What's a Fab Lab?

ShopBot has been involved in the innovative and progressive FabLab agenda for many years, supplying a ShopBot digital fabrication tool (CNC router) as an integral component of FabLabs, including Mobile FabLabs that tour the country.

What's a FabLab and what is the mission of FabLabs?

Originating from MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, FabLabs bring the technologies of digital fabrication to people in smaller U.S. communities and in developing countries around the world, giving people the technological tools that can enable them to leapfrog into 21st century lean manufacturing for the betterment of their local communities.

“FabLab is a perfect fit for ShopBot,” said Ted Hall, ShopBot’s founder and CEO. “We’re focused on technology and education,” he said, “and we’re proud to be participating in this incredible effort to support innovation and manufacturing through the use of technology.”

Fab labs have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the North of Norway. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research. Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines.

Fab labs share core capabilities, so that people and projects can be shared across them. This currently includes:

In ShopBot's home state of North Carolina, FabLabs Carolinas are hoping to generate funding for FabLab installations across North Carolina. They believe FabLabs will give a wide range of people "the ability to conceptualize, design, develop, fabricate and test almost anything they can create. From new games to robots to whatever the users can imagine, the Fab lab puts priceless equipment, typically out of reach for most, into the hands of anyone, with the goal of creating innovative ideas, products and services to enrich our community and world."

Learn more about FabLabs here.

FabLabs News

Fab7 Lima: Ambulante Day

by Sallye Coyle, ShopBot Trainer and Consultant, August 19, 2011

Friday was the final push for finishing the Ambulantes. The plan was to pack up the ambulantes and take them over to the town square at 4:30 pm…so there was much laughter and hard work as everyone put on the final details. Phyllis from DC finished cutting all of her pieces the previous Tuesday before the Mobile FabLab left DC to arrive at ShopBot, so her project was to assemble them into a cookie stand. People came with various levels of experience: Tom from Abu FabLab (Kenya) started with a drawing on the back of an envelope, learned how to translate that into parts and toolpaths with PartWorks software, and ended up with a rolling cart with storage and cooking space and a sign. The two graduates students from the School of Education at Stanford, Rachel and Daniel, made us all smile, they were so excited with their first experience with the ShopBot. The “Scandanavian” team effort included a tongue drum to announce their entrance and lights to make their bottles glow. Japan’s effort had fans and upholstered FabLab logos. Visitors continued to come by to see the ShopBot in action. And Kenny, from MIT, started cutting his ambulante at 4, and had it ready to go by the 4:30 deadline.

We took a break from building to wrap up the conference. Committees made their reports. Thanks were given to Sherry Lassiter (MIT) and Karin Niemantsverdriet , who was at Fab6 in Amsterdam and came to Lima for 6 months to help with the organization of Fab7. Neil announced the location of Fab8 (New Zealand) and Fab9 (Japan).

Then, the task was to transport the ambulantes to the park by the river. Of course, in addition to the cart was the creation of food from each country. My job was to make the chocolate chip cookies for the Phyllis’s stand…I even carried flour and sugar and chocolate chips in my backpack to Lima (Security had fun testing those bags…I got teased about making cookies on the plane.) Alas, the task of baking enough cookies in a toaster oven that shared a power supply with the laser cutter upstairs while helping get everyone else’s ambulantes cut out on the ShopBot downstairs proved too much for me, so Phyllis fell back on her supply of ginger cookies she had brought from home. The Illinois group made popcorn on a stove powered by llama dung that they had collected from around Machu Picchu! Sambosas from Africa, empanaditas, Indian food, snacks molded (molds made at FabLab) from fruit puree, etc, alcoholic beverages to warm the soul…the crowd was pleased, the lines long, the carts emptied.

Fab7 Lima, Thursday, August 18

by Sallye Coyle, ShopBot Trainer and Consultant, August 18, 2011

I have been in Lima for more than a week now. With the official opening of the FabLab conference, things have gotten so busy that I haven’t had time to write. But much has been happening.

The ShopBot is in continuous service, with a sign up list. On Friday night, there will be a contest of “Ambulantes," or street food carts with food from the contestant’s native country. So, people are cutting out parts on the ShopBot, the laser cutter and who knows what else. My time has been busy showing people how to design in PartWorks, how to bring in a dxf from another program, how to set toolpaths. Half of the group works in metric, half in inches, so we are all getting pretty good at switching back and forth. I’ve set up the automatic zeroing routines for the Lima ShopBot to run in metric (confusing to the users of Imperial, but they are dealing with it.)

To backtrack over the highlights of the week: Sunday, during the day, all was (almost) quiet in the final hours before the opening of Fab 7. Kenny and I worked on the ShopBot until the last moment, and then rushed home to change before the final ceremonies.

