Saturday, July 17, 2021

your town needs a community Fab Lab

My town being Alice Springs

1) What is a Fab Lab?

A Fab Lab is a place where it becomes possible to make (almost) anything. Due to falling costs what was previously done by big corporations is now becoming accessible to everyone. The Fab Lab Charter insists that they are open to the whole community.

Here are the types of machines found in a fab lab:
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Laser cutter
  • 3D printer
  • CNC machines
  • Digital Embroidery machines

The killer app is personal fabrication, the ability to make what you can't buy in a store

Fab labs communicate with other fab labs around the world. Design can be local with global help. The making is local.

Fab Labs have been growing exponentially around the world since the first one was developed by Neil Gershenfeld in 2005. There are now roughly 2000 fab labs in the world, 6 in Australia and none in the Northern Territory.

The cost of a fully equipped Fab Lab is roughly $100,000 plus a technician & manager's wages

2) How would a Fab Lab benefit Your Town?

It would be a hub for Learning (exchanging ideas and skills), Training, Innovation, Design and Manufacture. This is a combination of things that are sometimes difficult to achieve but also highly engaging. Engagement breeds motivation. It requires informed leadership and planning for it to work. But the experience world wide shows that it is doable.

Here are some of the possibilities:
  • Produce meaningful things for personal use. Sale is also possible.
  • Recycling “junk”into useful products
  • Tap into the 21st C learning pathways being developed by future thinking schools (block coding, microcontrollers and digital fabrication)
  • Help to put disadvantaged youth onto a meaningful path

One of the many implications of COVID is the need for manufacturers to become less dependent on long supply chains spread over the globe. The Fab Lab succeeds brilliantly here with its emphasis on its ability to make almost anything locally. Fab Labs have helped manufacture essential equipment during the COVID crisis.

More can be written about how anyone can buy into the Fab education process, with the Fab Lab being an endpoint.

3) Some other selected information of interest

Location of Fab Labs in Australia: Melbourne, Ballarat, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane (source)

In 2014 the Mayor of Barcelona pushed a button to start a 40 year countdown to urban self sufficiency. The aim is that the city can produce what it consumes. This is an illustration of the Fab City movement.

Fab Labs have been utlised to help at risk youth eg. South End Technology Centre, Boston; Incite Focus, Detroit, USA

Following on from the success of the Fab Lab movement the FabLearn movement was launched in schools by Paulo Blikstein in 2008

Neil Gershenfeld describes Fab Labs as the 3rd digital revolution, the first two being (1) the shrinking of computers to the size of smart phones and (2) the Internet. He provides the stats to show that Fab Labs are growing exponentially from 2005 until now.

The Fab Foundation site has a detailed spreadsheet showing the equipment and costs of setting up

Computing tends to be dominated by boys. The Fab Lab machines shifts the tradition tech environment more towards software design skills. Moreover, curriculum can be orientated to encourage girls, eg. Digital wearables.

Mobile Fab Labs have been used to extend the hands on learning and capacities of a stationary Fab Lab to a larger audience of users. (more information)

Fab Foundation
Fab Labs
Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)

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