Neville Pinto, dean of the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, said the 15,000-square-foot facility currently is under construction and should open in February. It will have space for three offices, two classrooms and four “cages,” he said, where student groups, such as UofL’s student rocket launch team, will be able to work on projects.
The idea is for the learning micro-factory to complement, not duplicate, FirstBuild, according to Pinto. FirstBuild, a partnership among General Electric Co., UofL and Arizona-based Local Motors, is a micro-factory where innovative appliances are developed for commercial sale through a co-creation community.
The UofL micro-factory, by comparison, will be a learning laboratory where university faculty and students and younger children in kindergarten through high school can work on projects and further their studies of engineering and manufacturing.
The facility will have state-of-the-art equipment and will house welding and paint shops – amenities that FirstBuild does not have, Pinto said. It also will have 3D printing machinery to complement what the university already has at Speed’s Rapid Prototyping Center.
The micro-factory space is being built out by Messer Construction Co. at a cost of about $1.5 million.
FirstBuild and the coming learning micro-factory occupy a 65,000-square-foot former storage facility on UofL’s Belknap Campus. The university is negotiating with a private company that would take about 10,000 square feet of the remaining space in the building and has ties to the additive manufacturing sector, Pinto said.
The entire 65,000-square-foot facility is a beta site for what UofL is calling its Institute for Product Realization, Pinto said. Eventually, all of the operations housed there will move to the 39-acre Belknap Engineering and Applied Sciences Research Park, which is planned behind the Speed School on property formerly owned by the Kentucky Trailer company.
Pinto said plans call for construction of the first building in the park, a 225,000-square-foot structure, to begin in 2015. Following an 18-month build out, that facility would be set to open in mid-2016, he said.