his “comparison shopping” for various tools. For example, the images here represent output from different CNC routers. The example on the left compares output from a Roland mill versus a CamMaster. On the right are output files from ten different systems.


3D Scanning

  • Mechanical Digitizing
    • Single Point Digitizer
  • 3D Laser Digitizing
    • Cyberware M15, RGB3030, NextEngine
  • 3D Optical Digitizing
    • 3Q, PicoScan
  • Geo Capture Devices
    • LIDAR,
  • Nano and Micro Scale Imaging
    • SPM, Confocal)
  • Medical Diagnostics
    • MRI, Tomography

Pico Scanner (4D Dynamics, Belgium)

Low-cost ($2000) structured light scanning


Shop Skills and Digital Fabrication

--Basic shop techniques (table saw, band saw, drill press, welding, etc.)



--3D data capture

--3D modeling

--Rapid Prototyping

--CNC routing and milling

--Laser cutting

--Circuit board design and production


Student Work – Rhino3D


Student Work – Rhino3D


Student Work


Student Work


Student Work


Student Work


Digital Culture Curriculum

  • All digital culture courses have been developed for a broad student audience and combine creative and technical aspects. A diverse group of ASU faculty with expertise in New Media that spans perspectives in the arts, design, engineering, science and humanities work with students from diverse backgrounds to gain an integrative understanding of New Media and its impacts on the digital culture that permeates through our society.
  • Courses include extensive hands-on experience with cutting edge computational tools, techniques and software as well as rapid prototyping and fabrication equipment. Project-based courses give students with wide ranging backgrounds and goals opportunities to collaborate on complex systems that they will design and build to solve difficult real-world problems. Many of these projects will be embedded in real life situations such as public spaces, schools, and online communication networks.


The Digital Culture curriculum is outcomes based rather than course sequence based. The curriculum uses an innovative proficiency-based network to connect courses across academic disciplines, instead of traditional methods such as course prerequisites. Each course provides certain proficiencies. These proficiencies are accumulated and then unlock access to higher level courses, which in turn provide further proficiencies.

Proficiencies in the Digital Culture curriculum identify generalized learning outcomes that are common across disciplines participating in digital culture coursework. Proficiencies provide the connections across disciplines in the digital culture network rather than the traditional pre-requisites.

fablab digital culture arizona state university

FabLab / Digital Culture Arizona State University

Dan Collins

Carlo Sammarco

Don Vance