February 20 marked the opening of Hangar6, a unique prototyping and design space open to technology-based companies in North Carolina. Conveniently located in Research Triangle Park, Hangar6 enables companies of all sizes to design, build, and model product prototypes using tools such as 3D scanners, CO2 lasers, metal fiber lasers, 3D printers, a CNC mill, and more.
“Hangar6 houses an amazing set of resources for startups that want to get their hands dirty and build new products,” says Andy Taylor, program director at MEDIC. “Combine those resources with the design expertise of shop manager Sam Dirani, and you’ve got a fantastic new addition to the community.”
But the facility isn’t just limited to startups, says Andrew Schwab, president of First Flight Venture Center. Hangar6 became a dream of his around the time that a similar facility was gaining momentum. “A franchise branch of TechShop, a California-based company, opened a few years ago near RDU,” he says. That small campus included a paint shop, welding shop, and equipment such as metal cutters and 3D printers for use on a subscription basis. “About a third of First Flight’s companies were using TechShop in some way, but their model wasn’t sustainable.”
When TechShop closed in 2013, a void was left in the community. “There’s been a serious need for a prototyping space in this area for a long time—some people were traveling as far as Maryland every time they needed to make a prototype,” Andrew says.
Hangar6 answers that need in a number of ways. First and foremost, it is designed to make expensive equipment accessible to even the smallest companies. Members can subscribe on a monthly or yearly basis, and either option gives them unlimited access to a range of unique and powerful machines and tools, including:
- 150W CO2 Laser Cutter: 60in x 36in bed size. Able to cut a variety of material including acrylic, rubber, silicon, wood and other composites up to 1/2in thick.
- 500W Fiber Laser Cutter: 48in x 48in bed size. Capable of cutting up to 3mm carbon steel, 2mm stainless steel, and 1mm aluminum and other soft alloys.
- CNC Mill: 4 Axis CNC mill with 10 tool auto-changer, 12in x 8in build volume.
- EinScan Pro+ 3D Scanner: File output: ASC, OBJ, PLY, STL. Max resolution 0.24mm between points. Scanning area 300mm x 170mm.
- Form2 SLA Resin: Build Volume 145mm X 145mm X 175mm. Resolution 25-100 micron.
- 3DP Large Format FLA Printer: 50um resolution, 1.05 cubic meter.
- Fusion 400 FLA 3D Printer: 20um Resolution, 1.43 cubic ft build volume.
“The one thing I make sure people know is we are here to help,” says shop manager Sam Dirani. “We are a resource, not just in terms of equipment but in terms of expertise.” In addition to managing Hangar6 and its equipment, Sam provides design consulting to subscribers, and often makes case-by-case recommendations on materials and equipment to use for each item created in the shop.
He holds a master’s of industrial design from NC State University, and says a piece of advice he often gives involves the pros and cons of prototyping with different materials and machines. For example, with 3D printers versus laser cutters: “You can produce with flat goods a lot faster than a 3D printer, but you will have to put the pieces together, where with a 3D printer it would come out in one piece but take much longer.”
The broad range of the machines’ capabilities inspire the Hangar6 team: “There is so much technology now,” says Andrew. “If you can think it, you can make it. I remember building things out of balsa wood— they were cool, but never functional. This place makes me wish I was a 10 year old again.”
For Sam, “the simpler things tend to stand out.” He especially enjoys watching partnerships form between individuals or companies who realize they have complementary skills or are working on similar projects. “One company produced something that was essentially a housing bracket for a proprietary new machine. Every component had to be built from scratch—they came in with a pile of plastic and rubber and silicone sheets, and I helped them break down the digital files, cut everything on the laser cutter—it was just amazing to see how quickly that came together.”
He sees Hangar6 as equal parts innovation and education. “Being able to help someone learn a new skill or educate them on the equipment to make their own products and see their dream come true has been my favorite thing about this place,” Sam says.
As for what’s next, Sam is always on the lookout for new machines to add to the facility, with the ability to build larger prototypes more quickly in mind. “Every machine has its limitations as far as build volume, but we did try to acquire equipment with the largest build volumes possible to make it most useful for companies,” he says.
Andrew says partnerships with students and more companies are on the horizon, too. “We are getting approached by some high school robotics teams, so we have written an initial proposal to GSK foundation for STEM to create a program that would support STEM-based high school programs with NC Science Olympiad, FIRST North Carolina, and possibly others,” Andrew says. These efforts all support Hangar6’s main goals: “We want to lower the barrier to access for these machines, and we want to support the next generation of big ideas.”
If you’re a small R&D company seeking funding, don’t miss the SBIR Road Tour at FFVC June 8, 2018.