Airlab Helps Materials Engineers Become Better Makers

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Airlab Helps Materials Engineers Become Better Makers

Before I dive into the details, I should note that there could possibly be misunderstandings on my part. Airlab is in China and translating from Chinese involves much more than simply converting words. There are meanings and concepts that I may misunderstand, especially being a model of organization that is new to me, in an industry with which I’m unfamiliar. Please forgive my ignorance if this should be the case.

Tommy Lin, a Materials Engineer, founded Airlab as a way to help improve the materials engineering community in China. According to Tommy, there is a strong drive to create things, but only as a way to make money. Many engineers only work to recreate or copy other people’s work, something you’ll hear referred to as “Shanzhai.”

There is a saying these recent years “The maker spirit in China is dead.” Media criticizes that to make quick money, our people aren’t willing to spend much time to create anymore, because Shanzhai is easier, and the students we “produce” are exam machines with a lack of ability to make; to create.

Over the last few decades, China has grown to be a massive center of manufacturing with capabilities to create almost anything. However, according to Airlab, innovation is missing from the equation. They feel that the maker mindset, and the maker movement, could help lead to this innovation.

Airlab launched one year ago and has grown considerably. They now have three labs and host many events for engineers to address the following issues for materials engineers:

  • They have the knowledge and ability to create interesting things, but they’re somehow caught up by work and personal life.
  • They have ideas that they are eager to try out, but don’t have the place, equipment, and money.
  • When they develop their ideas successfully, it’s hard to protect their Intellectual Property.
  • Materials science has extremely complicated categories, so engineers may know little about the ones they are not a part of. Cross-border communication can be really helpful for makers.

Aside from being able to come to a lab and try things and meet other engineers, there are also more business related services (like IP lawyers and possible angel funding for certain projects). With these tools in hand, the community has grown to over 8,000 members. Membership is free, but using the lab (and the assistants that come with it) has a small fee of 69 Yuan (about $10.27 USD) for 4 hours.

Engineers gathering for an “AirTalk”

Here are a few examples, provided by Airlab, to demonstrate the kinds of results they are seeing.

LED Strip

During the process of manufacturing traditional LED circuit board, companies use chemical etching technique that effluent sewerage with metals in it and cause severe water pollution and a great waste of metal resources. This LED strip applies physical cutting technique instead of chemical etching, which is environmentally friendly through the whole process. It replaces the traditional yellow coating with the bright white one, transforming light energy into thermal energy and reducing energy waste. It replaces the etching gild with paralleled pressure lines, advancing yield and cutting the costs.

Vehicle Membrane

Traditionally, car renovations undergo spray process that lead to non-eco volatile matters. This pollutes the air and severely damages workers’ health. Automated equipment is used to install membranes that are guided by the positive pressure and physical features of wind. The whole process is environmentally friendly, highly efficient, and pollutant-free. Colors and patterns of the vehicle membranes can be diversified, meeting people’s desire for customization and beauty.

Circuit Sensor

Traditional manufacturing processes utilize conductive ink solvent for printing, which pollutes the air and operators. This circuit sensor smears a layer of environmentally friendly biodegradable components, and soaks in water when the ingredients dissolve. We use it to spray under vacuum conditions instead of traditional electroplating. We do not use precious metal during the process, avoiding the air pollution caused by ink volatilization and a waste of resources caused by multi-linking.

Carbon Fiber

Traditional carbon fiber manufacturing follows the path of the overlays of cloth and oil, or the overlays of glued cloth. However, the processing way has low efficiency, as it wastes both time and consumes a bunch of energy. A new, innovative means of manufacturing is to make a refabricated slab, and use stamping or other molding techniques to shorten traditional manufacturing time from one hour to five minutes. It advances efficiency, saves energy, and speeds up the application of the product.

Conductive Shielding Film

Have you seen the future’s meeting room in sci-fi film? The meeting room’s floor-to-ceiling glass is transparent, but when you want to hold a meeting, just press the switch and the glass will instantly turn white. Made from a conductive shielding film, which is white when no electricity is running through it and transparent when there is, this new type of window will affect the production of building meeting rooms for businesses.

Adhesive Tape

How are the components fixed together inside our cellphones? We used to do it with screws and buckles, but now with “double-sided adhesive tape,” your phones can become thinner and thinner.

Plastic Case with Metallic Lustre

The traditional casket is made by a plastic case with metal plating, which isn’t environmentally friendly. The new manufacturing process of this plastic case applies a layer of oil inside a cake mold which will become metallic after molding.

Wood-Skin Mobile Phone Shell

Materials for this mobile phone shell is made from lay wood veneer on ABS. This molding process is suitable for complex flexible surfaces and enriches a product’s appearance.

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I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity I see in makers. My favorite thing in the world is sharing a maker's story. find me at

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