Have a Holly Jolly Christmas in a Fab Lab Near You!

A number of years ago Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms launched the first “Fab Lab” or fabrication laboratory. A worldwide network of “Fab Labs are connected with each other and the MIT Center by having a defined set of tools and equipment, shared resources for training, managing, organizing, and projects. Envisioned as a place to seed and expand product-based, small businesses across the U.S., Fab Labs began to grow in numbers across the country in libraries, community organizations, museums, and educational institutions.
Typically, a Fab Lab has a large (4'x8') numerically-controlled milling machine, a precision (micron
resolution) milling machine, modeling software with stations for product design, a 3D printer, laser etcher, a computer controlled laser cutter, and a sign cutter. Many have added additional (optional) tools. A generic business model suggests charging a user fee for use of the lab and its equipment, that there is a full time lab tech/manager, and offer a number of services to the community of users (some for pay, others for free). They attract the independent inventor, craft makers, educators, students and the curious. Furthermore, the very “21st century, digitally-connected community” relies on modern social media tools and the individuals in the connected network to keep it going.   

Many anticipated that Fab Labs would be one vehicle to help pull us out of the recession, invigorate STEM learning in schools, catalyze innovation, and seed the personal digital fabrication movement. I am not sure if anyone knows yet what contribution Fab Labs individually, or collectively have made to any, or all of these. They have spawned other more grassroots “maker movements” in communities across the country. Typically these organizations support various community events to share technology-supported “crafts” and homemade products.  At maker events, everyone who wants to share, teach, sell, or learn gathers at the maker events for a small fee.  Certainly, these organizations provide similar opportunities to network. 

You can learn about Fab Labs, in a couple of upcoming events. On Dec 13, 2013 at 1 p.m. EST, MATEC, the Maricopa Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence, will host a free webinar “Collab and Fab” sponsored by the Digital Fabrication Learning Community (www.dflc.org). The webinar’s theme highlights the collaborative nature of the Fab Lab network for product design and prototyping. This digital collaboration approach is already an industry standard for companies that have engineering, design and production facilities around the globe. You can register for the webinar at www.matecnetworks.org, or directly here.  

Locally in Florida, from January 8-10, 2014, FLATE and Collaborative Center for Emerging Technologies
(CCET) at St. Petersburg College together with the DFLC are hosting a workshop that will delve into product design and prototyping with a hands-on approach. Community college educators from around the county will be gathering at the CCET at SPC’s Clearwater campus to engage not only in the technologies, but also in their place in community college technical programs like our Engineering Technology A.S. Degree, Electronics Engineering Technology, Drafting and Design, etc. If you live and work in Florida, you can find out more and register by contacting me at barger@fl-ate.org. If you do not live in Florida you can contact Jim Jannise at janisse@fvtc.edu.  

We wrap-up our last edition of the 2013 newsletter with many exciting stories that highlight our curriculum, professional development and outreach initiatives. Continuing our line-up of reports on engaging women in STEM we underline key themes that emerged from the recruiting girls in STEM workshop. Given the surge in demand for skilled machinists we step aside to define the nuts & bolts of machining education in Florida. Venturing out west, we take you to Nevada where a nascent NSF project is working on cultivating problem-based learning. Last but not the least, as you wind down for the holidays check your answer to last month’s sTEm puzzle, and don’t forget to sign up for the 2014 FESC Community College Workshop coming up in January.

I am sending warmest wishes for a safe holiday to all of our FLATE stakeholders, partners, families and friends from the FLATE staff and working team. Have a holly, jolly Christmas and a very happy new year ahead!

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