From the 3D printer to the plunge saw: A FabLab for the TU Ilmenau

Shortly before the semester break, TU Ilmenau opened the IlmkubatorLab, another makerspace for students and people interested in starting a business at the university. On the occasion of the opening, university members, partners and the student associations had the opportunity to get to know the concept and the rooms of the new IlmkubatorLab in the Finnhütten on the Fischerhütten grounds and to contribute their own ideas for its use.

TU Ilmenau/Ilmkubator
Many students, association representatives and partners came to the opening of the IlmkubatorLab in the Finnhütten of the TU Ilmenau's start-up service.

Those who start studying engineering, media, mathematics or natural sciences at the TU Ilmenau are involved in research projects early on, work on interdisciplinary projects or complete internships. However, time is also limited within the framework of such events. Trying things out practically, facing new challenges and having creative learning experiences beyond the lecture hall is, however, more important than ever in today's world: "In view of current challenges, it is no longer enough to have comprehensive specialist knowledge," explains Anja Geigenmüller, Vice President for Studies and Teaching at TU Ilmenau:

We need a new kind of creative learning and a completely different understanding of how to impart knowledge and skills. And for that, we also need new learning spaces - also in the physical sense - in which students can try things out and develop action skills.

Place of creativity

One such space is the new IlmkubatorLab at TU Ilmenau, which is available to all students and employees, people interested in founding and participants in the Ilmkubator Class. "It's a place for creativity, for 'doing it yourself', where something is created and something new is created," explains Matthias Testa, startup advisor and head of the new learning space at Ilmkubator, the startup service at TU Ilmenau. Whether soldering, programming, sawing, milling or developing prototypes - everything is possible in the new IlmkubatorLab.

Numerous machines and devices are already available for this purpose: from a 3D printer to a plunge saw for woodworking. A magnifying lamp for fatigue-free testing of electronic components is also part of the IlmkubatorLab's equipment.

At the same time, the lab in the Finnhütten on the Fischerhütten grounds is part of the new FabLab - from English: Fabrication Laboratory - at the university, which is intended to connect various Makerspaces at TU Ilmenau. In addition to the IlmkubatorLab, these include the UNIKAT student workshop, the apprenticeship workshop for trainees and the new learning world in the university library.

The first FabLab was initiated by Neil Gershenfeld at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002 and founded the so-called "Maker" movement. It is intended to provide access to production technologies and production knowledge even in places where this is rather difficult for reasons of education, age, wealth or region, and thus also to contribute to an increase in educational equity.

The plan is for the machines in the university's various Makerspaces to be brought together via a common online system ("FabLab @ TU Ilmenau"). In this way, interested parties can book machines and equipment around the clock, exchange information, plan and organize projects, and even publish them. Last but not least, they can thus also be an inspiration for others:

With the 'FabLab@TU Ilmenau', we want to connect people, projects and machines online and also offer virtual training such as 3D printing courses

,explains Dr. Nicola Henze from the Central Institute for Education (ZIB), who coordinates FabLab@TU Ilmenau as part of the examING project.

Mathias Testa also sees the new IlmkubatorLab as a contribution to greater sustainability at TU Ilmenau:

Why does a lathe have to stand somewhere that is rarely used when it can be used for creative projects in our IlmkubatorLab?

Get to know prototype production

In the last few weeks alone, he has been offered a wide variety of equipment for the new IlmkubatorLab by other TU Ilmenau employees that is currently unused.

As an industrial engineer in production technology, Matthias Testa has been traveling to so-called "Makerfairs" since 2013 and knows that sometimes all it takes is the right machines and some room for creativity to develop something new:

I'm thinking, for example, of the student who wanted to make himself a surfboard. He started with the milling machine in the UNIKAT student workshop, then at some point he created a CAD model and has since founded his own surfboard company.

In the IlmkubatorLab, too, students and other interested parties can get to know the entire tool chain for the production of prototypes under supervision and guidance. Matthias Testa is certain: "We can only strengthen innovations if we make machines visible and available. Only by trying things out can people gain confidence in their own abilities and develop the courage to do something on their own. And that's the only way we can move forward as a society." For students and employees of the TU Ilmenau, access to all manufacturing technologies is therefore an essential component for innovation:

That includes a thermal imaging camera or a sewing machine.

In the future, all available machines and devices will be bookable in the "FabLab@TU Ilmenau," which can already be tested at At present, booking of rooms and machines is still done by phone or e-mail. Starting in April, the IlmkubatorLab in the Finnhütten will be open to all students and employees on two weekdays. Further information will follow at the start of the semester. Matthias Testa is pleased that he has come a lot closer to his vision:

Every student should know on the first day of their studies what the FabLab is and what opportunities it offers them here at TU Ilmenau.

The Ilmkubator is the start-up service of the TU Ilmenau and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection and EXIST as part of the "EXIST Potentials" line.

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Matthias Testa

Head of the IlmkubatorLab

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