The UK’s first Fab Lab opened in Manchester’s landmark Chips Building on Tuesday 23 March – bringing innovation to the people – in a hi-tech community mini-factory.
Fab Labs give everyone, from young children through to entrepreneurs and businesses, the capability to bring their ideas and inventions to life.
The first UK ‘Fab Labbers’ have already made a ‘Sky Baby’ folding travel carry cot; a ‘Crackit Bat’ ultra-light beach cricket bat and a model wind turbine. A group of young carers are working towards creations that will help make their caring duties easier, including: a baby’s bottle with an inbuilt colour changing temperature gauge; a multi-purpose DIY tool; and a toothbrush with an inbuilt MP3 player. They were given early access to the Lab to help test out the new equipment prior to opening. See details of case studies, available for interview, at bottom of press release.
Born from an outreach project by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in inner-city Boston, Fab Labs have exploded around the world. From urban areas, to the villages of Africa, they are connected by a global video link network, enabling ideas, designs and knowledge to be shared across cultures and borders.
The Manufacturing Institute intends the Manchester FabLab in the east Manchester regeneration area to be the first of many for the UK. The Project is being supported by the Manchester Innovation Investment Fund, comprising: The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA), Manchester City Council, Manchester: Knowledge Capital, and the Commission for the New Economy.
FabLab founder Professor Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, said: “Fab Labs give people the tools they need to create technology, to be creative and make the stuff that they can’t buy in the shops. Manchester led the first industrial revolution and now it is at the centre of a new industrial revolution where anyone can make anything, anywhere using digital manufacturing.”
Julie Madigan, Chief Executive of the Manufacturing Institute, said: “Fab Labs bring together the opportunities and skills to liberate the innovations of individuals, communities and small businesses. This is a groundbreaking opportunity to broaden our innovation base and increase crucial invention skills. It’s a proven grass roots approach that will directly benefit the economy and different parts of the community.”
Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Manchester has a proud history of innovation and Fab Lab will be another first, as well as another ingredient in the regeneration of east Manchester. This imaginative project has the power to inspire invention and innovation – bringing together young and old, businesses and individuals, to empower them to create their own products.”
Shepherds in Norway have used their Fab Lab to create mobile phones to track sheep. In Afghanistan ‘Fab Labbers’ are creating a local telecoms infrastructure and prosthetic limbs, while in South Africa a government and business backed project is creating simple internet connected computers that hook up to televisions and cost just ten dollars each.
The Manchester Fab Lab is free to non-commercial users. Businesses and inventors can opt to protect their product development ideas by paying to use the service. It will reverse the top down approach to technological advancement by empowering everyone to invent.
The centre is managed by mechanical engineer Chrissy Phipps. Complete novices can use the centre and receive help in developing their own ideas, or in building some of the products made at other Fab Labs using ready-made instructions.
‘Fab Labbers’ can use advanced digital and manufacturing technology to make products out of wood, acrylic, composite moulds, silicon, cardboard, sheet aluminium, plastics, copper foil and vinyl. There are waxing, chemical moulding, milling and routing, laser cutting, electronics, textiles, embroidery, vinyl cutting and 3D scanning and printing facilities.
It will have a direct connection via the internet and real time video to the worldwide Fab Lab network, so that users can keep in touch, problem solve and brainstorm ideas with others as far afield as Pretoria, Ghana and Afghanistan.
Source: The Manufacturing Institute