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AST2’s Mobile ‘FabLab’ Rolls with New Technology

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A mobile “FabLab” developed by a local company that combines traditional manufacturing methods with 3-D printing is set to hit the road Thursday for New Orleans.

The Transportable Digital Fabrication Lab, a mobile manufacturing trailer developed by Applied Systems and Technology Transfer LLC, or AST2, is bound for the Naval Air Station in New Orleans, and fulfills a contract that the company secured last year with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The contract called for AST2, a portfolio company of the Youngstown Business Incubator, to develop and deliver four mobile trailers to be used at defense installations across the country.

“For the military, once it’s on base, it’s on base,” says Nick Mazurek, project manager and head of engineering, design and development at AST2. “You’re not stuck to one location and you can pull it to wherever you need it.”

The 34-foot enclosed trailer was manufactured offsite and delivered to AST2’s warehouse – the former Youngstown Grinding Services building on Logan Avenue. There, design and production teams outfitted the mobile unit with four design stations with digital screens, two 3-D printers, two small CNC desktop machines, a larger CNC machine and a laser cutter and engraver.

Each trailer — commonly known as a “FabLab” — is powered by outside generators, so the labs can be moved virtually anywhere, Mazurek says.

This makes it easier to train and educate military personnel across the country.

“We’re looking at the next iteration of these labs incorporating higher technology, more versatility, and able to work with different materials,” Mazurek says. As it stands, the mobile units are limited to working with plastics, wood, and nylons.

“To take it to the next level, we’d be looking at putting in desktop metal printers,” he says.

The company was formerly a subsidiary of Advanced Methods and Innovations, another YBI portfolio firm that develops additive manufacturing and 3-D printing programs for public schools. AST2 is focused specifically on military markets.

“Once AST2 could stand on its own, it became a separate business,” reports Craig Richards, AST2’s technology director. “Our main focus is the government contracts.”

What makes the mobile lab valuable in the field is that users can reverse engineer and then manufacture small components that are needed in rapid turnaround time, Mazurek explains.

Often, it takes a considerable amount of time to procure parts through the Defense Department’s traditional channels. Through additive manufacturing, a small part can be produced in about an hour.

The trailer is equipped with an internal network that connects the design station with the 3-D printers, CNC machines and laser cutter. That way, a trainee or user can design a part on a laptop and then transport the digital file to a 3-D printer, which will then build the part from a select material.

“You want to keep pushing the envelope,” when it comes to technology, Masurek says.

In addition to the lab bound for New Orleans, two mobile units are stationed at the Patuxet River U.S. Naval Air Station in Maryland, and another at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va.

Mazurek says the company is developing a proposal for the U.S. Air Force that will help qualify whether components are candidates for additive manufacturing. “The Marine Corps has also expressed interest in it,” he said.

VIDEO:
On the Scene Video: Inside the ‘FabLab’

Pictured at top: Applied Systems & Technology Transfer LLC staff working on the project are Nick Mazurek, engineering design and development; Rob Begzis, production manager; and Craig Richards, technology director.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.