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FAB10 at the Core of Building the Fab Lab Community

Coming back from FAB10, the annual gathering of fab folks (people working in Fab Labs), that was held this year in Barcelona in a gorgeous location (Museu del Disseny), I looked for interesting content about entrepreneurship and open hardware to share with you… but it seems that it was not the point of the event.

FAB10 is a place for Fab Labs to keep their enthusiasm going, share their current struggles and questions and meet hundred of fabbers from around the world.

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At the core of FAB10: a temporary super Fab Lab equipped with machines. Image: MakingSociety, CC BY-SA

In this article, I focus  on the main ideas that attendees were talking about so that you don’t feel like you missed anything.

fablab-logo1Wait a second: what’s a fab lab again?
Fab labs are spaces to learn how to build and use tools to make open hardware projects, which are documented and freely shared online. You can also use a fab lab as a prototyping service or a short-manufacturing facility but they are not primarily designed for that.

At FAB10, content was disseminated on 3 days (+ 2 public days) of minute-talks and community workshops. There were no master of ceremony and guidelines on what was going on were pretty loose.

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Fun workshop on hacking an Ultimaker to 3D print Nutella. Image: MakingSociety, CC By-SA

I don’t know if this “organic”, “self-organized” way of producing event was intentional or not, but it definitively made it hard to get anything from it, besides meeting a lot of cool makers and getting bits and bites of creative ideas for your fab lab.

Ok, so what to retain from FAB10 ? 

Fab labs are spreading fast

New fab labs are opening every months, with active countries such as France (more than 200 fab labs in progress!), Brazil (with a strong active network), Italy, Japan. Some cities such as Barcelona, Spain, or Roma, Italy, are pushing the movement by enabling use of spaces or even putting public money on the table.

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Heloisa Neves presenting the very active Brazilian Fab Lab network in front of Neil Gershenfeld and 500 FAB10 attendees. Image: MakingSociety, CC BY-SA

 

Fab labs are of all kinds, and a few only truly follow MIT guidelines

Don’t let yourself fooled by the all “Fab Lab” MIT branding. Fab labs are not really following a strong set of rules, and MIT doesn’t seem to be willing to enforce the fab charter. As a result, the hundreds of fab labs that opened these last years are very diverse: some are super-equipped, others (most of them actually) have almost no tools yet. Some are in universities (and might not be able to be opened to everyone), others are in rural areas, some start in the founder’s living-room while others receive substantial public and private funding.

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Marc-Olivier Ducharme presenting Echofab and Fab Labs in Canada during a workshop at FAB10. Image: MakingSociety, CC BY-SA

If you want to learn more about the different types of spaces, I recommend the very good study (from 2012) by Fabien Eychenne, now taking part of the fab lab movement in Brazil.

 

Most fab labs need money

The fab lab offer is all based on offering ways to become sustainable. Movement wants to offer spaces, knowledge and tools to let everyone build everything they need to live a sustainable life: build your own tools, your own furniture, house, grow your own food. All of this with the help of others, fully legally. Vision for Fab Labs is individual sustainability with others.

Value of fab labs in society is to create more social links, less waste, more shared knowledge, smarter open products. The goal of fab labs is to free us from mass production.

This vision doesn’t fit in our world (yet) and it’s hard for fab labs to be sustainable in the first place. Fab labs need money while trying to get rid of it.

3 main proposals and comments were discussed over and over again during these 3 days:

  • fab labs should be part of governmental plans: fab labs should become public because they are educational and social goods.
  • fab labs should find private ways to finance themselves: for example by offering services for companies, mentorship for startups
  • fab labs should be considered as social businesses: each fab lab should create its own business plan to find the right balance between business and social good.

Overall, it’s pretty clear that the movement was born from actors who are very new to the concept of selling. And is now entering a phase where everyone has to find ways to survive financially.

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Workshop on social business led by charismatic Prof ED Berman. Image: MakingSociety, CC BY-SA

In many cases, sustainability comes from scarcity. Some fab labs without any money are extremely creative at finding ways to create their own tools from waste and occupy spaces without spending it all on rents. La Fabrique d’Objets Libres in Lyon, France, for example, has been slowly building their own tools over the last years. In Barcelona, Valldaura’s fab lab got inaugurated during FAB10, on its way to become fully sustainable, using resources around it.

Emmanuel Guilloz, creator of the Foldarap, took a few pictures of the visit.

There is a brotherly debate between fabbers and makers

As usual in any ecosystem, actors want to define themselves and put words on their practices. FAB events are a time of definition and FAB10 was no exception. Fab labs think of themselves as different from makerspaces and other kinds of fabrication spaces.

My theory is that the “fab” movement was born in Boston, on the US East Coast led by the MIT, while the “maker” movement was born on the West Coast, in the San Francisco Bay Area, led by Make Magazine. Maker Faire vs. FAB events. I see this “opposition” mostly as a branding one. Makers/fabbers should not fall into it.

I found it hard to find which projects were actually made in Fab Labs, even if many spaces were presenting some members’ projects. It’s part of my quest for makers pro to explore what’s going on in Fab Labs, so be sure I’ll find out 😉

Fabbingly yours,

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1 Comment

  • “Most fab labs need money” … yes, and most fab labs are surprisingly clueless and old fashioned in getting it or avoiding needing it.
    The “governmental plan” route you suggest is utterly difficult and requires fab labs to put a lot of energy in writing grant proposals or hoping that some higher forces will keep them alive. The experience in ZA is a telling example, set up as a government initiative and when that money run dry there was a major problem. Or the recent (2012) funding round in France and the upheaval that created in the community.
    For the services/startup world, the fab lab offer depends on staffing, not on machines — but sadly most fab labs are still mainly focused on machines (and some of them even mainly on 3D printers). Imho this is a lost battle before it began…
    Social business … I sort of agree: each fab lab needs to find its way to create value (for others, not for its founders). Value creation is the secret to sustainability (but the part in brackets is most important).

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