Open FabLab or how to implement your idea

FabLab (Fabrication Laboratory) - the concept of creating prototyping laboratories, first proposed by the professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Neil Gershenfeld in 1998. The main theoretical task of FabLab is to increase the speed of prototyping and reduce the time of research and development work through the use of new design, tool and communication solutions. However, in spite of the popularity and availability of this concept, it turned out to be difficult to implement, and in the world, out of many thousands of laboratories, units show their efficiency and relevance. The main obstacle to the development of the FabLab concept was not the lack of high-end equipment, but the lack of an order.

Large companies already have their own prototyping departments with their “school”, i.e. producing similar products (whether they are telephones or cars), over time, a base of ready-made complex solutions is developed that allow the product to be further developed. Therefore, in fact, this segment is closed for fablab. If we take the realization of ideas from beginning inventors, then, as a rule, they do not have the means to implement their ideas and need to be connected sponsor or grant systems, which is not always justified. Although recently Kickstarter announced that it is expanding its scope of activities and will help successful projects in the implementation of their own production. Companies engaged in the development of new, but not able to maintain their own production base, are often afraid to transfer the product prototyping due to the threat of loss of intellectual property.

In Russia, we faced an amazing phenomenon altogether - as part of the program for the development of innovations in large educational institutions, a large number of resource centers were created with unique equipment. Unfortunately, the cost of work in the MIPs created on their basis breaks all records and does not in any way accord with the concept of fablab.

Thus, it turns out that if suddenly a young scientist or just a geek (especially in Russia) decides to create something new, to realize his idea, a vacuum arises around him from the inability to get an objective assessment of his idea (it is an objective, not an authoritative opinion), assistance in the development of the CPD and the final implementation of the project. And if it can somehow be implemented with banal toys, then there is no reason to talk about any high-tech projects.

Can fablab make money as an open, accessible system for implementing private projects?
To answer this question one should understand the basics of its concept.

The fact is that FabLab is always not one thing, but a whole complex of solutions aimed at accelerating the production of a prototype:

1. Network structure

Fablab should be interconnected for the exchange of experience, data, educational programs, outsourcing. This is necessary to expand the specialization of laboratories by connecting specialists from related industries. That will allow each laboratory to expand the range of its services to the maximum.

Of course, this requires a spectacular communication platform that needs to be created (geektimes, for example, is well suited for this role).

2. Generation of technical specifications

One of the most difficult stages of design is the formulation of the problem, which follows from a number of requirements:

- Demand
- Market volume
- The complexity of the product (the number and diversity of parts), etc.
- Performance Indicators
- Knowledge intensity, etc.

Accordingly, any idea must go through the analysis stage in order to obtain an objective assessment and be approved for implementation, and FabLab offers significant acceleration of this stage due to the network structure of the laboratories, as well as the created objective methods for evaluating ideas.

3. End-to-end design

This is a mathematical model that includes the maximum parameters for the effective variability of the result. End-to-end design is carried out by qualified specialists using appropriate software. Unfortunately, this trend has not become widespread in Russia, and even at the most advanced enterprises only a small part of the capabilities of such complexes are used.

4. Postprocesses

This is an adaptation of existing design solutions to the possibilities of production. For this purpose, the design must be end-to-end in order to quickly customize the design to the requirements of production, taking into account the preservation of the main parameters.

Of the four solutions FabLab clearly implies that the key role is played not by the equipment, but by the people. FabLab is first and foremost a team that is capable of solving any problem in interaction, and then software and technological solutions.

Our cosmonautics in its time began with a group of enthusiasts who, using their own hands on primitive machines, created models of rockets (GIRD). These works subsequently formed the basis of rocket science and is still used. And the main thing here is not at all technological equipment, the main thing is the desire of people to create new things, going beyond the usual ideas. Equipment, on the other hand, only reduces task time.

From this we can conclude that for the successful implementation of the solutions proposed in the FabLab concept, the key is not to form teams based on the existing resource base, but to create an instrumental base for the needs of a specific team. The secret to the success of projects lies in the deep study of details, which, in turn, is impossible without a strong team. FabLab is a laboratory factory, first of all it should be a living and developing experimental design bureau, and only then a high-tech factory.

But for the maintenance of any team, especially highly professional, funds are needed, and not small ones. And here we again return to the question of the relevance of fablab and the implementation of the concept in the key of openness.

Market laws related to the protection of intellectual property, the over-buying of specialists, the secrecy of information certainly impede the openness of such community systems. After all, with its development, we can talk about creating an open space of innovations, which will deprive large companies of a monopoly on new high-tech products, since it is extremely difficult to deal with a whole network of engineering centers.

Therefore, in the current period, the concept of open fablab can develop only in the key of public funding and on altruistic principles. But for this it is necessary to begin at least with the creation of a communicative environment, for the implementation and development of projects, their objective discussion. Such an environment could be a good development for the geek community.
Our team, which has implemented more than one project, has repeatedly encountered the urgent need to involve specialist engineers, turners, millers, and designers precisely because of these needs, the idea of ​​creating an open fablab was born.

I would like to hear the opinion of geeks, is such an open laboratory necessary, how and under what conditions should it develop and does it even make sense?


All Articles