Supporting the maker community: Fablab Amsterdam

16th December 2016

The world’s first fab lab (“fabrication laboratory”) was set up in the US in 2001. Since then, it has grown into a global network of more than 700 small-scale workshops equipped with digital tools like 3D printers, milling machines, and vinyl and laser cutting.

One of the first in Europe was Fablab Amsterdam, which was originally set up in 2007 and became part of the Waag Society the following year. We spoke to Fablab Amsterdam’s Pieter van Boheemen about its development over the past few years.

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A place to learn and to play

Fablab Amsterdam provides equipment, space and programmes for people to learn, play, educate, mentor, teach, discover and make. Every Saturday at the Fablab is “Open Day”, when members of the general public can come for a small fee to use the equipment, learn from others and participate in structured programmes.

Originally, the Open Days were held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they were moved to Saturdays, Pieter says,so that people who otherwise would be at work, college or school could easily have access to the Fablab. The Open Days are hugely successful, with many machines often fully booked.  

Fablab Amsterdam especially encourages projects which have a social purpose: past projects include an open-source Low Cost Prosthesis, environmental sensing kits and a DIY microscope.

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Learning from and sharing with others

As part of the global Fab Lab network, Fablab Amsterdam and its users are able to share their work and learnings with a worldwide community, and they are also able to learn in turn from what’s going on around the world.

In partnership with Vienna-based HappyLab, the team developed a platform at openthings.wiki, where projects are encouraged to profile their work, in line with the open-source approach of the fablab and maker movements. As an incentive to share, those who profile their work on the platform receive a 50% discount on the small access fee to Fablab Amsterdam.

People can also take part in the Fab Academy, which offers online courses in technical education around the world every year between January and June. On this course, they learn not just how to use digital fabrication tools but also about electronics design, programming, moulding and casting.

Other programmes developed by Fablab Amsterdam include the BioHack Academy, which uses biology as a design principle to teach people how to produce things like fuel, food, filaments, pharmaceuticals, fragrances, fungi and much more at home using open-source hardware, and the Open Design Lab, which makes making and design transparent and open for artists, designers, entrepreneurs and citizens. Fablab Amsterdam also runs a “teach-the-teacher” programme, to equip educators with the skills they need to in turn teach their pupils in schools about new technologies.

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Growing beyond the Fablab Amsterdam

The Waag Society has also founded the TextileLab, which brings together creatives interested in experimenting with craftsmanship, technology and digital fabrication for the textile industry.

The TextileLab aims to allow people to develop their own projects within the city and create a more sustainable local economy, while also boosting the European textile industry, and is part of the the European-funded Textile and Clothing Business Labs (TCBL) project.

TCBL is investigating how future Internet technology can improve supply chains, how existing craft skills can be maintained and renewed for the digital age, and how a DIY culture can be developed in the textile industry.

The TextileLab runs the Textile Academy, which focuses on open-source technologies so that tools and methods can be replicated in other textile labs around the world. It explores how how digital fabrication combined with old craftsmanship and heritage in the field of textile and clothing can influence traditional work processes. Academy students (along with experts, designers and researchers) are exploring new ways of producing, designing and making as they push the boundaries of the textile and fashion industry.

The TextileLab also works to engage the Amsterdam public through weekly open evenings, where people can explore possibilities together and connect with the TextileLab Academy students. Machines and tools are available for everyone to experiment and develop projects with. Once a month, the Textile Dialogues evening takes place focusing on TCBL-related themes from bio-materials to human-technology relations, open source, ethics, and sharing knowledge in the field of fashion and textiles.

Beyond this, Fablab Amsterdam is also working with the Municipality of Amsterdam to support the opening of fab labs in libraries across the city, with five new fab labs due to open by mid-2017. “Libraries in Amsterdam are looking for a way to innovate,” Pieter says. “The Central Library, for example, used to have a floor for CDs and videos. That’s all been replaced by Netflix and Youtube today, so the fab lab is a great solution. It also means we can reach a wider audience, people in other neighbourhoods who have a different background to our usual visitors.”

The Mayor of Amsterdam is also a signatory of the Fab City pledge, which seeks to create sustainable models for production and manufacturing, and Amsterdam Fablab hopes to be instrumental in making Amsterdam a self-sufficient city.

 

Images Creative Commons / Waag Society, Eddo Hartmann 

 

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