FabSpace Tools – Questions From The FabSpace Meeting

One of the best questions that came up in our first FabSpace meeting was “Why did we select the tools we have chosen to start with?”

Our initial tool choice is based on the tool set suggested by MIT’s Center For Bits And Atom’s definition of a of a Fab Lab:

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

  • A computer-controlled laser cutter, for press-fit assembly of 3D structures from 2D parts
  • A larger (4′x8′) numerically-controlled milling machine, for making furniture- (and house-) sized parts
  • A sign cutter, to produce printing masks, flexible circuits, and antennas
  • A precision (micron resolution) milling machine to make three-dimensional molds and surface-mount circuit boards
  • Programming tools for low-cost high-speed embedded processors

These work with components and materials optimized for use in the field, and are controlled with custom software for integrated design, manufacturing, and project management. This inventory is continuously evolving, towards the goal of a fab lab being able to make a fab lab.”

You will notice that a 3D printer does not appear on this list of initial tools, that is because the tool set continues to evolve with technology – to see all the latest gear MIT recommends for outfitting a Fab Lab as of July, 2014, follow this link: Current Fab Lab Inventory

This will tell you everything that MIT thinks should be purchased to fully outfit a lab – current price would be a little more than $96,000, and a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer is on that list.

But why did we choose tools based on the MIT Fab Lab model?

This question wasn’t asked at the meeting but we feel it is important to understanding the choices we have made. We have spent quite a bit of time researching and visiting makerspaces at all levels – from small community organizations to large commercial ventures – and consistently, the most used tool in these spaces, when available, was a laser cutter. This was closely followed by the cnc router in popularity.

As we continued to study makerspaces, we soon realized that the laser cutter and the cnc router formed the core of a Fab Lab and we started studying this configuration more to see what advantages it offered. The five main Fab Lab tools – the laser cutter, the cnc router, the 3D printer, the mini milling machine, and the vinyl cutter – allow creation of objects from very small to quite large, all have multiple purposes, are all machines capable of high precision, and are simple enough that children can be taught to operate them. What is more exciting, by choosing this tool set, we aren’t just a local makerspace in the local community – we become connected to the larger Fab Lab network which means we can interact with other Fab Labs and makers across Ohio, or across the United States, or across the globe!

The Fab Lab tool set also met other important criteria for us. First, we could fit all the tools into the large gallery at the Yellow Cab building. Second, all the tools are relatively clean and produce little mess (the exception is the cnc router). Third, the tools can be used by a wide range of ages and experience levels. Finally, these are tools that are not easy to access for the average person.

We are at the beginning of a new industrial revolution – one where you can turn data on your computer, 1’s and 0’s, into physical objects that you can hold in your hand. But this only happens for those with access to the tools and software. With the tools we have chosen for FabSpace, we hope to allow anyone to join the revolution!

In future posts, we will discuss why specific pieces were chosen, so please stay tuned! And as always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to shoot us a message.

If you are interested in learning more about Fab Labs, the following links are a good starting point:

MIT’s Fab Lab FAQs

FAB Foundation

The International Fab Lab Association

Fab Lab @ School