FabLabs or the new way of manufacturing

Have you ever had a great idea but were unable to realize it? Are you fed up with mass-produced goods and want to have your very own self-tailored devices? Or you just like to tinker? Then you should probably join a FabLab!

A FabLab is a fabrication laboratory that enables everybody to prototype an idea or product. These fabrication labs are “maker spaces”, equipped with fancy high-tech machines and devices like 3D printers, laser-cutters, CNC –machines and much more. These expensive machines are used to create products and are generally limiting for mass production.

Do You Need any Know-How to Tinker in a FabLab?

Some people may be afraid of not having any expertise using these very complex machineries and tools. But this is not an excuse! Happylab, for example, offers frequent workshops like introductions to CNC machining centres or digital fabrication, and proper introductions to each machine are mandatory.

FabLabs are selling the use of their fabrication tools not only to individuals but also to businesses following their own purposes. To give an idea about the pricing – Happylab for example offers memberships from about 5 to 29 euros per month. To keep expenses for FabLabs low, most labs have guidelines for cleaning the machines after usage, helping others and improving the general knowledge of the labs.

What is a FabLab in Three Words?

FabLabs are very cheap alternatives for people like you and me who have ideas to develop something unique, something they cannot buy in shops – for example spare parts. Others can use it for prototyping when it comes to starting a business. In the past, people had to collaborate with big companies providing these machines and have the know-how.

Neil Gershenfeld and his Idea to Unleash Everyone’s Creativity

Professor Neil Gershenfeld built a digital fabrication facility based in the Centre for Bits and Atoms in Cambridge, Massachusetts, thereby founding the first FabLab at the MIT in 2002. In his TED talk, “Unleash your creativity in a Fab Lab” in 2006, he explained that in these low-cost labs people can create things they need by using digital and analog tools. It is a simple idea with powerful results.

If you think that FabLabs are just workspaces, then you’re wrong. FabLabs are more than that – they build communities and connect creative minds. New ideas are inspired by watching others building their creations and brainstorming together.

Cannot wait to start tinkering?

The trend of building FabLabs is also growing in Austria. One of those game changers, for example, is the Technical University of Graz’s FABLab Graz, which provides fast and simple prototyping opportunities. Others include the Happylab, with maker spaces in Vienna and Salzburg owned by the Austrian Society for Innovative Computer Sciences, and one of the newest labs called “Maker Austria”.

What’s in it for Society?

FabLabs are usually organised in communities with the idea to build an operational, educational, technical, financial and logistical network with the power beyond what is available within one lab.

However, FabLabs are broadening the concept of innovation from new and achievable products for everybody to new ways of working. In Professor Gershenfeld’s book, he came up with a deeply interesting question: “What if you could someday put the manufacturing power of an automobile plant on your desktop?” He thinks that personal fabricators are about to revolutionize the world just as personal computers did a generation ago, and Fab shows us how.

A chat with Arno Aumair, the Founder of Maker Austria

We talked to Arno Aumair who is the one of the founders and technical and administrative director of Maker Austria. The reason why he developed the idea of Maker Austria was that here in Vienna he missed the typical workshops he had when living on the countryside.

The most important thing was to build a very interdisciplinary environment. To him, this means that people have the opportunity working with electronics, wood, wool, and felt as well as many other materials in one space. Maker Austria received their machineries from different companies as well as members who brought in their equipment they didn’t need anymore. Indeed, Arno Aumair told us that sponsoring is one of the most problematic issues the business is facing. He claims that FabLabs need to obtain more funding from the Austrian government to create a greater impact for our society. Compared to other countries, Austria is still in a very early stage concerning the FabLab trend.

Turn Your Ideas Into Reality

Are FabLabs real game changers? Yes! As one of the most exciting projects shows, Alex Schaub, the manager of FabLab Amsterdam, is working on the “low cost prosthesis” – affordable methods to field fabricate , ‘lower knee’ prosthesis with local materials.

The programme has emerged into a possible business case for the HONFablab in Jogyakarta, Indonesia. The low cost prosthesis project aims at developing a lower leg prosthetic with production costs below $50. For example, FabLab Yogyakarta could provide prostheses for two people per day. By doing so it will empower the locals to create new jobs and spread orthopedic knowledge.

The future is coming for sure and nobody knows when the next technology revolution is coming. Is personal fabrication the next big wave after information technology?


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