Fab Labs: A New Industrial Revolution Or An Unrealistic Idea Which Is Too Ambitious For Now?
In 2018, 15 years after the introduction of the fab lab (fabrication laboratory) a new revolution has started in the eyes of many experts. This time in fabrication, it draws on the same insights that led to the earlier digitizations of communication and computation, but now what is being programmed is the physical world rather than the virtual one. Digital fabrication will give individuals the chance to design and produce physical objects on demand. Wherever and whenever people want. The access to these new technologies will be a challenge to traditional models of business, foreign aid and education. Since the turn-out of the 3-D printer in the 1980’s, two products could be produced at the same time, a range of 3-D processes are now available. Companies use 3-D printers nowadays for rapid prototyping, complex shaping like for Jewelry. In general, a 3-D printer might be used for a quarter of the jobs, with other machines doing the rest, the thing with 3-D printing is that it takes a lot of hours or even days to produce anything. Other controlled programs can produce things faster or with features that fits the product better which are lighter and stronger.
Articles about this technology, can remind people back to 1950’s. when inventors thought that a microwave was the future of cooking. Microwaves can be handy at times, but they don’t replace the kitchen. That’s when people need to be realistic about what’s replaceable and what’s not, that question can only be answered after some time that has passed. Looking back to all the changes throughout the years, personal fabrication has been around for years as a science-fiction staple. Like in the series Star-trek: The Next Generation, when the crew was confronted by a challenging plot development, they could use the famous replicator to make whatever they needed. Scientists and Labs are now working on this idea. The aim of this is not only to produce parts for a drone but build an entire product out of a printer. This goal is still too ambitious for the moment, but there is no reason to wait. Digital manufacturing machines are still too young, they can already be used for everything, at any place. This idea changes everything. If individuals can create what they can consume. It fundamentally challenges all the steps in that cyclus. The goal of this is not business, it’s happiness.
Background of the idea.
Throughout the years we had revolutions in Communication and the IT. But just like the founding’s of Shannon and Von Neumann, there was something we haven’t seen in the Physical world. This inspired employees from the Centre of Bits and Atoms at the MIT, a group of people who never understood the boundaries between Physics and IT to do something about it. According to Mr. Gershenfeld: Computer science is one of the worst things that could ever happen to Computers and Science, because the canon froze prematurely the model of Computer science based on technology in the 1950’s. the nature is more powerful than a computer.
Neil Gershenfeld who came up with the idea of Fab labs first appreciated the parallel between personal computing and personal fabrication when he taught the class: How to make (almost) anything. At MIT’s centre for Bits and Atoms, which he directed. CBA opened in 2001 with funding from the National Science Foundation, it was developed to study the boundary between computer science and physical science. It has a facility that is equipped to make and measure things that are as small as atoms or as large as buildings. The class was designed to teach a small group of students, how to use CBA’s tools, but the Centre was overwhelmed by the demand from students who just wanted to make things. The students later completed a semester-long project to integrate the skills they had learned. From alarm clocks to dresses filled up with sensors and motorized spine-like structures that could defend the wearers personal space. What the students did was basically answering the question: ‘’What is personal fabrication good for? ‘’ well the answer is: personalization, producing products for a market of one person.
With the success of the first project, CBA began an outreach project with support from the NSF, rather than just describe the work they did, they thought it would be more interesting to provide the tools, so they assembled a kit of about $50.000 worth of equipment (including a computer-controlled laser, a 3-D printer and large and small computer-controlled milling machines) about $20,000 worth of materials (including components for molding and casting parts and producing electronics) all these tools together were connected by custom software. These became known as ‘’fab labs’’ (fabrication labs or fabulous labs) their cost is comparable to that of a minicomputer, and they found that they are used in the same way: to develop new use and new users for the machines.
Starting in December of 2003, a CBA team led by Sherry Lassiter set up the first fab lab at the South End Technology Centre, in inner-city Boston led by Mel King, an activist who has pioneered the introduction of new technologies to urban communities, from video production to Internet access, the response was very positive. There are students who used the fab lab for hands-on training have gone careers into technology. Thanks to the interest of a Ghanaian community the fab lab has expended throughout the world. From South Africa to Norway, from downtown Detroit to rural India. In the past few years, the total number has doubled about every 18 months, with over 100 in operation today and that many more being planned.
These labs form part of a larger “maker movement” of high-tech do-it-yourselfers, who are democratizing access to the modern means to make things. Although there is wide range of sites and funding models, all the labs share the same core capabilities. That allows projects to be shared and people to travel among the labs. Providing internet access has been a goal of many fab labs. by sharing design files and producing the components locally, they could all do so together. The ability to send data across the world and then locally produce products on demand has revolutionary implications for industry.
What is the effect of do-it-yourself manufacturing?
With the decreasing costs of materials and the availability of information. This Enables people to become their own manufacturer. Rapid technological developments not only make knowledge available to everyone, but also the tool to invent and produce is within everyone's reach. A new generation of inventors and makers takes matters into their own hands and innovates and produces in attics, in sheds and in small local laboratories. The thing what scared people the most about this idea was what were people creating in these ‘’high-tech-labs’’? and does it bring us democracy in innovation and manufacturing.
Well the answer is hobbyists and key players are of all times, but recently they have made it easier than ever. Helped by the rise of digital fabrication, the unlimited amount of knowledge that is accessible via the internet, everyone can now create and develop what was previously reserved for large factories and research laboratories. Large organizations such as NASA are looking for technological innovation at trade fairs such as Maker Faire, where the growing group of makers shows what they have manufactured at home and what is becoming of a high standard.
Not a long time ago 3-D printing was for funny ornaments. Today there are designers like Joris Laarman from The Netherlands, who manufactures chairs which are easy to make and cheap in price to print. The Dutch company Shapeways has enabled people to print everything they want. From plastic to metal. All kinds of shops and businesses originate from this. But digitalization doesn’t limit itself only to manufacturing goods. Throughout the years the analysis of genetic material has become so cheap, which made do-it-yourself labs popular.
Everybody can learn there for example how to genetically manipulate bacteria. People start wondering: what the world is going to look like if everyone can develop physical products without the help of investments. According to Jeremy Rifkin writer of the book: Zero Marginal Costs, this will lead to a new economic revolution, where the Capitalism that we know today will play a smaller role in our lives. Personal fabricators are about to revolutionize the world just as personal computers did a generation ago, and Fab labs show us how.