June 13, 2016, BY Matt Hughes

The week before Commencement is typically a quiet one on the Bucknell University campus, but if you listened closely enough May 12–19, you'd have heard electric saws buzzing, 3-D printers whirring and the rapid click-clacking of fingers tapping out code. The mechanical music arose from the 15 students attending the Bucknell Fabrication Workshop (B-Fab), who returned to campus to create miniature catapults, cars that race along strings and more — not for a grade, but just to see what they could make.

Now in its third year, B-Fab is a multi-day workshop experience for returning engineering students that emphasizes the use of product-development tools — including basic woodworking, computer-aided design technology, electronics and programming, laser cutting and engraving, and 3-D printing — to help students turn ideas into functional prototypes. Created and underwritten by a grant from the Kern Family Foundation, this year's workshop was also sponsored by a cohort of Bucknell alumni and others from engineering consulting firm Accenture. The Accenture team offered students a real-world problem to solve during the week: create a device to improve disaster-relief efforts, in this case for the American Red Cross. The Lewisburg branch of the Red Cross aided the workshop by opening its doors and coordinating a tour of a regional distribution center in Carlisle, Pa. 

B-Fab is organized by Professors Donna Ebenstein and Eric Kennedy, biomedical engineering, and Nate Siegel, mechanical engineering, with assistance from KEEN Coordinator Erin Eberle.

Step inside B-Fab 2016 in the photo tour below.

Photos by Brett Simpson, assistant director of photography, Eric Kennedy, professor of biomedical engineering, and Erin Eberle, KEEN coordinator.

The first project of the week challenged students to create a portable speaker for a computer or smartphone, teaching them to use a laser cutter for the speaker housing and how to solder to connect parts. Here, Trung Tran ’18 assembles his speaker.

Marissa Diehl ’19 examines disaster-relief supplies at the American Red Cross’ supply depot in Carlisle, Pa., which warehouses emergency provisions for much of the East Coast. The Accenture sponsors challenged the students to bring together the skills they would learn throughout the week to improve one of the items commonly distributed to disaster victims. “They gave us a challenge to improve disaster relief in a way that would make it more sustainable,” Professor Eric Kennedy said. “Instead of just constantly having to bring supplies into an area, what could be done to reduce the influx of packages? What could be done to make the people who receive the aid more self-sustaining once they receive it?”

Daren Couples of the American Red Cross addressed the group about the logistical challenges his organization faces. The students visited the Carlisle depot, as well as a local Red Cross branch, on the workshop’s second day.

The teams learned basic woodworking and assembly skills by creating miniature catapults.

Owen Parent ’19 prepares to cut a part for his catapult with a circular saw inside the Richard J. Mooney Innovative Design Laboratory in the Breakiron Engineering Building.

Marissa Diehl ’19, an electrical engineering major, sands part of her catapult. “Many of our students come from engineering majors that don’t focus as heavily on traditional fabrication,” Professor Nate Siegel said. “If you’re interested in this type of fabrication, this is a good place to learn.”

The students test fire their finished catapults outside Academic West.

Professor Nate Siegel, Dunni Adenuga ’18 and Mona Mohammed ’16 prepare to use a 3-D printer at the 7th Street MakerSpace. Opened in 2016, the space houses 3-D printers as well as a vinyl cutter, laser engraver and other hi-tech tools, which are available for all students, faculty and staff to use. “There’s a ton of capability here, and the real value for engineering students is that it’s all accessible,” Siegel said. “This isn’t a machine shop where you have metal cutting lathes and mills, which require a lot of training to use. This they can get their hands on quickly.”

Trung Tran ’18 sits like a statue while Hang Ha ’18 scans his head with an Xbox Kinect 3-D scanner inside the 7th Street MakerSpace. Working in pairs, the students used the scanner to create 3-dimensional busts of one another, which they then printed with a 3-D printer.

The bust of another student was rendered in purple plastic by a MakerGear 3-D printer.

A challenge to design their own Frisbees incorporated several of the devices the MakerSpace offers. First, the students carved a mold for their Frisbee using a computer-numeric-control router.

Next, they used a vacuum former to wrap their plastic Frisbee-to-be around the mold. Here, Professor Nate Siegel helps Hang Ha ’18 prepare a mold.

Finally, the students decorated their creations with stickers created using the MakerSpace’s vinyl cutter. “I think it’s really cool that Bucknell allows anybody to use resources like this for free,” said Judith Klinga ’18. “I came here to learn how to properly utilize all of the resources Bucknell has.”

Students used assorted widgets and an Arduino circuit board to create cars to race along a wire inside the Dana Engineering Building. Here, Dunni Adenuga ’18 and Mona Mohammed ’16 assemble their vehicle. “I’m a computer science major, so I usually don’t get the opportunity to learn about prototyping and fabrication methods,” Adenuga said. “This was an opportunity to learn.”

The wire-car assignment challenged students to learn programming language. Others familiarized the students with computer-aided design software. Both were firsts for many students attending B-Fab. “This summer I’m doing an internship that has to do with making prototypes,” said Pamela Johnson ’17. “So I really wanted to learn the software involved.”

A completed car is set to race down a Dana Engineering Building hallway during the final competition. The cars were programmed to react to a flashlight near the finish line and stop before crashing into the wall.

Judith Klinga ’18 models a red poncho that unfolds into a blanket, one of the disaster-relief supplies created by the B-Fab students. On the final day of B-Fab, the student teams presented their prototypes to the Accenture consultants. Other groups created a sturdier collapsible mop for flood cleanup kits, a supply box equipped with a solar panel to charge a cell phone and a water-filtration system.

Reginald Nelson ‘18, Henry Stann ’17 and Marissa Diehl ’19 show off their solar panel-equipped supply box, which has a flip up back and is sturdy enough to double as a chair. “Every idea is very well thought out; I can’t pick a favorite,” said Anthony Pinheiro ’01, managing director for Accenture. “They’re not just creating a product and thinking through its elements. They’re taking the next step and thinking, ‘What are the competing products in the market? What are the related products that can tie into what they’re building?’ ”

To learn more about B-Fab, click here.