Thursday 4 June 2009

Manchester Fab Lab

Tuesday, I went to a very interesting talk by Dr Eddie Kirkby, head of charitable operations for the Manufacturing Institute. He's in charge of setting up a Fab Lab in Manchester, and hopes it will be up and running by the end of this year. I made notes, but can't say I took everything down correctly or completely, but the project does sound really cool.

The Fab Lab idea started at MIT. Very open source ethos influenced. I think the set up is generally enough to go from idea to prototype, but it also seems to be a place to make stuff. Not a factory, but definitely somewhere you could build a one-off piece of, well, whatever you can think of.

The current plan for fitting out a local lab includes:

  • CAD/CAM software

  • lazer cutter

  • lathe

  • moulding and casting facility for stuff made of plastics, silicon, chocolates, etc., but not metal

  • 3D printer and scanner

  • vinyl cutter

  • maybe something for printing curcuits (can't see this in my notes, but I think it was mentioned)

It won't have anything to work hard substances (iron, granite), so if your idea called for something like that, either that component would have to be made elsewhere, or you could do a prototype in available materials, but you wouldn't be able to stress test it.

As I understand it, the fab lab would be free to use with agreement to the fab lab charter. Users need to know how to use the equipment (or learn by sharing knowledge), and document the design and process for other fab lab users (this is a world-wide network- not just Mancunian). If you want to work in secret, you will be able to rent the space (cheap, if Dr Kirkby's estimate proves correct) and work all on your own. Staff time can also be purchased (at the moment 'staff' means a manager and an assistant manager, but volunteers are being sought as well), and they plan to do workshops and team-building events to generate income, and participate in open innovation challenges (no- I didn't understand what that means, but one involved new crisp flavours [what's wrong with salt and vinegar? I say]). I think Dr Kirkby said funding was already in place for 2 years.

The proposed site is currently somewhere on Oldham Road, but this isn't confirmed yet. And the Manchester Fab Lab website isn't up yet either, but the nice eddiek said he'll email a load of us with updates.

I'm excited about it. Even though it is a 'manufacturing initiative' the ethos is weloming to arts/crafts endeavours.

The talk was organized by the Manchester Inventors Group.

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