The FABLAB Movement: Democratization of Digital Manufacturing

The FABLAB Movement: Democratization of Digital Manufacturing

Francisco Javier Lena-Acebo (Universidad de Cantabria, Spain) and María Elena García-Ruiz (Universidad de Cantabria, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7074-5.ch007


The arrival of collaborative contexts to the global economic stage is a latent reality which threatens to change the traditional production models' operation. Likewise, concepts such as Industry 3.0 or even 4.0 refer to the possibility of providing customers and users with unimaginable possibilities compared to the industrial manufacturing inherited from the past centuries. Within this environment, the fabrication laboratories (FabLabs) emerge. In this chapter, the authors approach an exploratory perspective in order to make known the FabLab movement origin and further worldwide development with the intention to highlight their characteristics and the main difficulties they face nowadays. The growing importance that the FabLabs have achieved despite their novelty justifies the precise study of their characteristics according to the importance related to the strong expansion of these laboratories in this decade and its contribution to a major revolution in the collaborative environments associated with the digital manufacturing.
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Tackling the characterization of the FabLab movement is not a simple task. Its novelty and the characteristics of its environments can justify the scope of the scientific literature, which limits the results in systematic reviews of documentary and academic bibliographic sources. In spite of this, the term FabLab -Fabrication Laboratory- can be defined with the words of its creator as: A collection of machinery and pieces joined together by software and developed processes to create things (Gershenfeld, 2008).

The history of the FabLabs begins with the Professor Neil Gershenfeld own's hand as part of the deployment for the subject “How to Make (almost) Anything” in 2002 (Betts, 2010; George-williams, 2015; Gershenfeld, 2012; Hielscher, Smith, & Fressoli, 2015; Kohtala & Bosqué, 2013; Posch & Fitzpatrick, 2012; Willemaerts et al., 2011). This subject, developed in the CBA (Center for Bits and Atoms) dependent on the prestigious MIT -Massachussets Institute of Technology- (Gjengedal, 2010) and funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation) (Tiala, 2011), was needing a laboratory where materials could be generated and assembled at an atomic level (Capdevila, 2014; Cavalcanti, 2013; Eychenne, 2012; Hielscher et al., 2015; Walter-Herrmann & Büching, 2013) in order to analyze the computational properties inherent to the physical systems (International FabLab Association, n.d.).This laboratory was intended to become the cutting edge of a true revolution within manufacturing, leading the transformation through specialized tools in digital manufacturing (Eychenne, 2012; Herrera, 2012) including from 3D printers to laser and CNC cutting machines to allow small-scale production (Capdevila, 2014; Tiala, 2011) proving that FabLabs can be a powerful educational instrument for specific skills in official university programs (Guerra & Sánchez de Gómez, 2016), being used in some cases as a platform for Industry 4.0 development (Angrisani, Arpaia, Bonavolanta, & Lo Moriello, 2018) or even in middle school (Flores, 2018) or primary school (Gennari, Melonio, Rizvi, & Bonani, 2017) fostering que creativity of the students.

Through the CBA, and under the conditions imposed by the National Science Program, Gershenfeld aimed to explore the union between the applied science of computers and the physical environment (Troxler, 2014). In addition, as indicated by Eychenne (2012), for Gershenfeld, the Fablabs deserved the same consideration as the Internet development and the Web 2.0, functioning as a democratizing process of the technology usage -in this case, the digital fabrication- by users, converting them into prosumers (Kotler, 1986; Ritzer, Dean, & Jurgenson, 2012; Walter-Herrmann & Büching, 2013) transforming users from simple spectators into protagonists (Gershenfeld, 2005; Kohtala & Bosqué, 2013).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Do It With Others (DIWO): Social learning or making process based on collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Digital Fabrication: Fabrication processes where the numerical controls and computers transforms digital information into real physical products.

FabLab or Fab Lab: Collaborative maker spaces where users can manufacture and learn almost anything thanks to a specific machinery, the digital manufacturing processes and the social learning.

Academany: Distributed educational program based on digital fabrication technologies (Fab Academy), synthetic biology (Bio Academy), textile (Frabricademy) developed by the FabLab Network.

Collaborative Ecologies: Communities and spaces, with a variable degree of openness to the public, with objectives and agreed goals by its users in which through learning, prototyping, design, and production processes of both material and immaterial goods, bidirectional exchanges of information, knowledge, technology, skills, and resources are produced between users, between users and society, and between users and the industry.

Do It Yourself (DIY): Individual learning or making process based on individual self-resources.

How to Grow Almost Anything (HTGAA): Distributed learning program conducted by Prf. George Church where students, at different FabLab locations around the world, can learn about Synthetic Biology, part of the Academany.

Fab Academy: Distributed learning program conducted by Prf. Neil Gershenfeld where students, at different FabLab locations around the world, can learn digital fabrication technologies.

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