Fab Lab comes to the UK

The UK now has its first Fab Lab, a kind of open access high-tech workshop where anyone can design and build stuff using advanced manufacturing technology.

This week’s official launch of Fab Lab Manchester, backed by The Manufacturing Institute and local benefactors, was the UK belatedly joining a world-wide network which has seen an eight-year-old Ghanaian girl build her own surface-mount circuits, Norwegian shepherds design GPS trackers for sheep, and Afghans redesign low-cost antennae for wireless broadband networks.

The Manchester Fab Lab - or fabrication laboratory - is based on a template developed as an outreach project by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and houses some $50,000-worth of digital and manufacturing technology. It includes waxing, chemical moulding, milling and routing, laser-cutting, electronics, textiles, embroidery, vinyl cutting and 3D scanning and printing facilities.

The idea is that is it can be used by anyone - by schools to educate and enthuse youngsters, by small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop prototypes, and by individuals simply to make stuff that they cannot buy in the shops, for example. It is free to non-commercial users, while businesses and inventors can protect their ideas by paying to use the service.

The Manufacturing Institute intends the Manchester Fab Lab to be the first of many for the UK, and has set up the UK Fab Lab Foundation to provide advice, guidance and support to groups wishing to bring a Fab Lab to their area.

“We see a huge potential in supply chain collaboration through Fab Lab,” said Julie Madigan, Manufacturing Institute chief executive.

“We find a very very broad interest, these are inventive people - it’s a school for invention,” added MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld, who is the Fab Lab movement’s guru. “Users do projects, there are no engineers as such in the lab.”

Look out for more on Fab Lab and other “personal fabrication” projects in an upcoming issue of E&T magazine.

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