World’s biggest makerspace: iCenter at Tsinghua University

Ruth Grace Wong
Jan 6, 2018 · 6 min read

At Tsinghua university, students have the opportunity to explore everything from diamond testing to automobile crash research. The world’s biggest makerspace at Tsinghua university started in 1922 with wood carpentry. It later evolved into a factory where student interns manufactured trucks. Now, spans 16,000 square meters (172,000 square feet) and houses all sorts of tools and technologies and students come here to learn what’s possible and sometimes develop their own inventions. As part of the Noisebridge annual hacker trip to China, I was able to get a tour lead by Professor Woody Wang! We mostly saw metal related things, and ran out of time before the building closed down.

Made in the carpentry shop

This is the EOSINT metal printer. A metal powder is melted precisely by laser to make 3D printed metal objects. People have to be very careful when working with this machine because the powder will go through your skin into your blood stream. It costs 300 yuan per kilogram of stainless steel powder, and 5000 yuan per kilogram of titanium powder.

This is the arc welding robot lab! These Kuka bots are meant to mimic a manufacturing assembly line for automobiles.

Students also learn non-robotic welding here and sometimes make cool art.

There is a beautiful casting lab.

Here are some student projects and a Solidscape machine. Solidscape is used for printing wax positives, like those used for casting jewelry.

The university has an interesting collaboration with McKinsey, the management consulting firm. Students learn hands on skills doing factory work while McKinsey employees practice managing the novice students to make the product. Other research that can be done with a manufacturing lab like this is putting ultrasonic tags on the workers to measure what distance they are walking, and how to optimize their time.

This system is an example of continuous manufacturing, and produces ice tea and green tea.

This gear box manufacturing set up is an example of discrete manufacturing. The hanging screens let the workers know which gear box they’re building (there are two types), and alerts people if they’ve picked the wrong part.

Professor Wang’s research uses the Hololens! Here is one of his students demonstrating a prototype of a training program on a virtual lathe. They are working on using this technology to be able to teach people standard operating procedures.

Professor Woody Wang hosts a hacker in residence program at Tsinghua university. Hackers in residence come in to work on a project, and also teach the students lessons. Applicants are selected by an invested group of students. If you are interested in applying to be a hacker in residence, please contact Professor Woody Wang at wdy[at]tsinghua.edu.cn .

iCenter is chock full of incredible equipment and resources. We didn’t have time to see many sections of it, such as the biology section, before the building was closed. Pictures and captions of what we did see below the fold.


The Noisebridge Hackerspace has a Kaitian brand laser cutter. Kaitian has recently been rebranded as Eagle. Here is an iCenter laser cutter and a showcase of laser cut projects.

The person who welded this piece went on to become the world champion in welding. Beautiful!

Posters about the casting process

These machines are hot wires for cutting foam. The foam is used to make molds for metal.

Giant metal laser cutter!

All the trappings of a PCB factory: pick n place, reflow oven. The Menisco ST88 is a solderability tester.

The oldest machines get put on display in this mini museum.

This fidget spinner was made by students with CNC machines from the company 北京精雕, known as Jingdao in English. The company was started by a female Tsinghua alumna, and these were the most advanced CNC machines of their time. Thousands of these machines were sold to Foxconn to make aluminum iPhone structure frames.

Army of lathes

This Renshaw machine can take a sample and the mass manufactured version and precisely tell you the difference.

High voltage and heat from sparks allows this metal wire cutter uses high to cut without contact.

Ruth Grace Wong

Written by

Pinterest engineer by day, manufacturing engineer by night. Manufacturing writer for https://medium.com/supplyframe-hardware

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