CAD, CAM, & BIM
Aug 7 2019
In engineering today, there’s a lot of pressure on schools to give students hands-on, real-world experience. Outside of internships and apprenticeships, it’s difficult to simulate the work environment in a classroom lecture. However, with the rising popularity of Fab Labs, schools and communities are making it easier than ever to give students hands-on engineering experiences in a fun, unique learning environment.
The term “Fab Lab” is short for Fabrication Laboratory, or a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, routers, and more. Created by MIT’s Center Bits and Atoms (CBA), Fab Labs are designed as a “platform for learning and innovation: a place to play, to create, to learn, to mentor, to invent,” according to the Fab Lab Foundation.
While the concept of a Fab Lab began at MIT, the Fab Lab network now expands across the country and around the world. Many Fab Labs are housed at postsecondary schools, high schools, and centers open to the larger community. These unique spaces give students, faculty, and community members the opportunity to get hands-on experience making objects, testing them, and iterating on them.
For most students, the best learning experiences are those where you’re too busy having fun to realize that you’re acquiring valuable skills. That ultimately sums up the benefits of a Fab Lab! It makes learning about manufacturing and digital fabrication fun, encouraging students, faculty, and community members to enjoy the process.
In fact, when Jason Roth and Jamie Hamilton created a Fab Lab at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, they noticed students started coming in between classes to work on projects and they voluntarily stayed after class!
Here are just a few of the many reasons to love Fab Labs:
Of course, there are dozens of side benefits to your Fab Lab, including increasing the notoriety of your school program, offering digital fabrication services to the local community, and aligning with a world-wide movement.
And the benefits of Fab Labs don’t end at the postsecondary level. Many K-12 schools have adopted this unique digital fabrication setup and reaped the rewards, as you can see in this article from The 74.
MIT has put together tons of materials to help schools and communities create their first Fab Lab, and that includes providing supply lists. While the intention is for every Fab Lab to have the same tools and processes, fledgling Fab Labs might not have the upfront funding to purchase all of the materials right away. Start with what you can and work your way down the list. Just remember to account for additional machinery and materials when you’re planning out your space.
Here’s a general idea of the types of equipment necessary in a Fab Lab. For an itemized list, refer to MIT’s inventory.
The Fab Lab Foundation estimates that if you follow the MIT list of inventory, you should expect to spend about $25,000 – $65,000 in capital equipment and about $15,000 – $40,000 in consumables.
No money, no problem — kind of! If you don’t have a straightforward source of funding to get your Fab Lab off the ground, there are ways to secure external funding resources. Here are a few creative options to help you finance your new setup:
Now that you have an understanding of the benefits of a Fab Lab and what it typically includes, it’s time to start creating yours! We worked with the following experts to write a comprehensive guide for building your first Fab Lab:
Want to learn even more about creating your own Fab Lab? Download our free e-guide “Build a Successful Fab Lab in 5 Easy Steps” to discover exactly what you need to do to create a fun, innovative space students want to use!
SolidProfessor is here to help you with all your Fab Lab needs, including:
If you’re interested in building a Fab Lab of your own — or you’re just curious how it works — we’ve created this guide for you. Here, we explain each of the five steps in detail, plus we include extra tips, tricks, and advice.
About the Author
SolidProfessor academic content writer and amateur hula hooper