A Fab Lab is a small-scale workshop offering various types of digital fabrication. The term Fab Lab was born out of the educational arm of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA). The majority of Fab Labs serve as a platform for innovation and invention that fosters and encourages local entrepreneurship. Additionally, Fab Labs are rapidly expanding in the interdisciplinary educational space throughout colleges and public schools effectively fulfilling S.T.E.M requirements. They are places where the community can connect and collaborate to create, learn, empower, educate, and ultimately make awesome things. Being part of the Fab Lab community is to be part of an emerging and engaging knowledge network where technicians, professionals, educators and hobbyist of all disciplines can collaborate to not only create things at an extremely local level but also potentially discover solutions to problems.
Most Fab Labs consist of sophisticated machinery that conducts industrial-grade digital fabrication. They are generally equipped with an array of flexible computer controlled machines and tools that can work with a variety of materials. Aside from being versatile in type, shape, and size Fab Lab machines can also work with a variety of mediums from wood to metal, and can produce numerous objects from engraved signs to chairs and even houses. Inside most Fab Labs you’ll find fabrication machines of all different types and specification. Some are the size of a microwave and others are the size of a small car. Most contain an arm called a “kuka” which interacts with the medium of which it is manipulating. Kuka’s may have lasers, drills, routers, or cutters mounted to them and can be interchanged as needed for the job at hand. The potential of these machines is endless since one can work with all kinds of mediums and tools. Many of the fabrication machines are also referred to as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. CNC machines are controlled by computers which are operating from programs that contain the design plans for the product being fabricated. Hence the terminology of digital fabrication; creating an item that originated digitally where data was communicated to a machine to fabricate something in 3D form.
Initially designed for industry and manufacturing, digital fabrication machines have now been incorporated into a multitude of varied purposes that range from public maker shops to educational programs. Increasingly, Fab Labs are being incorporated into hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) educational programs. Students are not only able to learn by designing and fabricating things themselves but also able to attain important job-ready skills necessary for the local workforce. Schools now have the opportunity to revitalize their outdated woodshop facilities with state-of-the-art Fab Labs attracting new students eager to learn about digital fabrication.
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If you are interested in more information about how FabLabs and Makerspaces are improving education, check out these great organizations below: