A young enthusiast is thrilled with a skull printed in a FabLab in New York City. A FabLab will soon be built in Brunswick. Photo by Anna Kaziunas France.by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — Brunswick will soon be the location of a cutting-edge laboratory known as a Fab Lab, an open-source laboratory that will be fully accessible by the public.
The Maine FabLab project aims to create a “fabrication lab” allowing its users to create “almost anything,” and stems from the ideas of Neil Gershenfeld, a professor at MIT. The project itself is intended to “provide widespread access to modern means for invention,” according to the MIT website devoted to the subject.
“It’s a place where anyone can make almost anything, and that’s the concept,” said Sarah Boisvert, the founder of the Maine FabLab.
Each lab is intended to share “core capabilities,” including a computer-controlled laser cutter, a numerically controlled milling machine, and other advanced fabrication devices designed to manufacture complex goods at low cost. In addition to this, the latest 3D printing technology will be present, allowing for objects to be printed out.
However, having a 3D printer doesn’t make a place a FabLab, as Boisvert explained.
“There’s so much hype now on 3D printing,” said Boisvert. “Now everybody who has bought a 3D printer has said that they’re a FabLab, and that is not the case. The truth is, 3D printing, like any other tool, is not always the right tool for the job.”
The equipment that the FabLab will contain will allow anyone with an idea for a new invention to make that invention a reality, quickly and inexpensively.
In addition to allowing goods to be manufactured cheaply, the equipment they utilize is designed to be easy to use.
“A FabLab is a great way to foster innovation,” said Boisvert. “Anybody with an idea can go down there and make it. If someone has a better idea for a lobster trap, they can go there and make it.”
The Maine FabLab is planned to be a traditional MIT style FabLab, which follows the guidelines put out by Gershenfeld. The lab itself will be “open source,” which will allow people from across the globe exchange ideas freely with anyone using the lab.
“The members of the FabLab community document and improve each others designs and processes,” said Boisvert.
Perhaps the most essential part of the FabLab is that the equipment will be come with the expertise of people who know the insides and outs of the equipment. Instructors and teachers will be there that can assist anyone in producing their vision.
“The 3D printers are not as easy to use as people make them out to be,” said Boisvert. “Taking a design from software and translating it over to the equipment is usually the most difficult part.”
The FabLab is being paid for in part by a crowdfunding campaign. The rest of the cost is being covered by interested parties who feel that the FabLab will be a positive piece of infrastructure for the city of Brunswick.
Boisvert says she got the idea from seeing other FabLabs in action, and found that they offer valuable tools and knowledge and can help interest kids in math and science.
“I visited one of the FabLabs in Boston, and what struck me, when I spoke to those kids who were probably freshman in college, was that you could see in their eyes how much they loved science and math,” said Boisvert.
Although there is no set date or location yet, according to Boisvert, there has been enough interest in the FabLab that it is certain to be put into place next year, preferably near a school so that it is easier to use for education purposes.
“It’s always interesting to work on projects where there is market pull,” said Boisvert of the project. The rising popularity of 3D printers has driven excitement about the project, which she feels is justified.
“In the case of kids interested in math and science, they’re doing fun things, they’re doing stuff that is just so cool,” said Boisvert. “If they can actually make something, and then all their friends are excited, it’s just so cool.”