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Making complex prototyping easier and cost effective at the FabLabTM

Barkman Concrete, Steinbach Manitoba

Does your current process of creating prototypes take a lot of time and money? 

Will the purchasing of the advanced manufacturing equipment you need to make your prototype break the bank?

The North Forge Fabrication Lab (FabLabTM) in downtown Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District is a budget-friendly alternative to purchasing cost-prohibitive advanced manufacturing equipment for creating your complex prototyping needs.

Wayne Patram, VP of Innovation at Barkman Concrete, who is part of the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce, was invited for a tour of the largest non-profit publicly accessible fabrication lab in North America in 2017. He was so impressed with the FabLab’s capabilities that he signed Barkman Concrete up for membership shortly after the tour.

Since joining four years ago, Barkman Concrete’s Product Development Team utilizes the FabLab at least once per week and has created between 75 and 100 prototypes.

Dennis Bergen, Barkman Concrete’s Product Designer, has found ways to help make prototyping easier at the FabLab. “We typically use the space to develop prototypes quicker and more efficiently. It has allowed us to come up with new ideas that initially we would have thought too difficult to follow through on. It is also a creative space that allows us to take a step back and take a fresh look at some of the ideas and concepts we are working on.  

We mainly use the CNC machine, 3D Printers, Water Jet, and Laser Cutters,” Dennis explained. “We do 3D printing to create prototypes so we don’t need to create a one-to-one scale, saving us a lot of time and money. We also do complex cutting that we can’t do with just your typical tools in our carpentry shop at Barkman.”

Barkman Concrete - waste and recycling containers for the City of Winkler Manitoba
Barkman Concrete – waste and recycling containers for the City of Winkler Manitoba

We are able to make much more complex parts with different types of technology,” noted David Pries who is a Mechanical Engineer in training at Barkman Concrete. 

“We create them using different types of advanced manufacturing equipment to see what works best. It’s important to have an open view about how you’ll benefit from it,” David explained. “You’re often surprised by what ends up actually being the equipment that benefits you the most, sometimes the equipment you didn’t think you would work.

For example, we came with intentions to use just the 3D printers to help us solve some more complex prototyping problems. Then we ended up finding out how useful the CNC would be. We also use the Lino Cutter for more cosmetic things like decals.”

The Barkman Concrete team feels other businesses can follow in their footsteps and benefit from the FabLab as well.”We started a few years ago and we grew our capabilities quite a bit,” Dennis said. 

We were used to doing certain cuts, like a curve using jigsaws, then trying to make templates and calculate with a pencil where the curve would be situated on the piece of plywood we were cutting, which was time-consuming. Now we can just program it into the CNC using AutoCAD.

There are different materials and processes that can be utilized to reduce time and money. Other companies might be able to do a similar approach. If they didn’t know how there’s a lot of people here in the FabLab advanced manufacturing volunteer community that they can just talk to without having to do the research.”

Barkman Concrete created prototypes of this bench in the FabLab
Barkman Concrete created prototypes of this bench in the FabLab

The FabLab also helps Barkman improve prototyping processes. “The CNC machine really allowed us to improve our wood mold prototyping,” Dennis shared. “Any design with complex geometries was a struggle for us to prototype. The machinery available to us at the FabLab allowed us to start prototyping those complex ideas that initially we just put on hold.”

An unexpected takeaway the Barkman Concrete team found was that the FabLab continually monitors new equipment and technology and makes sure it has the newest machinery available. 

“Our Product Development team then takes that new machinery knowledge and brings it back to Barkman to implement it into our own practices,” Dennis observed. “For example, shortly after joining the FabLab, Barkman purchased their own 3D printer.”

Rapid prototyping has helped commercialize many of Barkman’s product ideas. Dennis revealed their most successful ideas were “concrete molds that allowed us to create forms with negative angles. Typically a concrete mold would be sloped out so the product can easily be removed from the mold, however, we experimented with removable plastic inserts that fold and collapse into themselves.”

Barkman Concrete recommends the FabLab because it meets the local advanced manufacturing industry’s prototyping needs. “It’s a great place for companies to develop and create products. I recommend that companies invest in a membership at the FabLab. It has greatly increased our ability to create a variety of complex designs and geometries, as well as increased our efficiency in prototyping,” Dennis concluded.   

If you’d like to see the advanced manufacturing equipment we have available, we invite you to register at our Meetup page for a tour.

Has the idea of a FabLab so close to home sparked an idea for an advanced manufacturing business? Become a FabLab member today to rapidly prototype your idea and help bring it to life.

Are you interested in building your own rural FabLab with the advice and guidance of North Forge? Contact Marney Stapley today to see how we can help.

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