Sunday night, we had the official opening of Fab7, with a celebration at the town hall. After the official greeting, a concert by the symphony orchestra and youth orchestra, and several dance exhibitions, we boarded busses for a light display at a water park nearby.

Monday, the games began. The ShopBot is working great, and so people are designing and cutting like mad. It is a truly international crowd, with people helping people with their design files. Alex from the Netherlands was the first to cut out his table, and then gathered in others to help wire tie the legs. Now, his table has become a worktable. Dan from Chicago has not only learned to run the ShopBot, but he is now teaching and helping others. His team is making a popcorn stand with an umbrella and vinyl stickers. The group from India was cutting their parts while I was running among people needing help, so it was awhile before I realized that they were cutting at 1 ips with a .01 plunge. I’m amazed we didn’t start a fire. We were able to clean the carbon in the collet and get it back into working order. Tom Ado from Kenya (his FabLab is running totally on solar power) got his first experience with PartWorks and cutting out parts on the ShopBot. He intends to order his ShopBot in the next couple of months.

I have now finished all three presentations. On Tuesday, I gave a tips and tricks class on the ShopBot. Feedback was that even people who have used a ShopBot for awhile learned a few things, like how to use the C3 program, and we talked about feeds and speeds, bits, toolpathing, etc. Later, as people worked on their part files, I could tell that people had actually been listening. Well, almost everyone. Wednesday was a brief summary of ShopBot’s beginning and big building projects that have been made with a ShopBot (provided by Bill Young). It was fun to then learn about other big projects created in other parts of the world.

The days have become a blur, with 14 hours a day at the FabLab, or preparing for talks early in the morning because I am too tired at night to do more than go to bed. But everyone is wonderful, they are thrilled with the ShopBot, and are moving from needing my help to helping each other. The tradition is a single kiss on the cheek to greet…I’m trying to pass it on to the Indian men. Many many conversations about using the ShopBot for manufacturing or opening other FabLabs throughout the world.

Last night was a dinner with the presenters of today’s symposium. From Barcelona, Victor (IAAC, FabLab solar house) and the vice mayor of Barcelona and another Barcelonan talked about their vision of Barcelona as a Fab City…Instead of product in - trash out, turn the city into a self-sufficient Fab City. It is a vision!

Today, the lab itself is closed because we are having a symposium with real and virtual presentations. Everyone from bioengineering to Maker Shed to Ponoko to Wired, plus the Barcelona presentation in more detail. My presentation showed ShopBot from its origin in the barn, and using 2 x 4’s, strut and screen door rollers to the desktop and 5 axis tool. It has generated quite few questions and excitement, both in Spanish and English.

This website is interesting in terms of finding supplies for small-scale manufacturing. www.Inventables.com: the hardware store for desktop manufacturing. Zach is planning to create materials sized for the ShopBot Desktop.

Wednesday, Aug 17: ShopBot International

by Sallye Coyle, ShopBot Trainer and Consultant, August 17, 2011

Folks from around the world are taking advantage of the ShopBot, and people to give them a helping hand in using it. My laptop is in demand as the design computer, with a sign up sheet to get time on the machine. We’ve had to empty the dust collection bag once already…and the ShopBot table has a fine record of the things we have been cutting. In the meanwhile, the traditional art of weaving continues to take place on the patio. Carlos “Pedrero” and Luis took me back behind the scenes to show me photos of ancient ruins. Experiments in microhabitats for growing crops? Scientists have found that each step is a half a degree different than the one below it.

Fab7 Lima, Day 2

by Sallye Coyle, ShopBot Trainer and Consultant, August 13, 2011

The actual Fab7 doesn’t begin until next week, but the activity surrounding the FabLab Lima is incredible.  Located as we are in the lower level, we don’t see all of it, but visitors come by on a regular basis…from visiting dignitaries to students from other Universities.  If watching the ShopBot plane the sacrificial board is fascinating, watching your own name cut out is fabuloso, estupendo!

In addition to the Electronics and Digital Fabrication Labs, parts of the School of Architecture itself are getting a facelift. Notably, the restroom facilities have a new coat of paint and organization.  And, they need new signs.  So, several of the regulars got a chance to play with the PartWorks software to design their part files.  After giving them a few hints, I left them to it, and was rewarded with peals of laughter as they worked their way through the CAD/CAM program.

