Making and Manufacturing – from CNC to cGMP

Does the spirit of making have synergies with the demands of manufacturing? Yes, the synergies are evident in the advanced technologies employed in both maker spaces and production facilities. We see an exploration of materials and processes in maker space that impacts highly-automated manufacturing facilities in unexpected ways.

There is a beautiful book now circulating in the WA studio, The Art of Critical Making published by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), that outlines the RISD faculty approach to the subject. Critical Making argues for the relevancy of art and design in issues of technology, material properties, and production. The studio is the place for this examination – grinding glass, stretching fibers, and cutting metals with advanced CNC water-jet tools. Artistic and creative maker processes are additional inputs that yield new ideas on material properties and capabilities.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), WA is working with researchers taking a different approach to parallel issues. The new MIT.nano facility, where the clean room is the maker space, exploits material properties at a nano scale – such as masking and etching silicon wafers for innovations in future consumer and industrial products. The clean room itself is an environment with advanced technologies that depend on sophisticated processes to maintain the low dust particle counts essential for research at this scale. MIT.nano clean room spaces are undergoing construction with coated aluminum panel walls and ceiling systems; tightly controlled HVAC systems will filter air, and monitoring systems will assure that spaces maintain the necessary specifications for safety and cleanliness.

How do material exploration and technologically sophisticated environments impact manufacturing? As an example, WA partners with the pharmaceutical and consumer products industry in the application of clean room technologies to highly automated manufacturing facilities. Regulations that apply to the production of many types of consumer products – pharmaceutical, over-the-counter medications, health and beauty- fall under US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP). With the tightening of cGMP regulations and site reviews internationally, these environments are taking on aspects of advanced clean rooms. Global industry initiatives for cGMP compliance have led to increasingly sophisticated air filtration and pressurization systems, resilient floors / walls/ ceilings for clean-ability and resistance to microbiological contaminants, and integration of technologies from door interlocks to environmental monitoring.

These are not the only technologies gaining momentum in industry. An efficiency effort in manufacturing is integrating robots and greater levels of automation into production, packaging, and delivery of materials. There is a corresponding increase in the technological sophistication required for both the construction and maintenance processes. Maintenance personnel might once have been called upon to machine a broken bolt or washer; now they are fabricating replacement parts on CNC lathes interfaced with computer-aided-design (CAD). Where are the skills for these advanced tools learned, and where are innovations in their use found?

On the waterfront of Newport, RI, the IYRS School of Technology and Trades offers students a hands-on learning environment for composite building materials, emerging technologies, and infusion processing with advanced tools. IYRS has its history in the making of boats, and has evolved into a center for building from a broad array of materials and maintaining systems found in marine, aerospace, and other industries. WA is collaborating with IYRS on its new building -a maker space- in construction on the campus. This maker space will focus on the most advanced programs at the school, and will be the training and exploration place for work with CNC, other CAD-based tools, and advanced digital fabrication techniques.

Discovery is not a deliberate straight line, especially in a maker spaces. Materials and technologies are the beginning ingredients for creative exploration, after which there is rigorous testing for functional applications. Maker training is a formative process, with applications that are broader than a single tool or a specific material. Whether for production jobs in manufacturing or for advanced degrees in engineering, reconnecting with our tactile side is a boost for scientific progress and the making of future products.

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