North Central PA LaunchBox, Idea Lab, advancing innovation one stitch at a time

North Central PA LaunchBox Director Brad Lashinsky and Business Administration Major Kristen Mahle

North Central PA LaunchBox Director Brad Lashinsky and Business Administration Major Kristen Mahle look over a replacement part made for Mahle’s sewing machine at the Penn State DuBois Idea Lab. The part is no longer available from the original manufacturer.

Credit: Steve Harmic

DUBOIS, Pa. – Using state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, North Central PA LaunchBox powered by Penn State DuBois continues to expand the services offered to businesses and individuals throughout the region. Demonstrating the ability to reach almost any industry, one of the latest innovations from the LaunchBox is keeping a Clarion County woman in stitches.

Kristen Mahle has had a passion for sewing since the second grade, when she received her first sewing machine from her mother. She shares that passion with others by teaching sewing classes, often offering the classes, free of charge, to underprivileged youth and other individuals in her area.

Recently the resident of Marble, Pennsylvania, in Clarion County, was faced with a unique problem: She was missing a part from her distinctive sewing machine. The machine and part, while originally made by a well-known manufacturer, are no longer available for purchase. This left Mahle without the use of an otherwise well-operating machine, she said. She was also faced with a price tag in the thousands to replace the advanced, distinctively featured example. 

The part, called a spool cap, went missing during a loan of the machine to one of her students, said Mahle. "In most machines, this wouldn’t matter. But the way this machine works, it is essential. It’s an automatic loading threader. It is unusual, and it’s done for convenience and ease, but I didn’t even know where to start looking for this part. It’s not like anything else I have.”

Fortunately, Mahle is a student majoring in business administration at Penn State DuBois. North Central PA LaunchBox Director Brad Lashinsky recently made a presentation in one of Mahle’s classes, introducing students to the services made available to students and the public through the LaunchBox and the on-campus Idea Lab. Mahle quickly realized she may have found a solution to her problem.

The LaunchBox, Lashinsky explained, innovates solutions for area businesses and individuals in the Idea Lab. Featuring 10 3-D printers, 3-D scanning hardware and software, and a vinyl printer/cutter, the lab is available to anyone in search of help developing a prototype or finding a solution to an issue like the one Mahle had experienced with her sewing machine. 

After meeting with Mahle, Lashinsky and 3-D Scanning and Printing Instructor John Williams got to work on creating a replacement part for the sewing machine. By tracking down a similar piece from another machine, they were able to scan a basic 3-D profile of the part, then shrink it down and make adjustments, using in-house software, so that it perfectly matched the piece Mahle required. A variety of prototypes made from different materials were then produced in the lab’s 3-D printers until the ideal piece was chosen.

Lashinsky said, “We had to experiment with what material would work best. We needed something that would end up making an extremely smooth surface so the thread would not become snagged on the edges. In the end, three technologies went into making the part: The scanners, the software used to adjust the piece, and the printers that actually produced it.”

“I’m super happy that this worked really well,” Mahle said. “It was really convenient having the LaunchBox right here. And they were so accommodating and eager to help.”

Lashinsky said the ability to help fix this machine is an example of the ever-expanding number of ways the LaunchBox can serve the community as the Idea Lab continues to grow.

“The possibilities are endless with what we can do, and we’re really just getting started," he said. "As we try new resins, we’ll be able to create working gears, automotive parts and more. And what we want is really to produce these one-off projects, and to help with prototypes so that we are helping people and existing businesses, not competing with them.”

Lashinsky is available to assist businesses and individuals in finding ways to meet their unique needs. He can be reached at 814-375-4704 or [email protected]

Rapid Prototyping class offered

For those interested in learning more about the technology involved in 3-D scanning and printing, Penn State DuBois Idea Lab offers a Rapid Prototyping class, free of charge. Funded by a grant from the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission, classes are held from 4:30 until 7:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. New, four-class sessions run each month from January through March 2022. To reserve a seat, contact Penn State DuBois Continuing and Community Education at 814-375-4715 or [email protected]. Visit for more information.