The Location: This year’s gathering of the International FabLab network took place in early August in Shenzhen, China. About an hour from Hong Kong, Shenzhen is a new city, grown up in the last 25 – 30 years from a fishing village to a modern industrial and commercial center. Except for the signs in Chinese characters, the view from my room on the 22nd floor of a hotel in the financial/convention district looked more like an American city than many international cities built on top of older civilizations: traffic was organized in proper lanes, turns signals flashing, horns blaring. Shenzhen’s location close to Hong Kong, the numerous factories to manufacture whatever it is you need, and the amazing network of creative spaces around Shenzhen made it the perfect location to hold the meeting.
Those FabLabbers with a bent towards creating their own could fill a suitcase with motors, drivers, boards, cables, or purchase real or knock off phones, cameras, projectors, and watches in the electronics markets. The shopping malls carried name brand clothing, shoes and purses from around the world, as well as motorized carts in the shape of animals for the kids to ride around the mall. Many malls had DIY sections, with build-your-own music boxes, pottery wheels, and painting classes. Grocery stores had Lays Potato chips bags with funny faces on them, cans of soda with the name in the familiar Coco Cola font as well as Chinese Characters, Dragon fruit, and chickens with head and feet still attached.
The Meeting: The annual Fab gathering is an important vehicle for building and maintaining the network of FabLabs. It is also a celebration honoring the graduates of Fab Academy, the 6 month long course based on MIT’s “How to Make (Almost) Anything.”
Mornings were filled with reports on the doings of FabLabs around the world, and announcements of interest to the greater community. And there is always Fabbercise, which can have its own share of familiarity and hilarity.
Afternoons brought options for workshops and sessions. Want to use a laser cutter to create hats or lamps? There’s a workshop for you. Want to discuss topics in education or humanitarianism? There’s a session for you. Want to catch up with old friends and make new ones? There’s plenty of time to connect, collaborate and share. Evening meals and after gave more opportunities to learn what is happening in FabLabs around the world. There was even the opportunity to see how products developed in a FabLab can be brought to market when 3NOD, one of the event sponsors, hosted a fabulous evening at their headquarters.
The focus of Fab12 was FABLAB 2.0, the ability of a FabLab to use its own digital fabrication tools to produce a fab lab and to produce the manufacturing machines of the future. Since the Handibot (www.handibot.com) was inspired by work of MIT students under the direction of MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld, Center for Bits and Atoms ( www.cba.mit.edu ), it seemed only proper that a Handibot traveled to Shenzhen to take part in the festivities. Others brought their version of a digital fabrication tool created in a FabLab. Jens Dyvik used the ShopBot in the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) to fabricate parts for his VBird parametric CNC, and Steven Sui made his multipurpose CNC machine with GCC products such as the laser cutter and CNC machine. Nadya Peek offered workshops on how to create digital fabrication tools from cardboard kits and component motors and rails.
The Symposium: Friday’s symposium, open to the public, addressed 4 topics that scaled from the individual to the civilization.
- Systems That Make Systems
- Businesses That Make Businesses
- Organizations That Make Organizations
- Civilizations That Make Civilizations
The Fab Festival: The weekend event, open to the public at the Civic Center, was a celebration of all things Fab.
ShopBot Sallye at Fab 12:
ShopBot and FabLabs have had a strong relationship for a number of years. ShopBot is a CNC of choice on the official FabLab buy list, so attending the Fab meetings is an opportunity to keep up with the exciting advances that those who participate in the FabLab network are making, offer training and tech support where needed, and learn what ShopBot needs to pay attention to in order to better serve the community. After 6 years of working with FabLabs, I feel that I have a growing network of contacts that works both ways. If someone has a question, they have my direct email and a cell phone number to call. Likewise, if a ShopBot user or ShopBot Tech Support needs a local representative to serve as “boots on the ground”, I have an idea of who has ShopBot experience that we can reach out to. Our plan is to expand that network and make it more accessible…look for an update to the ShopBot website in a few months.
It is always a bit surprising when someone refers to ShopBot as a “vendor”. We think of ourselves as friends and colleagues who just happen to manufacture an amazing CNC machine. Arriving a few days before each meeting is an opportunity to make new friends, pay attention to how people are actually using the machines, as well as to make sure that the local ShopBot is in proper working order for the meeting. For Fab 12, the ShopBot at SZOIL was mostly assembled, but Francisco S (Beach Lab, Sitges, Spain), Vicky (SZOIL) and I spent several hours resolving some Control Box/Spindle issues before laying down the support and spoil board. Since Francisco will be one of the trainers going to Kerala, India, to help with their deployment of 20 mobile FabLabs, he got some hands-on experience with hardware and software. Vicky, Fab Manager at SZOIL, began to take ownership of her ShopBot when she used a ratchet wrench for the first time to tighten the hardware for the support board. We ended the late night by taking a 3D scan that Vicky had created for printing on the 3D printer and machining it on the ShopBot.
With each international trip, I learn a bit more about how ShopBot is used outside of the US. Some lessons are not related to the ShopBot itself, but point out differences in the operating language of the computer, or electricians deciding to run the power to the control box in a way that does not conform to the specs of the tool. It can be a lesson about the types of material available locally. For example, in Shenzhen, there were two different kinds of sheet goods available in the lab. While both were referred to as “plywood”, they had very different characteristics. What I would call “plywood” is made up of thin layers of wood laid down with the grain rotated 90 degrees at each layer (ply). It is less resistant to changing size as the humidity level changes, and maintains a certain level of structural when dadoes or slots are machined into it. Sheet goods that are made up of long strips of solid wood glued up and covered with thin veneer may be more consistent in thickness than plywood, but it can lose its structural integrity as soon as the thin veneer has been machined through. I have never seen this type of sheet good in the US, but have now found it in Japan, Egypt and China.
There’s too much to talk about for me to put it all in this blog. Visit the Fab12 website, and look up Fab Foundation, Center for Bits and Atoms, and FabAcademy for more information on the wonderful things that are going on with the 1000+ FabLabs around the world.