What is a FabLab?
A FabLab is a high-tech workshop, or “maker space”. FabLabs and the FabLab movement sprung from roots in MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA). FabLabs serve as small-scale workshops that inspire innovation and invention, and encourage entrepreneurship. The FabLab movement has seen rapid expansion in interdisciplinary educational spaces in colleges and public schools as part of enhanced STE(A)M curricula.
FabLabs form local communities which collaborate to learn, empower, educate, and, ultimately, make awesome things. Membership in the global FabLab network brings access to a vast array of shared resources. Technicians, professionals, inventors, educators, students, and hobbyists of all disciplines collaborate to create for local needs, and to develop and deploy solutions to global problems.
What's in a FabLab?
The first FabLab was built around an MIT class called How to make (almost) anything. This ideal is embedded in every FabLab we develop. FabLabs create a modern shop class environment, which includes a variety of low- and high-tech tools and digital fabrication machines: 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, routers, desktop mills, vinyl cutters, 3D scanners, electronics bench, and conventional shop tools.
FabLab machines are typically versatile and can work with a variety of materials (wood, metal, plastics, fabrics, electronic PCB boards, and more). Individuals use FabLabs to produce objects ranging from engraved signs to custom hardware and even pre-fab houses.
wHY FABlABS IN SCHOOLS?
Although originally envisioned for industry and manufacturing, FabLabs are increasingly being built in schools, museums, and public libraries. FabLabs provide key support for STE(A)M education. Students learn by designing and fabricating things themselves. They broaden their skills through interdisciplinary cooperation, the FabLab community atmosphere, and participation in the international FabLab network.
Students gain necessary employment skills, and build interest in STE(A)M careers. By upgrading old shop facilities with state-of-the-art FabLabs, schools attract and engage students eager to create and innovate.
WHAT IS CNC?
CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machines are used to control the movement of tools in manufacturing and product development. Many “high-tech” machines found in a FabLab are controlled using the CNC process, including 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, lathes, mills, and routers.
Modern CNC systems accept designs from common and inexpensive desktop computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software. Designers produce a computer file of the commands necessary to operate a particular machine and direct it to create the specified object.
CNC machines can perform laser cutting, welding, plasma cutting, wire and tubing bending, fabric cutting, sewing, routing, picking and placing (PnP), milling and sawing. Nearly every commercial product you purchase is produced using CNC technologies.
CNC allows for more precision compared to manual machining, and for automated replication of a component once designed. CNC can also produce complex shapes that are impossible with manual machining alone.