Area 404: Facebook’s New 22,000-Square-Foot Hardware Lab

Facebook announced the opening of a 22,000-square-foot hardware lab at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Facebook announced the opening of a 22,000-square-foot hardware lab at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

CNC (computer numerical control) model maker Spencer Burns and mechanical and power manager Mikal Greaves said in a blog post that the new facility contains state-of-the-art machine tools and test equipment, which will enable Facebook to more rapidly prototype hardware in-house for initiatives including Oculus VR, Facebook Connectivity Lab, Building 8 and general infrastructure.

Burns and Greaves said the hardware lab has two main areas: electrical engineering labs and prototyping workshops.

The electrical engineering labs allow various teams to test and debug their designs, and they feature custom equipment setups to match the products being developed.

The prototyping workshops contain machine tools enabling teams to “quickly iterate on complex problems,” including:

  • A nine-axis mill turn lathe
  • A five-axis vertical milling machine
  • A five-axis water jet
  • A sheet metal shear and folder
  • A CNC fabric cutter
  • A coordinate measuring machine
  • An electron microscope and CT scanner

Burns and Greaves also offered a look at why the lab was created:

Hardware engineering traditionally happens behind closed doors, in isolated labs. We fell into this pattern ourselves early on at Facebook, as we opened individual hardware labs to support new teams. Some of our first labs—including one in a repurposed mail room, in our old Palo Alto (Calif.) headquarters—were built for our infrastructure teams to prototype custom racks, servers, storage systems and network switches for our data centers. As new, hardware-oriented teams like Connectivity Lab and Oculus started to form, we built additional labs for those teams to design, prototype and test. Today we have hardware labs all over the world—from our Oculus facilities in the Seattle area to our Aquila hangar in the U.K. to our laser communications lab in Southern California—as well as a number of custom labs in our Menlo Park office that are used by the Oculus, Connectivity Lab and infrastructure teams.

These labs have all served their respective teams well, but over time, we started to see that when engineers from different teams came together and shared their expertise, we could make even faster progress on the projects they were working on—engineers in the Connectivity Lab learned from our experts in failure analysis to create high-quality prototypes early in the testing process, the networking team worked with the FSO (free space optical communication) team on breakthroughs in wireless transmission of data, and so on. We wanted to create more opportunities for these teams to come together; we needed a big, open space to complement our custom labs. So we built one, and we call it Area 404—named for our teams wanting a space just like this one, but one wasn’t found; now it’s found, and we lovingly refer to the space as Area 404.

Readers: What are your initial impressions of Area 404?

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