GE inspires young engineers with new ‘makers lab’

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
In celebration of National Engineer’s Day, GE and Imagine Nation, A Museum Early Learning Center, unveiled the first-ever makerspace for children: the GE Makers Lab.
The ribbon cutting took place last Tuesday with more than 20 GE engineers leading several hands-on activities to show children the fun and challenge of engineering.
GE engineers from Plainville collaborated with the Imagine Nation team at 1 Pleasant St. to conceptualize and design the Makers Lab, which is dedicated to nurturing young children’s interest in invention, innovation and manufacturing. The goal is to allow early learners to dream, design, and build using the same technology found in today’s engineering and manufacturing facilities.
“This is truly amazing for the city,” said City Councilor Dave Mills during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “It’s going to be an exhibit that people throughout the state and throughout the country are going to be anxious to come and see.”
As part of its “Garages” program, GE has set up makerspaces nationwide, which allows people to explore new tools, skills, and software defining the future of manufacturing.
The Makers Lab is the first of its kind in a Connecticut early learning center.
Coral Richardson, director of Imagine Nation’s Early Learning Center said the lab is an “incredible” opportunity for the museum.
“The GE Makers Lab will enable us all to expose young children to authentic, tangible, and relevant learning experiences…and develop our future engineers,” said Richardson.
Michael Suchopar, CPO of the Bristol Boys & Girls Club, said the Makers Lab represents children “getting an early start at being creative and innovative,” while “learning about themselves and…discovering about the world.”
“These kids will be creating our futures,” said Suchopar.
As children step inside the lab, they can interact with Baxter, a collaborative manufacturing robot from Rethink Robotics. GE uses robots like Baxter to build and assemble different products. They also can use a magnetic whiteboard to sketch ideas on before starting the design and prototyping process, and transform their designs into real plastic prototypes quickly and easily. The lab also features a laser cutter, which architects use to speed up model-making, as well as a maker’s garage, which includes a variety of tools, equipment, and technical gadgets.
Paul Singer, chief technology officer of GE Industrial Solutions, said the lab will give children an understanding about how products are created.
“We have a lot of this type of equipment in our GE Plainville facility, where we design and develop cutting edge products, and then bring them into a manufacturing environment,” said Singer, adding how modern the lab is. “To be able to expose children at this age group to this kind of workspace…is really what excites GE about this new opening.”
GE had a vision of making a lab that would serve as a real workshop. The space offers work benches, which allow children to work together similar to the way that a design team collaborates.
Imagine Nation approached GE about bringing a makerspace to the museum nearly six months ago.
“The museum has given us the space, but they’ve also given us the ability to run this as a set of programs instead of just a static exhibit,” said Singer, adding that Imagine Nation was “forward-thinking.”
For the past 12 years, GE has supported with events to show children what it means to be an engineer at a young age. GE volunteers also have helped repair some exhibits in the museum.
Singer said he hopes the Makers Lab will be life-changing for children who use it.
“We have a set of workshops and collaborative space here that allows them to really take their creative energies and really learn how to make and create in a collaborative environment,” said Singer, who has been an engineer for over 20 years.