Fab Lab in Sarasota Serves as an Innovation Incubator of the Future

Say you are a bicyclist who needs a console to mount a GPS to your bike’s handlebars, but don’t have the money, or equipment to produce a prototype of your invention. If you are innovative by nature, want to experiment transforming your ideas into making a product, a Fab Lab may be your Mecca. A Fab Lab or Fabrication Laboratory is a place where ideas come to life.

“If you think it, we can create it here in the Fab Lab” says Eric McGrath, foreman at the Faulhaber Fab Lab at the GWIZ Science Museum in Sarasota. The museum’s mission is to serve as a “gateway for lifelong adventures in science,” and was founded in 1990. The Fab Lab at the GWIZ museum came into being through the generous donations of Dr. Fritz Faulhaber who through the Faulhaber Family Foundation donated $400,000 to GWIZ to launch the project. It is a champion of science education not only in Sarasota County, but the entire state of Florida. What defines the fab lab is “personal manufacturing.” It is “custom creation” at its best. Its main purpose is to make one of a kind product rather than mass manufactured products.

Although work in the fab lab entails using computers and computer-guided machinery, McGrath says the end result is a physical product, not merely a digital construction that ceases to exist when the lights are out. Given its mission to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) literacy through cross-disciplinary collaboration and innovation, the Faulhaber Fab Lab gives community members access to high-tech tools and materials as well as several high grade, industrial design and production equipment with simple design interface. The lab is equipped with CNC machines, manual metal cutting lathes, vinyl cutter, embroidery machines, CNC routers, soldering stations, and plasma cutters that enable users of all ages to make a number of products that range from plaques, puzzles, 3D portraits, gaskets, camera adaptors, or anything else they can think of.

The lab is truly a community-based initiative. Since opening its doors to the public in Spring 2011, staff have helped, trained, mentored and supported students, teachers, as well as members from the community fine tune individual inventions using the latest cutting edge technology. McGrath describes the Fab Lab as “a space where people from all kinds of backgrounds can collaborate, create and brainstorm.” It is like a workshop, or a garage of the future that heavily promotes digital fabrication, and a place where “the practical applications of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and craftsmanship come into play.” Through it all, McGrath hopes to foster innovation, art, learning, craftsmanship, and the thrill of creating something from scratch, all the while promoting the understanding of STEM.

For information on the Fab Lab at the Sarasota based GWIZ Science Museum contact Eric McGrath at ericm@gwiz.org, or visit www.gwiz.org. For information on FLATE’s STEM initiatives visit www.fl-ate.org and www.madeinflorida.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org.