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Around The Fleet

MARMC's Fab Lab Helps Sailors Get Creative

CS2 goes from kitchen creations to building an MP3 player

When Culinary Specialist (CS) 2nd Class Kirstene Edwards, assigned to Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC), found out she was selected for Fab Lab training, she was both happy and scared.

She had never taken any engineering courses and the only thing she had ever built was an Ikea desk.

But in order for this first ever digital manufacturing maintenance course to be successful, Fab Lab Project Officer Lt. Todd Coursey knew he had to find the perfect candidate. He had a conversation with MARMC Engineering Department Head Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dwight Baker, regarding the newest Fab Lab program and his search for that perfect candidate. Baker remarked that he had the perfect person for the program and suggested Edwards.

"The purpose of this course was to take someone who had little to no experience in digital design and fabrication and teach them to work through a complex project," said Coursey. "The course contains a series of modules that each student will progress through with the goal being to turn their creativity into actual concepts and prototypes."

The training course curriculum covers basic digital engineering design, mechanical and electronic principles.

"I didn't know what their expectations of me would be for this course," said Edwards. "I've always had a thirst for knowledge and creation. Being a CS in the Navy, I create meals all the time. I knew I would enjoy this opportunity, but there was a little trepidation initially."

MARMC partnered with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Fab Foundation and Teaching Institute for Excellence in Science Technology Engineering and Math to develop a three-week course that focuses on an introduction to digital design and fabrication, machining and designing of pre-selected projects, and a self-directed project. The class was spread over three months in an effort to reduce impact on the Sailors' daily work responsibilities.
Photo collage of Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Kirstene Edwards

Photo collage of Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Kirstene Edwards, working at Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.

"During the first module, Edwards learned about the machines and how they worked, safety, and what she can and cannot do," said Coursey. "During module two, Edwards really started to take hold and build off of pre-selected projects. You could see Edwards taking her everyday job as a CS and using the fabrication equipment to create things to make her job easier."

Using the Fab Lab's equipment Edwards designed and printed an Aztec pyramid molding and filled it with chocolate and made candies for the class.

Coursey said she built and flew a remote controlled air plane and improved upon its design after each test flight. Edwards used every skill she developed throughout the course of the class on her final project - an MP3 player.

I knew nothing about circuit boards or electronic components and had never imagined that I would build my very own MP3 player. To me that shows the beauty of the Fab Lab: that you can have no technical background in engineering or machine work and can come into the Fab Lab and create potential solutions that may help you in your rates."
-CS2 Kirstene Edwards

Soldering, 3D program instruction, component design and fabrication were all needed to make her final project a success, said Coursey.

Edwards believes that not only Sailors can benefit from access to Fab Labs and their courses but also other service members. Having the opportunity to learn and build in the Fab Lab can have a direct impact on improving work life aboard the ship or just any military workspace.

"I was able to take my training in the Fab Lab and use it to make my work life as a CS in the Navy better," said Edwards. "They have everything in the Fab Lab to create tools to help you do your job better and make life on a ship easier."

The success of Edwards, Sailors and other civilians in the course proves Coursey's feeling that anyone can come into the Fab Lab and turn their creativity into working prototypes.

"At the Fab Lab, we are getting back to the basics," said Coursey. "Here, we teach mechanics to be better electricians and electricians to be better mechanics. We are teaching operators to be more than just operators. We are teaching them to be better maintainers and empowering them to be the innovators of the future."

**Editor's Note** USS Truman and USS Kearsarge are using "mini" Fab Labs UNDERWAY to fabricate temporary (and sometimes permanent) replacement parts afloat -- that's the driving force behind starting Fab Labs at MARMC.**

For more information about MARMC, visit their website.