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fab8nz from Object magazine 63

Fab Labs are an international network of rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing workshops sprung out of a course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Every year they gather for a conference, and last year Object attended fab8nz, the eighth instalment held at Wellington, New Zealand’s Massey University.

An in-depth roundup of that conference was presented in the award-winning issue 63 of Object magazine in October last year, available as a free download for iPad or to see in full on this website.

With CTRL P: OBJECTS ON DEMAND currently in Object Gallery, the full series of articles on fab8nz are now collected here on Object Eye. Each heading after the jump will take you to that section.

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fab8nz Introducing Fab Labs

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

In 2001, Professor Neil Gershenfeld founded the Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. Developed out of CBA and his popular class ‘How To Make (Almost) Anything’ was a laboratory of machinery and technology, tasked with allowing participants to do exactly that.

With funding of the scale necessary to procure machines with titles like ‘Resonetics examiner laser micromachining station’ (a laser-based system designed to fabricate micro-machined components as small as one micron) came an expectation for social outreach. And so the first non-MIT Fab Lab (for Fabrication Laboratory) was born.

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fab8nz Conference

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

Since first appearing at MIT, the global network of Fab Labs has grown steadily to, at time of writing, number 135 around the world. With increasing rates of expansion, this network is now perched on the precipice of an explosion. In the lead up to fab8nz, the eighth annual conference, forum and symposium in Wellington, New Zealand, the first of a planned 130 Labs opened in Russia. At the end of fab8nz, Wellington’s own, and the first in Australasia, was inaugurated.

But this is only a tiny snapshot of the planned developments. South Africa and Barcelona each have three new Labs on the way, taking their totals to ten and four respectively, and Israel are on the verge of opening two, one each for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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fab8nz Open Design

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

‘Design is undergoing a revolution. Technology is empowering more people to create and disseminate designs, and professionals and enthusiasts are using it to share their work with the world.’ Open Design Now.

Alex Schaub from Amsterdam’s Waag Society Fab Lab places the beginning of the open design movement in Sweden in the 1970s, with the onset of participatory and user-centred design. Various manifestations have cropped up over the ensuring decades, but the huge advances in digital technology and connectivity have allowed for it to expand and be embraced far and wide.

While Droog Design’s fear, and that of many designers the world over, is that the world may be filled with ugly products as a result of opening the process up to ‘unqualified’ members of the public, those ‘ugly’ products will only be commercialised if there is a demand. If people are creating the most relevant outcomes for themselves, then that highly personalised design is purely individual.

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fab8nz Sustainability

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

The sustainable benefits intrinsic in the technology within Fab Labs are numerous, without necessarily any conscious effort—digitally mapping on a CNC router can ensure the most efficient use of the material, for example, and machining circuitry as opposed to acid etching is arguably more environmentally friendly. However, a number of Labs around the world are taking a markedly more proactive approach to addressing environmental concerns.

Perhaps the most prominent example is that of Barcelona. Aside from the Valldaura ‘green’ lab proposed for a disused farmhouse in a large city park, Barcelona has grand plans for a Lab in every community. Combined with the anticipated proliferation of 3D printers in the home, this creates a city-wide distributed manufacturing network, allowing for localised fabrication based on digital files and user-centric, personalised designs that may be one-off but will perfectly suit the needs of the creator.

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fab8nz Education

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

The context of the Fab Lab network intrinsically promotes learning without conscious effort, simply by having a mandate of open access and encouraging new users to enter, experiment and play. At fab8nz, many Labs from around the world reported on various education programs they were running, both formally and informally. San Diego, for example, has 35 accredited classes, while Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar Fab Lab has developed Fab Kids (12–15yrs) and Fab Juniors (16–20yrs) to complement the existing Fab Academy, teaching similar ideas at each level but with different capability entry points.

The North East Ohio Mobile Fab Lab develops classes utilising the Lab in school, working with K–8 students and brining high school students to assist. Rather than acting as a field trip, the mobile Lab spends time with teachers in advance, creating ways to use the mobile Lab to address requirements of the curriculum. Students and teachers work on the designs prior to the Lab’s arrival so that the tools can be employed en masse when the Lab is present.

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fab8nz Symposium

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

On Monday 27 August, day six of fab8nz, a public symposium was held, bringing together speakers both physical and virtual from around the world. Eight hours of talks covered an enormous range of topics, divided into four sections addressing aspects around digital fabrication technology: Foundations; Implementations; Applications, and; Implications.

Foundations
The Foundations session zeroed in on the technologies around printing, from the potential of conductive inks to working with cells and genomes.

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fab8nz

From 21 to 28 August I found myself in Wellington, New Zealand, for fab8nz the eighth annual conference, forum and symposium put on by and for members of the international network of Fab Labs. Hosted by Massey University, attendees came from all over the world to collaborate, exchange and unveil future plans.

Fab Labs grew out of a course offered by Professor Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms entitled ‘How To Make (Almost) Anything.’ What was initially a collection of incredible fabrication machines housed at MIT in Boston has spread its wings as far afield as the Netherlands, Ghana and, now, Wellington. At last count there were 135 Fab Labs throughout the world, with that number doubling approximately every year and a half.

Fab Labs (short for Fabrication Laboratories) have a mandate to be at least partially open to the public, and they push open source and education, both formal and informal.

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