The iForge – Sheffield University's Student-Led MakerspaceFollow article
The iForge is a makerspace run entirely by students in the heart of the University of Sheffield’s engineering department – here’s how it works.
The iForge makerspace was founded in 2017 by a group of seven students and two members of university staff who had been inspired by the rapid growth of makerspaces in US universities and wanted to bring the successful model back to Sheffield.
The space started as a pilot with only 90m2 of space and a bare minimum of second-hand workshop equipment, but after a highly successful first year has since expanded to include more than twice the workshop area and a dedicated 3D printing lab to a total of 250m2, with future plans to expand even further.
The iForge supports a wide range of student activities, including everything from personal projects to university course group projects to extra-curricular projects such as Sheffield Formula Student and Project MarsWorks among many others. The introduction of the iForge to the university’s teaching and learning process has had a considerable impact, increasing practical project success rates and performance in many different areas.
The iForge runs on a completely student-led model with the only university staff influence coming as advice and guidance, primarily on how to run the workshop safely and in accordance with university guidelines. We work closely with lab technicians and academic staff to ensure everything is properly maintained and we remain a valuable asset for all students.
We currently have a team of 52 student Reps who run the space on a day-to-day basis, each taking a 3-hour shift once per week to supervise other students in using the space. All the reps are trained in safely using all of our machines and tools, and are responsible for training other students and ensuring our high standards of health and safety are maintained at all times.
Within this team, there are 11 iForge Leads, each responsible for a key section of running the space such as hardware maintenance, managing our IT systems and handling our relations with both the university and external organisations.
Our equipment has now expanded to include a wide range of machines and tools including 3D printers, laser cutters, waterjet cutter, vacuum former, vinyl cutter, pillar drills, bandsaws, disc sanders, scroll saws and a wide range of hand tools and power tools.
Everything in the space requires online training to use, and some of the more dangerous or complex machines also require in-person training from our student reps. Each user’s training is checked on the door when they enter the space to ensure they know how to safely use the equipment, and support is always available.
All of our reps are trained in how to use more complex tools that require specialist experience like the waterjet cutter and 3D printers, which allows them to teach other students with little to no knowledge of the process.
Looking forward we’d love to work more with industry and the wider community.
Right now we’re working with RS Components on improving our digital infrastructure for 3D printing with a project that aims to automate some of the slower manual and clerical tasks when managing a large number of 3D printers.
This September we’re hosting Unimaker, the first UK academic makerspace forum, featuring talks from global leaders in the academic makerspace movement.
If you’d like to find out more about the iForge, please visit our website.
Find out more about Unimaker here.