Peru is the first and only country in Latin America, except Chili in 2017, to have hosted FAB7, the international fablab conference, in 2011. Has this event created a dynamic specific to the emergence of labs? Makery went to meet them in Lima.
Lima, from our correspondent
The tale of fablabs and makerspaces in Lima began in 2009 when two students, Benito Juarez and Víctor Freundt were invited to attend the Fab Academy program in Barcelona with support from the Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) and the Spanish agency of international cooperation for development (AECID). Both institutes not only financed the students’ training but also the creation of the first fablab in Latin America and the arrival of the Fab7 festival in 2011 in Lima.
Delia Barriga, head of the association Fab Lab Peru and member of the team that set up the first fablab, remembers: “In 2009, we had nothing, no photos, no videos to show people what a fablab could be. The people we met to find a place and set up the project told us this type of thing did not exist! The National Engineering University (UNI) finally offered us a 400 square meter area used as storage space for documents since the 1960s.”
The UNI fablab still functions, even though some of the founders like Delia no longer take part. The testimonials gathered in fablabs and makerspaces of the Peruvian capital are consistent: the organization of Fab7 put the spotlight on these new practices and launched the movement in Peru.
Benito Juarez reminds us that the organization of this event was an enormous challenge for the on-site team: “In the space of one and a half years, we got back from Barcelona, created the first fablab and organized Fab7 when we were true beginners!”
The Supernode of Latin America
The filiation of MIT is still very much present. Lima is the Supernode, in fablab jargon, the instruction center of the Latin America Fab Academy, with four places offering people to take the course in 2016. Twenty odd students will follow the training in 2016. Fablabs are in fact the most present fabrication workshops in Lima with six fablabs for one makerspace.
But the link does not end here. This year, Lima is prototyping the course How to grow almost anything, obviously referring to the MIT training How to make (almost) anything. Like the Fab Academy, the course offers students a training in synthetic biology to meet the challenges of tomorrow and potentially produce materials that will be used in fablabs. Seven students are taking this course in 2015, including Ilaria la Manna from the Buenos Aires fablab in Argentina.
“I follow the curriculum for 6 months in Peru to then develop this activity in the Buenos Aires fablab. This is really high level, we read a lot of research papers and documents. There is a whole culture to learn as well as the practical side of things.”
Ilaria la Manna, training in synthetic biology in Lima
There is no biolab to this day yet in Lima, but partnerships with several research institutes and laboratories allow students to practice. Like the Fab Academy, each student will end his/her training with a personal project. Ilaria chose to work on a synthetic silk prototype. Luis Flores is working on bio-sensors: “My final project is a luminescent bacterium that will change color when it is in contact with arsenic. This is a problem in Lima where the water is often contaminated.”
Fab Lat, for the whole of Latin America
The activity of fablabs in Lima is multifaceted and is not limited to the Peruvian territory. The association Fab Lab Peru is the instigator of the Fab Lat network, the transnational project of which, Emosilla, dedicated to children and managed by Ilaria la Manna, won the prize of the best project of the fablab network during the Fab11 conference in Boston this year.
The Fab Lat network is very dynamic. A Skype meeting is organized every Friday to talk about the ongoing projects. The association gathers “historicals” in temporary premises: after the UNI fablab, they created a fablab in the Lima Metropolitan museum, the MET fablab, under refurbishment today, and want to create a FabCafe.
In Lima, the largest proportion of fablabs are university fablabs. The Fablab Esan, open in 2014, is located in a wealthy business school. Like what we saw in Brazil, the school is diversifying by opening several engineering courses. According to Isaac Robles, fabmanager, the investment in the fablab needs to address two issues: “Develop open innovation and collaborative work. The lab is not just for engineers, we also have students from the business and law courses.”
Still being run in, the fablab needs to prove its efficiency: “We carried out a public presentation of the projects developed. Several impressed managers came to see us at the end to tell us they had the mistaken impression that we were tinkering and making toys in the lab…” Isaac is not the only fabmanager, he is supported by several students.
Even though the engineering course is mostly a men’s favorite, out of the eight grants offered by the university to students wishing to invest their time in the fablab, six were awarded to young women.
“Today we have today more diligent women users who come back and develop projects throughout.”
Isaac Robles, fabmanager of the Esan fablab
During our visit, workers were busy in an adjoining room installing an indoor greenhouse. Isaac wishes to start working on issues similar to the course How to grow almost anything. “We have already developed several open source incubators and we would like to increase our skills on this subject. In 2016, we hope to have 10 students to assist us for the Fab Academy.”
The TecSup Fab Lab, also a university fablab, is set up in a school training technicians in the mining trade sector, one of the drivers of the Peruvian economy. Roberto Delgado, former electronics teacher from the school, is today full-time fabmanager. “Our headteacher went to Fab7 and came back convinced of the interest of fablabs as education spaces, particularly with regards to interdisciplinarity and collaboration.”
A mogul of the mining industry as patron
Even though it is not reserved for students only, few external users come to the fablab, students being plentiful on this site. This year, 140 students went through the fabalab to carry out projects in groups of 3 people. Eventually, the school would like all the students enrolled to go through the fablab to carry out educational projects.
“Before the fablab opened, students were not trained on 3D modelling software, nor on prototyping, skills that are in very high demand nowadays”, explains Roberto Delgado. The school and the fablab are both non lucrative establishments funded by one of the moguls of the mining industry, the Hochschild group.
In addition to TecSup, the group is also the creator of the engineering school UTEC that will also benefit from a fablab under creation. Finally, to complete the picture within the university, a pro fablab, open to students but focused on innovation and product creation, under the supervision of the “historic” Víctor Freundt, has just opened: the UTEC Garage is a space with more machines and more possibilities than a traditional fablab.
In the middle of all the fablabs of the city, a new space allows makers to meet. The Lima Makers makerspace has recently taken up residence in new premises in a town house turned into a collaborative workshop. Toshiro Tabuchi and Ricardo Torres, two of the three creators we met, already worked together with their respective companies on projects combining digital fabrication and arts and crafts.
According to Ricardo, the creation of the place is not fortuitous: “We work together, the three of us are makers and we share the passion of doing things. Each one of us had our own machines as part of our activities, we decided to pool and share them.” For the opening of the place, the creators hesitated between fablab and makerspace. For Ricardo, “analog tools and machines are every bit as important. Sometimes in fablabs, CNC will be used to cut out a square from a piece of wood whereas with a band saw it takes up much less time and you don’t waste material.”
To explain their open door policy, Toshiro and Ricardo smile as they say: “We visited several spaces in Europe, particularly in Germany, that are often very open, but here, we are in Peru, trust is limited. During our first partial opening, a laptop and a drill disappeared.” An evening is therefore dedicated to visit the place, but in order to participate, you need to register and become a member.
Under MIT influence
The organization of Fab7 in 2011 without doubt shaped the scene of digital fabrication in Lima. The number of fablabs in activity or under construction (6 new spaces supported by the same mining group should emerge in the course of 2016) heavily relies on the Fab Academy. All the fabmanagers and the interns we met followed its training. It is also the case for Toshiro who, in addition to his activity at Lima Makers, is a trainer at TecSup.
The mark of MIT is visible. According to a large number of the people we talked to, the educational model by doing, experimenting, prototyping taught in fablabs must be a part of the definition of education in the 21st century.