Advanced Prototyping Center opens at Wright Lab

Demonstration items made in the Wright Lab Advanced Prototyping Center.
Demonstration items made in the Advanced Prototyping Center. (Photo credit: Wright Laboratory/Karsten Heeger)

Yale’s Wright Laboratory has launched an Advanced Prototyping Center (APC), a state-of-the-art lab space that enables researchers to design and construct new components for scientific instrumentation.

The lab offers computer-aided design (CAD)-based prototyping and fabrication of custom parts in a range of materials, with technology that includes a water jet cutter, a laser cutter, and several 3D printers. The APC is the newest of four shop facilities in Wright Lab available to the Yale community for teaching, learning, and research, joining the J.W. Gibbs Professional Shop, the Teaching and Research Shop, and a woodworking area.

Having these capabilities in-house puts Wright Lab at the forefront of the development of customized hardware for scientific instrumentation,” said James Nikkel, a research scientist at Wright Lab who led the installation of the new center.

Before the APC opened, groups would order custom parts from an outside company, which was expensive and required a lot of back-and-forth with the vendor. With the APC, we can go through cycles of prototyping quickly and easily. You can start with an idea, model it on the CAD computers, make it in the prototyping center, and see if it works for your experiment within less than a day,” Nikkel said.

Arina Bykadorova and James Nikkel use the Advanced Prototyping Center.
Arina Bykadorova and James Nikkel use the Advanced Prototyping Center. (Photo credit: Wright Laboratory/Karsten Heeger)

The APC is part of a major investment in science facilities and resources at Yale over the past decade, including the renovation and relaunch of Wright Lab.  In addition, instrument development is one of four “cross-cutting” science investment priorities recently recommended by Yale’s University Science Strategy Committee.

The APC is a Yale core facility that anyone from campus can use, with proper training, for research purposes and special projects that relate to the mission of the university.

The Advanced Prototyping Center will enable cutting-edge research for the entire research community at Yale. Researchers will be able to take an idea from inception to testing swiftly, significantly accelerating the pace of discovery,” said Lisa d’Angelo, assistant provost for research.

The center’s new Flow NanoJet Abrasive water jet cutter can cut through almost any material up to about 10 cm with a <10 micrometer positioning accuracy. “The water jet can execute quite intricate designs for parts in a short amount of time that would otherwise take hours to be made in a machine shop with a professional machinist,” Nikkel explained.

A demonstration piece on the cutting bed of the water jet cutter.
A demonstration piece on the cutting bed of the water jet cutter. (Photo credit: Wright Laboratory/James Nikkel)

Another new machine at the APC is a Coherent Meta2C laser cutter, which offers quick, easy usability for materials such as acrylics, wood, paper, and thin steel. Arina Bykadorova ’18, who used the APC extensively to build and test parts for the newly-installed PROSPECT neutrino experiment, said, “The laser cutter is great for building custom structural parts in an experiment — one was used for a number of custom acrylic parts in PROSPECT. Using traditional machining techniques would be significantly more expensive and time consuming.”

The APC also provides a variety of 3D printers: two Formlabs Form2 SLA printers and a Dremel 3D20 FDM 3D printer. The Formlabs printers use a scanning laser to solidify a liquid resin, one thin layer at a time. These printers have been used to produce finished parts for experiments, due to the durability of some of the available resins and the quality of the printing. The Dremel printer is a filament printer, which works similarly to a baker’s icing bag. It is useful for quick modeling and testing of smaller parts that will not be under much stress.

The machines in the APC complement the J.W. Gibbs Professional Shop and the Teaching and Research Shop at Wright Lab, as well as other facilities on campus, such as the CEID (Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design),” Nikkel said. “The 3D printers can make complicated parts that cannot be fabricated simply any other way, while the laser and water jet cutters can quickly make structural components that are cumbersome to make using traditional methods. In combination with the highly skilled machinists and welders in the other shops, we have state-of-the-art capabilities for designing and building research instrumentation.”

Users of the Wright Lab research shops can be trained to access the advanced capabilities of the APC. Nikkel will hold office hours on Tuesday mornings to assist researchers in getting started on the use of APC equipment.

We are excited to be able to open up this great facility for Yale researchers and look forward to the innovations and discoveries that will be made possible using the Wright Lab Advanced Prototyping Center,” said Karsten Heeger, director of Wright Laboratory.


To learn more about the available equipment and capabilities at APC please contact James Nikkel (james.nikkel@yale.edu); for tours and general inquiries please contact Wright Lab program manager Victoria Misenti (victoria.misenti@yale.edu); for information about the research program and instrumentation development at Wright Lab please contact director Karsten Heeger (karsten.heeger@yale.edu).

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