Facebook Area 404 visit — organized by Jacobs Design Institute

By Clara Lim

Reception of Area 404, where we exchanged for passes before starting the tour

It’s another day at Building 17 of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. From the outside, it looks like any other office; a large carpark and a free valet parking booth erected in front of the lobby. Beneath this façade lies the 22,000-square-foot lab supporting hardware innovation across Facebook, otherwise known as Area 404.

Equipped with state-of-the-art machine tools and test equipment, Area 404 not only maintains hardware development environment for teams across the organization, but also provides prototyping and engineering services to partner teams to develop their hardware. I was glad to have the opportunity to join a field trip to Area 404 organized by the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation.

The doors past the lobby introduce us to a whole new world. We visited different areas of the lab during our tour, including Electronics Engineering, the Failure Analysis Lab and the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machine Shop. We also saw first-hand how the multi-axis milling machines could carve intricate objects from huge aluminum blocks with great precision.

Upon first glance, one would wonder why Facebook would be investing in hardware. I later learned during my tour that the primary driver for such a facility is speed. Building in-house manufacturing capabilities allows Facebook to shorten their development time and encourages prototyping.

The tour concluded with a sharing session by a team of hardware engineers working at Area 404. A key theme that emerged from the discussion was the importance of being genuinely curious in our pursuits — they encouraged us to retain an open mind in learning and be keen to find out more about what we have not yet learned. Some of them also shared about the importance of finding opportunities to put into practice the theoretical concepts we learnt in classrooms.

I definitely left Area 404 feeling inspired to take charge of my own learning, and I’m sure many other participants on the tour would readily agree!