Area 51 is not only a U.S. Air Force facility in Nevada surrounded by secrecy, it is also the student-selected name of the newly enhanced machine shop, garage, and workspace at the Edgerton Center.
Located next to the MIT Museum shop in Building N51, the Area 51 CNC Shop has been in full operation since January with student teams working around the clock to prepare for upcoming competitions such as the Formula SAE Lincoln competition, the NASA RASC-AL Robo-Ops Competition and the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
The Area 51 Shop, available to students and researchers working through the Edgerton Center, D-Lab, and the Singapore University of Technology’s (SUTD) International Design Centre, includes two machining centers, two mills, two lathes, and a water jet cutter. A vacuum former and an injection molding machine provide additional fabrication capabilities. Powered by sweat and initiative, students can now build their own dream projects.
Team Captain Orlando Ward of Formula SAE remarked that “in the past we would design parts and have to send them out to external machine shops, now we can machine our parts in-house. This has not only saved the team thousands of the dollars but has given our members the opportunity to learn to operate top-of-the-line fabrication tools.”
The Omax 5555 Water Jet Machining Center is in active use by everyone. “Every club and team has had to use the water jet at one point,” said Patrick McAtamney, Edgerton instructor and machine shop manager. “It’s an abrasive machine that can cut metal, plastic, wood, anything, into any shape you want and it’s easy to program. It’s also the largest water jet cutter on campus that is available to students for outside-of-the-classroom projects."
The Area 51 shop accommodates approximately 100 students each week, with weekends and evenings particularly busy. A recent article in the Boston Globe, "MIT’s ‘Area 51’ goes beyond theory for the ultimate in hands-on education," articulated the excitement behind student-led initiatives that find their home in Area 51.
Day shifts in the shop are overseen by McAtamney and evening and weekend hours are covered by alumni from the Solar Electric Vehicle Team and Formula SAE. Thomas Villailon ’14, (SEVT), and Andrew Carlson ’12 (FSAE) assist students with machining and ensure that each team’s engineering knowledge is carried forward.
“For over 20 years, the Edgerton Center has supported student teams. For the first time we have combined their test and assembly spaces with a really first class fabrication facility, which is equal to their imagination and enthusiasm for building great competition machines,” remarked Edgerton Center Director Prof. J. Kim Vandiver.