FabLab – digital fabrication laboratories – were set up to inspire people and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into new products and prototypes by giving them access to a range of advanced digital manufacturing technology.
The idea was conceived by renowned inventor and scientist Professor Neil Gershenfeld at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His idea was a simple one: to provide the environment, skills, advanced materials and technology to make things cheaply and quickly anywhere in the world, and to make this available on a local basis to entrepreneurs, students, artists, small businesses and in fact, anyone who wants to create something new or bespoke.
Watch a video which tells you a bit more about what it is.
A global network of over 150 Fab Labs now exists, connecting people, communities and businesses across the world and enabling them to collaborate, problem solve and brainstorm ideas.
Shepherds in Norway have used their FabLab to create a system for tracking sheep using their mobile phones, while in Ghana, people have made an innovative truck refrigeration system powered by the vehicle's own exhaust gases.
In Afghanistan, people are fashioning customised prosthetic limbs, while in South Africa a government and business backed project is creating simple internet connected computers that hook up to televisions and cost just ten dollars each.
Fab Lab Charter
FabLab is a global network of local labs, enabling invention by providing access for individuals to tools for digital fabrication.
You can use the FabLab to make almost anything (that doesn’t hurt anyone); you must learn to do it yourself, and you must share use of the lab with others.
Training in the FabLab is based on doing projects and learning from your peers; you’re expected to contribute to documentation and instruction.
You are responsible for:
- Safety: Knowing how to work without hurting people or machines.
- Cleaning up: Leaving the lab cleaner than you found it.
- Operations: Assisting with maintaining, repairing, and reporting on tools, supplies, and incidents.
Designs and processes developed in a FabLab must remain available for individual use although intellectual property can be protected however you choose
Commercial activities can be incubated in the FabLab but they must not conflict with open access, they should grow beyond rather than within the lab, and they are expected to benefit the inventors, labs, and networks that contribute to their success.
While FabLab have yet to compete with mass production and its associated economies of scale in fabricating widely distributed products, they have already shown the potential to empower individuals to create smart devices for themselves. These devices can be tailored to local or personal needs in ways that are not practical or economical using mass production.