FAB Labs & Maker Spaces
“The Fab Academy is a Digital Fabrication Program directed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center For Bits and Atoms and based on MIT’s rapid prototyping course, MAS 863: How to Make (Almost) Anything. The Fab Academy began as an outreach project from the CBA, and has since spread to Fab Labs around the world. The program provides advanced digital fabrication instruction for students through an unique, hands-on curriculum and access to technological tools and resources.” (from the Web site) Currently there are over 200 spaces worldwide.
The MIT FabLab model features certain hardware, designed to be affordable. The software is free and open source. It features three types of tools: making things by removing material, making things by cutting things out, and making things by additive processes. While it may seem restrictive from our point of view as fine artists and designers, has the advantage that you can go to almost any city (Chicago, Amsterdam, Wash DC, etc.) and start working right away. Another advantage is that there is a strong emphasis on everyone who uses the facility learning how to use every piece of technology, and as you become more experienced, you become a teacher to the next group.
The MIT FabLab model consists of the following hardware:
— Laser Cutter
which makes things like this:
you can also have things made for you – service bureau: www.ponoko.com
— Sign Cutter – cutting vinyl
— Milling Machine
— Large Wood Router
— Electronics Workbench
and, of course,
— 3D Printer which you’ve no doubt all heard about
which makes things like this:
For small studios, these currently range in price from $650 for the least expensive one outfitted with a few extra features, to a few thousand. Note: more expensive is NOT automatically better. This is a fast changing world. Machines are available to print with cellulose and plastic.
MassArt has most of this equipment, but not all of it is set up for ‘universal’ access. The laser cutter and 3-D printer are currently located in Environmental Design, although discussion is taking place about moving them to a shared location. Discussions involve: pricing, safety, access, can you do it yourself or does someone need to assist, software compatibility, etc. A wood router is in the Wood Shop, and access is through a Studio Manager, but requires some special training as well as familiarity with general wood working techniques and shop practice. Milling is available in Sculpture, and computer-aided milling on a small scale in Metals; access is primarily for majors, but speak with one of the Studio Managers.
Electronic Projects assistance and access is available to all members of the college community. We can assist with circuit design, projects, classes, and can run workshops. Projects can range from simple, like wiring LEDs for a sculpture, to complex, like a full scale interactive installation. Speak with Fred Wolflink (email@example.com or x7290).
Some local facilities and clearing centers:
The MIT model is closely aligned with the South End Technology Center in Boston’s South End, started by Mel King. From the Web site:
“The South End Technology Center @ Tent City (The Tech Center) is a collaborative venture between the Tent City Corporation (TCC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Our fundamental purpose is to enable people to become producers of knowledge and sharers of ideas and information. Our scope and methods are as diverse as the people we serve. We provide free or low-cost access and training in most aspects of computer-related technology. The staff, mostly volunteers, have extensive backgrounds in computer technology and their applications.“
This has developed further with:
AS-220 – an artist-run making space in Providence, RI, comprising several buildings downtown near the convention center. Includes Fablab, printing facilities, performances, meetings, art exhibits, food, classes.
FabLab DC: fablabdc.org
The United States Fab Lab Network:
Currently, one Massachusetts State University is part of the network:
Quinsigamond Community College: http://www.qcc.edu
UMass Dartmouth is developing these facilities in the sculpture department in New Bedford.
The Fab Foundation (helps with grants, organizing, etc.):
Another model is the shared studio. There have been various instances of these in Boston, notably DoWhile Studios created by Jennifer Hall around 1990 which provided artists access to expensive hardware and software for 3-D animation, and Boston Film & Video Foundation, which provided access to video cameras, studio and editing equipment from the days when access to that equipment was very expensive.
Artisan’s Asylum in Cambridge is a current instance of this model. They offer classes and access to various sorts of equipment as well as studio space. Four week classes typically cost around $120. Their facilities include all of the typical FabLab machines as well as others.