Jane described how she first came across Fablabs – offering digital fabrication - when she was in the Netherlands. The first one appeared at MIT in the US around 2003 where computers, laser cutters and other equipment were set up to enable people to produce their own prototypes. They have now developed into a global network and there are 90 Fablabs worldwide, including places such as Kenya and Afghanistan. The most recent one to open was in Manchester last year and it is possible that one may be opening in Keighley.
Typically, the range of equipment can include laser cutters, wood routers, 3d printers, milling machines, basic hand tools, moulding equipment, embroidery machines, welding equipment and some electronic equipment. The normal procedure is to book in for a free introduction to the equipment and there are some periods, particularly at the weekend, when it can be used for free – this, of course, can be a good way to start and learn how to use the equipment effectively. Total lack of familiarity with some equipment and software can mean a steep learning curve though tutorials are available. One aspect of this which should be borne in mind, however, is that when using it for free you are expected to share what you learn. If you need to protect your intellectual property then you would need to rent space. In this way you could avoid the need to share.
Jane then looked in more detail at some of the equipment found in Fablabs and handed round some examples of smaller products which have recently been produced. This included necklaces, clocks, lights and a salt shaker.
All the Fablabs are linked internationally which means that if you have a problem which can’t be overcome in the Fablab where you’re working, there may be someone in one of the others who might be able to assist. Material can also be distributed more effectively between labs which can make it more effective than posting.