In 2017, Volkswagen and the state of Tennessee launched a $1 million grant program to fund public schools in Chattanooga’ creating ‘digital fabrication labs.’ These STEM-focused e-labs include 3D printers, robotics, microcomputers, and more.
Chantz Yanagida, a graduate of University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, worked closely as a college student with local teachers at his alma mater high school to help put together the e-lab equipment.
He quickly realized that the teachers were not getting the training needed to build and operate this equipment.
“They were stressed out about not only getting these labs to work, but to able to use them within the educational setting,” says Yanagida. “On top of that, what if six of them go down at the same time and students have assignments due?”
As a mechanical engineer, Yanagida had years of experience working with these local 3D printers, CNC routers, and laser cutters. He co-founded eLab Repairs, originally as a service shop attending to school e-labs.
The young agency quickly expanded from servicing schools to private contracts installing entire labs at makerspaces.
But while standardizing repair procedures, the team started seeing certain patterns on printer errors and diagnostics. They developed a diagnostic device that can be plugged in to figure out the issue without a physical repair person on-site.
The pill-shaped device runs through several procedures on a 3D printer to diagnose each individual component and pinpoint where the issue is. Once the diagnosis is complete, the operator can see the issues on the web platform, and a video library prompt will signal the correct process to fix it.
The larger goal of the diagnostic device is to encourage not only the teachers, but also the students, to learn to fix the problem themselves using the educational video library.
“We want to make sure it’s easy for a sixth grader to use,” Yanagida says. “We want our in-person service to become obsolete in a lot of ways, aside from extreme circumstances.”
The device model will help the startup scale beyond Chattanooga to across the country, offering it on an affordable subscription basis. The main customers are makerspaces and schools.
The team will launch a pilot with 16 local schools later this month, in which 50 units will be deployed.
With over half a million 3D printers in the market right now, and more being sold every day, the startup’s goal is to service 5,000 units by the end of 2020. eLab Repairs will soon open a seed fundraising round to go toward manufacturing costs.
“You can approach any leader of a makerspace and they will tell you that the biggest issue is taking apart the printer and spending over an hour-and-a-half trying to find out the issue. But then fixing the issue itself doesn’t take too long,” Yanagida says.
“That’s why I created this process, so anyone from a novice to an expert can troubleshoot and diagnose on their own.”