After France and its Fablab Festival, of which she was the sponsor, the “mom of fablabs” and director of the Fab Foundation is in Brazil to prepare FAB12. Interview.
São Paulo, from our correspondant
Sherry Lassiter is the director of the Fab Foundation, organization born within the MIT that federates fablabs throughout the world. Following her invitation to the Fablab Festival in Toulouse in May, passing through Brazil to prepare the next FAB12 the international fablab conference in China, we asked her a few questions.
At the Fablab festival in Toulouse a national association of fablabs was born. What do you think about it?
We have for some time been hearing about the network of French fablabs. It’s exciting to see that it has become operational and is gathering to address the demands of industries, governments and the educational system.
The creation of this network is very stimulating although I am a little preoccupied by the associative model. Associations have a top down structure unlike fablabs that are “bottom-up” organizations. My advice for the network of French fablabs: it’s wonderful but don’t forget to listen to your community.
The creation of the association will maybe ensure consistency for the network that will be able to address the international community because today, we really miss French fablabs. We truly wish they would join in with the international network because we hear that some labs are companies, that some are not really fablabs or don’t really share the spirit and we would like this to be clarified. In Toulouse, I met numerous labs that truly have the fablab spirit and we really want to work with them.
More and more companies are being equipped with labs close to the fablab concept. What’s your opinion?
We are anti-authoritarian and we avoid or resist companies. Companies are also a part of the new world we evolve in. The free, open source, open projects, the community of open design make us rethink intellectual property rights. Company structures are becoming more and more distributed and less centralized. To adapt, they must reinvent themselves. They are looking to find new and future successes, the innovative models that function. And fablabs are one of the approaches. Companies come in search of fablab communities to help them reinvent themselves. Obviously, some will only want to use the fablab name and brand without offering anything in return, but many companies are truly looking to change.
“Our community is responsible for its own economic longevity but not just that. Companies are also a part of our world, we must help them to evolve.”
Saint-Gobain decided to set up a fablab in the middle of one of its factories. This space is open so that their employees can practice DIY, learn to fix problems, develop critical thinking and, ultimately, work better. Eventually, the fablab will be open to external communities. Airbus, Renault are setting up innovation centers within their companies for the same reasons. Will this model function? We have no idea, but this development is interesting…
Barclays bank is also thinking about developing fablabs. With the “digital eagles”, they are organizing workshops to teach digital technology and programming to seniors and children. They want to set up fablabs in some of their branches. This type of project could allow them to create economic opportunities for everyone.
We are in the 21st century and we can no longer treat economic development like we did in the 20th century. We must help them succeed in this transformation. It isn’t as simple as thinking there are good guys and the bad guys. Furthermore, we need their help, until today, we are clearly not businessmen…
Has the Fab Foundation signed an agreement with Saint-Gobain?
This is one of the success stories of the strength of the network. It all comes from an initiative from Alex Schaub of the Waag Society and his Fablab Amsterdam.The Fab Foundation is not involved. Throughout the world, members of the network are capable of bringing answers to demands. We are becoming bigger and bigger and we are capable of addressing requests worldwide. Sometimes, The Fab Foundation helps to build fablabs in other countries, but members of the network directly take responsibility for many requests. No one can develop and grow as fast, only the network is capable of it.
The FAB12, which will take place in China next August, will address the concept of fablab 2.0. Can you tell us more about his?
Fablabs 2.0 are the new generation of fablabs. Somehow, it means that we have grown, that we have become professional and that we have a significant impact on the world. The fablab 2.0, in its physical form, is the new level of the “powers of ten”, the idea according to which in the very beginning, one needed 1 million dollars to equip a fablab, then 100,000, and today 10,000. Can we go down to 1,000 dollars? Part of us want to prove that we can reach this sum and want to prove it during FAB12 in Shenzhen.
When Nadya Peek talks about the modular machines of the MTM project, it isn’t only the concept of fablab 2.0. Today, an inventor, an engineer, a designer can make a prototype. Unfortunately, afterwards, they are confronted with access to production means, industry processes, which entails for them to rethink, redefine and remodel their prototype to make it compatible with industrial constraints. For Nadya, we are capable of liberating ourselves from this constraint.
“We can create prototypes robust enough to do exactly what we like. This idea may seem a little esoteric, but it is very disruptive: we are back in power over manufacturing tools, which leads to numerous questions about the future of manufacturing.”
Machines have become so cheap that they can be accessible nearly worldwide. We are approaching a “handmade industry” distributed and particularly supported by repeatability, reliability and Internet. We still haven’t solved the problem of quality control, but when that will be the case, it could disrupt the world of manufacturing and design as we know it.
We are going to Shenzhen for several reasons. Nowadays, a designer, an entrepreneur does not really have a choice. They either build their local manufacturing factory or they go to Shenzhen. It is more interesting to go to Shenzhen in pure financial terms, but if you include the environmental cost, logistics, transport, it isn’t really cheaper and moreover, not tenable.
Shenzhen is the center of the world of manufacturing. However, even they could be shaken up by distributed manufacturing. FAB12 is looking to the future in terms of manufacturing, and to learn from this Chinese ecosystem. In Shenzhen, they are capable of manufacturing products in a way that is extremely fast and very cheap. Take for example associations of local companies specialized in copying. Designers, engineers sit down together around a table once a week or a month and tell themselves: “What shall we copy and manufacture next?” Within six weeks, the product is designed, manufactured and put to their market in tens of thousands of copies, sometimes more. No other country is capable of achieving this prowess. We have a lot to learn on the flexible manufacturing in this part of the world.