A Fab Lab (or fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop for personal digital fabrication, equipped with an array of flexible computer controlled tools and various materials, with the aim to make “almost anything”.
A Fab Lab is a technical prototyping platform for education, innovation and invention.
To be a Fab Lab means connecting to a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers, makers and innovators- -a knowledge sharing network that spans 50 countries and 24 time zones. Because all Fab Labs share common tools and processes, the program is building a global network, a distributed laboratory for research and invention.
Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research. Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines.
Fab Labs include the following machines: a laser cutter that makes 2D and 3D structures, a sign cutter that plots in copper to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution CNC milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, a large wood router for building furniture and housing, and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping.
Originally designed for communities as prototyping platforms for local entrepreneurship, Fab Labs are increasingly being adopted by schools as platforms for project-based, hands-on STEM education.
Users learn by designing and creating objects of personal interest or import. Empowered by the experience of making something themselves, they both learn and mentor each other, gaining deep knowledge about the machines, the materials, the design process, and the engineering that goes into invention and innovation. In educational settings, rather than relying on a fixed curriculum, learning happens in an authentic, engaging, personal context, one in which students go through a cycle of imagination, design, prototyping, reflection, and iteration as they find solutions to challenges or bring their ideas to life.
Fab Lab is the educational outreach component of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), an extension of its research into digital fabrication and computation, and continues to be closely aligned to it.
CBA is charting a research roadmap that traverses the frontier of digital fabrication: from machines in a Fab Lab that makes things to machines that make parts of machines, to machines that self-reproduce, to building with digital materials, to materials that are programmable and can turn themselves into parts. As we progress along that research path, knowledge and best practices are disseminated throughout the Fab Lab network, making it a cutting-edge laboratory for R&D.