Adedotun Oyefeso, a forward on NJIT’s ice hockey team and convert from lacrosse, took to his new sport with zeal freshman year, but found that his flat feet crimped his flow, putting a strain on his boots and joints as he raced across the rink. An insert between boot and blade that lifted his heel slightly would solve the problem, but none that fit his skates was readily available.
So he designed and manufactured his own last year at NJIT’s Makerspace.
“I’d been working on squats in exercise training and found that adding a lift to my shoes really helped my depth and balance, and I wanted to translate this enhancement to hockey to improve my stride. So I took the initiative and produced one – and it’s given me a lot more knee bend, as well as the ability to skate lower to the ice,” said Oyefeso, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. He was so encouraged by the results that he plans to form his own company to fabricate them.
“Professional hockey players have access to these customizations, but they’re done on a case-by-case basis by hand. For kids and amateurs, there’s not really a lot out there,” he noted.
Over the past two years, the Makerspace at NJIT, a training-focused, rapid prototyping facility that is central to both the university’s hands-on learning mission and its growing relationship with New Jersey’s manufacturing community, has given rise to a number of ingenious devices used in research experiments, club team contests and startup ventures: a novel composting appliance created for a capstone project; a device to explore new energy sources deep below the Earth’s surface; and syringe prototypes for a health care startup that monitors the temperature of medications.
The senior capstone team, composed of four women engineers, envisioned their composting device as “an everyday appliance in the average house, like a microwave oven.” Homeowners would deposit their biodegradable waste into it from a sealable opening in the kitchen and later remove it for reuse from a second opening on the outside of the house. In the meantime, the decomposing waste could potentially generate enough energy to heat a room.
“The four of us are interested in different aspects of engineering, but we are all serious environmental advocates,” said Emily Cort ’19, a member of the team who now works as a mechanical engineer for Honeywell, Inc.
As the Makerspace’s scope rapidly expands, its space is poised to double to 21,000 sq. ft. The equipment inside ranges from small 3D printers to large industrial machines such as an additive metal 3D printer that uses powdered stainless steel to print parts, an optical scanner that effectively digitizes real life objects, enabling reverse engineering, and a continuous fiber 3D printer that is capable of depositing strands of carbon fiber, fiberglass or Kevlar inside 3D-printed parts, to add considerable strength.
With funding from the National Science Foundation, Bruno Goncalves da Silva, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, built a device in the Makerspace that will allow him to assess the possibility of tapping into vast stores of renewable, carbon-free energy within the Earth’s crust.
“So far, success in harnessing the Earth’s own heat has been mostly limited to tapping the boiling hot water that bubbles up with little prompting close to the surface,” Goncalves said. “The main challenge is to tap into deeper and less fractured hot rocks. This would make geothermal energy accessible in many more locations across the world. In order to achieve this goal, we need to fracture the rock in order to increase its permeability.” His device allows him to study fracturing processes in the laboratory under real-world field stress conditions.
But it is not only students and faculty who use the facility; it is also available to industrial partners to participate as mentors, trainers, and instructors, for companies to collaborate with students and faculty members on research and development projects, and for employees to receive customized training tailored to their needs.
Businesses in the region, including companies in VentureLink, NJIT’s community-based business incubator, are already advancing their prototypes there. A startup called ThermaProx, with a device that will alert healthcare providers with heightened precision if a medication in transit has reached a temperature that may have compromised it, is a case in point. The device is a proxy sensor clipped to individual vials and syringes that mimics the temperature profile of the dose of vaccine or insulin on its final journey, rather than simply recording the ambient temperature in which it traveled.
“The rapid, inexpensive production of our syringe rod and syringe clip in the Makerspace allowed us to show prototypes to potential buyers and investors without long waits and large expense,” enthused Nathaniel Cooperman, a company co-founder.
The Makerspace is primarily, however, an integral part of NJIT’s curriculum and educational mission. The 10,000 sq. ft. expansion, now underway, will provide additional space for collaboration, including open areas to congregate, breakout rooms to brainstorm ideas, training rooms for instruction and additional CAD stations and equipment to design, build and test early prototypes.
“The expansion will allow users to bring ideas from concept to reality in one facility,” said Daniel Brateris, the director of experiential learning for Newark College of Engineering (NCE), who designed the Makerspace.
As NCE Dean Moshe Kam puts it, “It is essential that we establish a better trade-off in engineering education between computer simulation and hands-on experimentation.”
“It is easier, cleaner and much less expensive to teach engineering using simulators, but this approach will only take the student so far in understanding the real-life behavior of devices and systems. Sometimes it is beneficial, even essential, to make your fingers dirty,” Kam notes. Providing for extensive experimentation was one of the reasons for starting NCE’s new School of Applied Engineering. Using the Makerspace, the school helps NCE meet the spiraling demand in the job market for applied engineering technologists in industries reliant upon production, manufacturing, process control and instrumentation.
Michael Talbot, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, spent much of his spring semester in the Makerspace building the Aero SAE team’s “largest plane yet” with a wing-span of eight feet.
“Our parts were incredibly strong, the landing-gear well designed to dampen the shock of impact, the electronics cleverly tucked into the nose of the plane and the wingspan able to give us a lot of lift,” Talbot said. “We didn’t win the regional competition this year, but it felt like a great success. Next year, we’ll be even lighter in the air.”
Find out more about NJIT’s makerspace here.