Sheffield is a city of makers and home to a growing maker movement. It’s synonymous with high-tech, high-quality manufacturing, so much so that Siemens, Boeing, McLaren, and hundreds of other technology and manufacturing companies have made it their base (including maker favourites Pimoroni).
The University of Sheffield is therefore the logical place for the first student-led university makerspace in the UK, in the Department of Engineering’s brand spanking new Diamond building. We spoke to Nick Boone, a PhD researcher at the university, about what makes this makerspace so special.
“Last year the iForge had a capacity of about 20; we had two lasers, a CNC machine, a couple of pillar drills, a couple of band-saws, and some hand tools. And then, over the summer, we’ve expanded to the whole other side of the room, which has increased the capacity to 45".
“The expansion is entirely due to student demand: we were turning makers away because we didn’t have space for them. We’re now running two degree modules in here – their design and making bits – that students have to come and make in the iForge. It’s all student-led on the making side of it. There have been big queues outside and we’re still hitting capacity limits, so we’re hoping to grow again maybe next summer".
“That’s expanded the making equipment we’ve got, so we’re now up to three lasers in here and more space to do things. One third of the area is our clean zone. That’s a no-goggles area. We’re soon to have more PCs and a CAD suite going on here, and then we’ve just got a water jet cutter, which is still in the process of being commissioned. “We’ve been donated bits of equipment from the university, grant money, and things that we’ve been awarded through applications".
“The main funding to start it all up was from the Reece Foundation. We got £50 000 from them last year, and that helped kick-start the space, buying equipment, and that sort of thing. They’re a charity that’s basically for increasing engineering awareness, getting more people involved in it, especially at school and university level, making it more interesting and accessible".
"We’ve also had investment from alumni through the university who’ve come in and said that they want to give money to something for the iForge – that’s where the water jet has come from. We’ve got a suite of CNC tools planned that are also coming out of the budget, because they told us that they wanted the money spending on machines: stuff that people can use, make with. They didn’t want it spent on admin or anything, but wanted something tangible".
"And then we’ve got a 3D print lab as well. 3D printing is a big deal for us because it’s the cool new technology. We do have to be a bit careful with it, because a lot of people aren’t aware of the limitations of what you should and shouldn’t 3D-print. There are a lot of people who come wanting to 3D-print boxes, for example, because they’ve heard that that’s something you can do. We gently steer them towards the laser cutter for that".