It’s easy for me to think that it’s all about ShopBot, but we are just a small part of the effort that is going into this.  Other works stations (electronics, molding, laser cutting, even (gasp) another CNC machine, are coming into being. Computers need to be set up, sponsors are setting up their booths, décor has been fabricated and is being put into place.  Victor Freundt, Beno Juarez, organizers, are in constant contact with other universities and officials to promote the idea behind FabLab. Friday night, Sherry Lassiter and several of the MIT grad students and I were invited to dinner with Jaime Serida Nishimura, Dean, and Santiago Roco, Professor of Economics, of the Business School at ESAN University in Lima.  The main topic was innovation, and how to foster it.  And then, how to manufacture the ideas that may come of the community created by FabLab.

In the meanwhile, there is much to celebrate that is not digital fabrication.  Carlos “Pedrero”, sculptor, borrowed my camera to take videos and pictures of a weaver who is treasured for his techniques.  And, dinner last night was next to an even older treasure, the huaca made of adobe bricks that is thousands of years old.

FabLabbers from around the world are beginning to arrive.  I have heard stories from the MIT graduate students about their adventures setting up labs in Africa and India, and am looking forward to meeting some of the people from those Labs.  Last night, I talked with Jens, from Norway, who is travelling the world to visit the FabLabs, and see how each Lab uses their equipment. Our conversation included physiological indications of stress level, and how to create a friendly device that would monitor stress levels and help a person regulate their own heart rate.  And, he also wants to surf while in Lima.  His friend from Iceland thinks having a ShopBot to create surfboards in Iceland would be a great idea.

Lima, Day 1

by Sallye Coyle, ShopBot Trainer and Consultant, August 12, 2011

A fortunate series of events lead me to meet Nadya and Kenny from MIT in the elevator, so I didn't have to brave my way to the School of Engineering via the crazy bus system (50+ independent bus companies, small bus, one driver threading his way through traffic, one assistant hanging out the window with a sign indicating their direction, a bus stop any place in the right two lanes of traffic), or fall prey to the conniving desk clerk who wanted to charge my room 45 soles for a 10 soles taxi ride.  Lima is amazing...street stalls hanging with (I hope) freshly killed chickens, fruit, and the soles of shoes waiting to be fabricated to fit your feet.  A whole part of town devoted to the sale of toilet paper.  Last night, we had dinner next to a pre-Incan ruin in the center of town.

The FAB7 is taking place at the School of Architecture, a brick and glass enclave, complete with Peruvian totems, nestled against a hill side of dirt and shanties.  Victor, Beno, Karen and many many others have created a light-filled electronics lab and a white and clean feeling digital fabrication lab out of two storage rooms that had been filled with 50 years of furniture, debris and dust.  In three weeks!!!

The ShopBot was up and wired, so we spent the day grounding and putting on the support board.  People are SOOO EXCITED about it that, as soon as I started moving it around, 2-3 people came in to watch.  Then, they went and got 10 more people, so I switched to showing them the software.  Then, they went and got 10-15 more people.  So, the maiden test was in front of 30 people.  Needless to say, we had issues, but they did get to see it move a bit before we sent them away while we worked on it.  By the end of the day, we were able to surface the table, and use the Bot to countersink the holes for the support board.  Manuel and Gina were so excited that they were dancing every time they started a part file.  Even Julio, who can't speak a word of English, willingly vacuumed and swept when needed, then quietly grinned the biggest grin you have ever seen when he was asked to run the ShopBot.

ShopBot in Peru for Fab7

by Sallye Coyle, ShopBot Trainer and Consultant, August 11, 2011

I've just arrived in Lima in preparation for Fab7 (www.Fab7.pe), the annual meeting of FabLabs from around the world. This year the conference is being held in Lima. FabLabs bring technology and digital fabrication machinery to those who want to make what they need. There is a ShopBot in most of the 50 FabLabs open throughout the world, with more opening every week.

The conference takes place Aug 15 – 19, 2011, with the first part of the week reserved for those who are actually associated with a FabLab. On Thursday, an academic symposium will be open to all who are interested. There will be a graduation ceremony on Thursday evening, and the Lima FabLab will officially opened. Representatives of the government of Peru will be on hand for the opening.

I will be making three presentations during Fab7. Tuesday, as part of the Subtractive Printing track, I'll be providing tips and tricks for running a ShopBot. Wednesday, I'll showcase large projects that have used a ShopBot, including the Solar House created at IAAC in 2010, the Katrina House shown at the MOMA, and the Shelter 2.0 project based in Virginia. On a smaller scale, I will show some of the furniture projects that are currently being developed at ShopBot, and through Sketch Chair, a kickstarter project. I'll also take part in the public symposium on Thursday.

On Friday, Fabbers will show off their Street Vendor Carts that they have created with tools in a FabLab. Finally, together with Phyllis Klein from the future Washington DC FabLab, we'll be cooking up an example of typical American fare…chocolate chip cookies! I’ll keep you posted about Fab7, and let you know how the cookies are received!

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