Tech tools available through new BOCES program

Multiple 3D printers are available for the public to utilize for 50 cents an hour printing costs at the Evanston Innovation Wyrkshop at BOCES. The printers are part of University of Wyoming and Division of Vocational Rehabilitation projects bringing community workspaces to Wyoming cities and towns. (HERALD PHOTOS/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — As technology has continued to advance rapidly in recent years, it may sometimes seem as if the only barrier between a dream and reality is access to some of that technology. Tools like 3D printers and laser engravers, for example, can take ideas from computer software designs and turn them into real three-dimensional objects for those fortunate enough to have access to them. A new space opening up at Evanston’s Uinta BOCES No. 1 aims to solve the problem of access.

The new Evanston Innovation Wyrkshop Makerspace at BOCES had a soft opening on Monday, April 12, and will have its official opening on May 17. For area residents, that means tools that may be prohibitively expensive for designers, innovators, entrepreneurs, hobby enthusiasts, business owners, youth seeking to expand their skills will be available and accessible to all.

The Makerspace concept began in 2012 when then Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead was working with the Wyoming Legislature’s Energy, Engineering and STEM Integration Task Force to advance the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. Part of the vision of that advancement included an active community innovation and creativity space — a Makerspace. By 2017, with the passage of ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) legislation, a temporary Makerspace pilot project was opened at UW. That Student Innovation Center was a resounding success and laid the groundwork for an expansion of both that facility and the Makerspace idea throughout Wyoming.

In 2019, a new 3,500-square foot Innovation Wyrkshop opened on the UW campus in the newly-completed Engineering, Education, and Research Building. That Makerspace houses a wood shop, a reconfigurable student project center and $1.4 million in state-of-the-art equipment available for use by students and the Laramie community. With that phase of the plan complete, the expansion phase began. The new Evanston Innovation Wyrkshop is part of that expansion.

One of six other Makerspaces throughout the state, the workshop at BOCES includes four 3D printers, a Cricut vinyl cutter, a GlowForge laser cutter and engraver, three sewing machines, and a work bench area that includes tools like a soldering iron, saws, vises, a Dremel tool and more, as well as laptop computers to access the software to create designs for the various tools. The space will be accessible for anyone to use, for free, from 3-6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 1-6 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Those utilizing the space and the tools will first be required to take a safety course and a course on proper and safe usage of the desired piece of equipment. Passing each course earns a user an Access Badge and the ability to use the tools to bring creations to life. During open hours, staff members will be on site to help teach visitors how to use the tools and the open-source free software available to create and design projects.

Made possible through a partnership with UW’s Innovation Wyrkshop and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Pre-Employment Transition Services, the idea is to help Wyoming youth develop workplace skills and to provide community members a place and the tools to create prototypes and bring their visions to life. Tyler Kerr, Makerspace coordinator for UW’s Innovation Wyrkshop, said, “Everyone deserves the same opportunities to build and create and innovate freely. We want these Makerspaces to empower makers of all ages and, importantly, all abilities. For the broader community, we want these to be spaces for local innovators to dream up the next game-changing inventions.”

Mike Williams, BOCES Executive Director, along with assistant director Kiley Ingersoll and local Makerspace coordinator Jared Lundholm, said the Evanston Innovation Wyrkshop will present an exciting opportunity for locals, including business people and youth, to learn new skills and use the available tools that many may not be able to afford to have at home. Although the use of the space and the laptops is free, usage of some of the tools will require a nominal fee of 50 cents per hour of use for 3D printers, which includes the plastic filament material, and one dollar per hour for the laser cutter and engraver. Multiple colors of plastic filament for the 3D printers will be in stock in the Makerspace and if users would like a different color, those are available to order for under $20 per roll, said Ingersoll.

The safety and tech courses to earn Access Badges will be available online as well as in person at BOCES and once someone has earned the appropriate badge, he or she will be able to reserve machine time online as well. Some projects, like those utilizing 3D printers, may take several hours to complete. Williams, Ingersoll and Lundholm said users would need to reserve an entire block of time on a machine, based on how long a project would take. For instance, 3D printing software provides a very specific printing time once a project has been designed. In a case where printing time would exceed the open hours of the Makerspace, a user would just need to communicate with staff to make arrangements for the printing to continue after hours.

While the printers and machines are available for creating prototypes or single projects, anyone wishing to take a prototype and mass produce it would need to find a company to do so, as the Makerspace is not set up for mass production. For prototypes or single projects that may be too large for the tools at the BOCES Evanston Innovation Wyrkshop, staff may be able to connect users with Makerspaces in other communities that do have more on-site resources.

The hope is that as people earn badges and become skilled at using the tools, a community will develop in which those with the skills assist others to learn the tools and that people utilize the space frequently, perhaps eventually leading to an expansion of available hours or even the types and number of machines and tools available.

Ingersoll said they are eager to have the community start utilizing the space and are open to working with anybody, including businesses, youth groups and more, to arrange for classes and usage of the tools. She emphasized that anybody can reach out with questions by calling BOCES at (307) 789-5742 or contacting coordinator Lundholm at [email protected]

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