FABLab is the place to be

Published on April 22nd, 2013
FABLab is the place to be

Got an Innovative Idea you want to try?

The HIP2B2 3M Innovation Challenge supported by TIA is around the corner and your mind is already swimming with ideas but you don’t know what to do with them…

We found out about FabLabs and chatted to Lindi Mophuti, the SA FabLabs Coordinator to find out more information for you.

What is a FabLab and where did the idea of a FabLab come from?

FabLab, or Fabulous Laboratory as some call it, is an abbreviation of Fabrication Laboratory. FabLabs are a state-of-the-art resource venues where crafters and designers have access to advanced desktop manufacturing equipment so they can build just about anything from inexpensive and readily available materials.

A program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Centre for Bits and Atoms (CBA) investigated how to compute to fabricate, and this resulted in various projects in the media lab of emerging technologies to digitise fabrication.

Through the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, CBA invested in an educational outreach component by taking a slice of their laboratory research and selected a few digital fabrication tools. They called this outreach programme the Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab).

How does the FabLab work?

The FabLab is a hands-on laboratory that provides the technology to let people build just about anything from inexpensive and readily available materials and focuses on manufacturing of the total product. We are talking from design, fabrication, testing, debugging, monitoring and analyses, to documentation of the process. The process is then shared with users at other 150 FabLabs worldwide. The FabLab also teaches critical skills in computing, electronics, programming and CAD /CAM fabrication techniques, which is internationally recognised.


What are some of the exciting projects that came out of a FabLab?

Success stories from FabLabs testify to originality and inventiveness that have seen solutions to community problems.

An unemployed young man realised that most stores in his area were throwing away unused cardboard boxes. This stimulated him to make various furniture using recycled cardboard boxes. He then visited the Kimberley FabLab with the intention of using recycle cardboard boxes to make furniture using the CNC router available in the FabLab. He aspired to starting his own small enterprise focusing on recyclable furniture.

Various FabLab users visited the Free State FabLab with the aim of creating amazing luminaries and lighting systems intended for residential lighting. These were to be entered into the 2012 Eskom Energy Efficient Lighting Design Competition. The Free State FabLab assisted almost 50 users over a few months to fabricate their entries and improve their designs.

Who gets to use FabLabs and what are the requirements?

The FabLab may be used by anyone of any age group, no qualifications are required.

What support is available for users at the FabLabs?

Users are guided through the FabLab induction workshop on the process of digital fabrication. Once a person has done a particular product/ project he/ she intends to commercialise, they are linked to the relevant organisations that can assist with aspects of patenting, funding, enterprise development, etc.

For schools, we realised that being able to spend time in a high-tech rapid-prototyping environment could potentially be a career changing opportunity for many learners and that is why we also have FabKids.

Where can one find a FabLab?

There are currently 7 fixed FabLabs and one Mobile FabLab in South Africa; each attached to a host organisation. The location of the fixed FabLabs are indicated in the map below.

For you, what is the highlight of working with FabLabs?

My highlight is witnessing the excitement generated when young boys and girls are experiencing the FabLabs for the first time, learning all the processes and having to leave the lab with a fabricated product.

The smile on their faces – a sense of empowerment and achievement in saying “I did this on my own” is priceless; and for me – I feel like I am doing my bit and planting seeds which I see growing right before my eyes.