Academic teaching at digital fabrication laboratories in the field of mechanical engineering

Hugo Daniel Karre, Thomas Böhm, Matthias Helmut Friessnig, Christian Ramsauer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper


The Institute of Industrial Management and Innovation Research at Graz University of Technology established the first Austrian university-based Fab Lab (short for Fabrication Laboratory) in 2014. Fab Labs are part of the global Maker Movement trend. The basic idea of the Maker Movement is to offer individuals access to (digital) manufacturing tools. Since the opening of Fab Lab Graz more and more students have made use of the tools and equipment provided for prototyping their ideas. Integrating the Fab Lab Graz in the academic education may foster the innovation capabilities of the students.
How can a digital fabrication laboratory enhance academic education?
This research focuses on the development of an academic course to foster the innovation capability of engineering students. Restrictions for the course are a maximum amount of 20 participants due to the available resources of Fab Lab Graz and a limited timeframe of five consecutive workdays.
The following approach is applied for achieving the research objective. First, literature concerning potentials of digital fabrication laboratories in education is searched. Second, an internet search of fabrication laboratories in academic education is conducted and existing courses are compared.
According to the literature, digital fabrication laboratories are addressing future needs in education. Their identified strengths are the principles of hands-on learning and the project based approach. Especially in the field of engineering these institutions promote essential skills like creating, inventing and innovating.
Results of the internet search show that eight out of ten top engineering universities provide a digital fabrication laboratory. The courses identified use a combination of theoretical input and individual projects or practical assignments. The different aspects of existing courses are being evaluated to develop a course concept for Graz University of Technology.
With the development of the course “Design Thinking and Rapid Prototyping” at Graz University of Technology the overall research objective has been established. The course that has been developed is project centered and applies the principles of hands-on learning. Two or three students form a team and work on a pre-defined project in a five-day-course. Theoretical contents are design thinking, rapid prototyping and entrepreneurship. The target of the course is to design and build a functional prototype of a radio-controlled car.
The first run of the course developed in winter term 2016 showed that a digital fabrication laboratory may enhance engineering education. Participating students report that this was partly their first experience with electronic components, rapid prototyping and a practical application of a design process. The creative freedom within the given task and the collaboration among the student teams are issues of special interest according to the participants.
The potential of digital fabrication laboratories in higher education has not yet reached its zenith. Future research should address the impact of digital fabrication laboratories on education of further academic fields. Furthermore the remarkable evolution of the Maker Movement has prompted calls for studies on how universities approach this trend and its underlying success factors
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEDULEARN16 Proceedings
Subtitle of host publication8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
PublisherInternational Association of Technology, Education and Development (IATED)
Pages8844 - 8853
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)978-84-608-8860-4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2016
EventEdulearn 2016 - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 4 Jul 20166 Jul 2016


ConferenceEdulearn 2016


  • Digital Fabrication
  • Education
  • Fab Lab
  • Maker Movement
  • University

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