This week marks the official opening of the Edgerton Center Student Shop, a new machine shop in Building 44 which is available for MIT students from all departments to use at no cost. Organizers and instructors in the Edgerton Center, which will operate the shop, invite all MIT students to a grand opening party on Thursday, April 2 from 2-5pm (the shop has its own entrance on the east side of Building 44).
"The creation of this new shop comes at a time when other machine shops on campus are closing, when laboratory elements in freshmen year subjects no longer exist and when high schools are eliminating shop training to save money," said Professor Kim Vandiver, director of the Edgerton Center, which was created in 1992 to provide hands-on resources and skill-oriented training for students.
"Most MIT departments have eliminated student shops, making it especially difficult for a student to find a place to pursue an independent project," he said.
Technical Instructor Fred Cote will be on hand at the grand opening to meet students and show them around. He said he hopes students from all disciplines will stop by to check out the equipment and sign up for training.
"The knowledge of how to make things is disappearing. This shop is an attempt to teach that knowledge, which should be available in an engineering school," said Mr. Cote, whom some students will remember from the mechanical engineering machine shop in Building 35. "A science student might need a single metal bracket to hold a beaker to make an experiment work. If that bracket isn't available commercially, we can make it here," he said.
"Just about any consumer product you can imagine can be broken down into parts that can be made on these machines. That's the beauty of them," he said, adding that the shop is used primarily for metal working and some hard plastics.
The one-room shop is eqipped with four metal lathes -- each one about the size of a small tractor without wheels -- and four millers. A few of the oldest lathes and millers are made of heavy cast iron, manufactured several decades ago when durability was paramount. The shop also houses four drill presses, two band saws and various and sundry other machines for students to use after they've received proper training.
Tony Caloggero, technical instructor at the Edgerton Center in Building 4 who will add the Edgerton Shop to his list of responsibilities, explained the training requirements for students.
"One of the most important things students will learn here is shop safety. If they have former verifiable machine shop experience, they can take Fred's two-hour training course. If they have no experience, they'll need to attend a more detailed eight-to-10-hour course, which will give them enough knowledge to get started, with supervision," he said.
"Ten hours isn't enough to make a machinist by any means, but it's enough to get them started," agreed Mr. Cote, who recently helped the joint MIT/Cambridge Rindge and Latin School team as they built their robot for the FIRST (formerly called US FIRST) contest at the Epcot Center on April 4.
Ela Ben-Ur, a graduate student in mechanical engineering who is leader of the 30-member FIRST team, said that the shop's evening hours would be a real plus for MIT students. "Having a student shop that's open in the evening is really good. Students need that four-hour time block to work on their own projects after classes end for the day. You can't do it between classes."
The Edgerton shop and the MIT Hobby Shop are the only shops on campus to offer evening access for students. The Edgerton Center Student Shop will initially be open two evenings a week. Hours will be Monday and Tuesday, noon-8pm, and Wednesday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Depending on demand, Mr. Cote and Mr. Caloggero said they may be able to arrange to keep the shop open additional evenings.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 1, 1998.