By James M. Sauls

Graduate Hospital: South Philly’s “Gym for Innovators” is A Growing Entity

Graduate Hospital: South Philly’s “Gym for Innovators” is A Growing Entity
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Exercise is an important part of life. You must push yourself and be persistent in order to get better. At NextFab Studio on Washington Avenue in the Graduate Hospital area, minds are the muscles being strengthened and ideas are being lifted to new heights.

Some of the tools in the metal shop at NextFab Studio.

Some of the tools in the metal shop at NextFab Studio.

NextFab Studio is a “gym for innovators” that was started by Dr. Evan Malone. Malone has a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 3D printing technology. After traveling the globe sharing his knowledge of this up-and-coming technology, he paired with the University City Science Center (UCSC) in West Philadelphia to start up a fabrication studio that was open to the public in the City of Brotherly Love.

“The Science Center in an incubator,” said Malone. “They help technologies from the local universities and hospitals become start-up companies.”

UCSC helped Malone with funding to build NextFab’s original location at 37th & Market Street, where the doors first opened in January 2010.

After three successful years, NextFab had out-grown their home. Earlier this year, they moved from their 4,000 square foot studio in West Philly to their current location; a 21,000 square foot warehouse in the Graduate Hospital area.

NextFab members work on projects in the wood shop.

NextFab members work on projects in the wood shop.

“It makes a huge difference. We can do a lot more,” said Malone. “People are really the focus so we’ve tried to give people a lot more room to think and work.”

Within this 21,000 square foot facility there is a large range of workspaces. The ground floor is home to the metal shop, full of highly advanced tools used for cutting and shaping metal. It also hosts the wood shop and painting and chemical laboratories.

The second level is an open workspace. It’s full of equipment that puts together microchips, computers with design software, sewing machines, photography labs, large-scale printers and Dr. Malone’s specialty, 3D printers. The second floor also has offices that are rented out to innovative organizations such as Infinite Invention, who are developing a system to help make solar energy easier for at-home use.

Their 3D printing lab may be one of the most spectacular parts of the whole studio. They have printers that range from thousands of dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars. These high-end 3D printers can print anything from an imprint of someone’s face to a fully functioning ball barring.

A microchip manufactured at NextFab Studio.

A microchip manufactured at NextFab Studio.

With around 300 members, NextFab Studio has tripled in size and business has never been better. Monthly memberships are $129, and daily memberships are $30 each day. There are 24 full-time staff members and offer between 50-60 classes that teach anything from equipment safety to specific skill sets, such as woodworking and metalworking.

“You might think of the employees that work here as fitness trainers to some extent,” Malone said. “They coach you through the process of learning how to use the tools or the equipment. And also shaping yourself, your mind and you hands to do certain things.”

NextFab Studio is a proud member of the Graduate Hospital area community. They do a lot of community-beneficial projects such as park cleanups and decorations, and outdoor sculptures.

A machine that uses lazers to engrave into plastic, metal or wood.

A machine that uses lazers to engrave into plastic, metal or wood.

“We’re very much involved in reaching out to the community and sort of engage them to learn about what these technologies can do, what they’re capable of when they have access to these technologies, and also just trying to improve the city,” said Malone.

Malone believes the main focus of NextFab is to help revitalize manufacturing in the United States. He wants to teach people skill sets so that they may bring some of the manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas back.

As for the future, Malone would like to see NextFab expand into other cities, as well as start up locations that are home for specific skills. The equipment is not cheap but Malone believes expanding is worth the cost.

 

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