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The UK’s first Fab Lab has opened in Manchester’s landmark Chips Building – bringing innovation to the people - in a hi-tech community mini-factory.
Fab Labs give everyone, from young children through to entrepreneurs and businesses, the capability to bring their ideas and inventions to life.
BatThe first UK ‘Fab Labbers’ have already made a ‘Sky Baby’ folding travel carry cot; a ‘Crackit Bat’ ultra-light beach cricket bat and model wind turbines. A group of young carers from the Manchester Young Inventors group are also working towards creations that will help make their caring duties easier, including: a baby's bottle with an inbuilt colour changing temperature gauge; a multi-purpose DIY tool; and a toothbrush with an inbuilt MP3 player.
Born from an outreach project by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in inner-city Boston, Fab Labs have exploded around the world. From urban areas, to the villages of Africa, they are connected by a global video link network, enabling ideas, designs and knowledge to be shared across cultures and borders.
The Manufacturing Institute intends its Manchester Fab Lab in the East Manchester regeneration area to be the first of many for the UK.
The Project is being supported by the Manchester Innovation Investment Fund, comprising: The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA), Manchester City Council, Manchester: Knowledge Capital, and the Commission for the New Economy.
Julie Madigan, Chief Executive of the Manufacturing Institute, said: “Fab Labs bring together the opportunities and skills to liberate the innovations of individuals, communities and small businesses. This is a groundbreaking opportunity to broaden our innovation base and increase crucial invention skills. It’s a proven grass roots approach that will directly benefit the economy and different parts of the community.
“The fast pace of innovation means control over design and creation of products is more important than ever. At a time when a reported one in seven manufacturers are bringing production back to the UK because of environment, cost and quality issues, local boutique manufacturing is the next generation.”
Fab Lab founder Professor Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, said: “Fab Labs give people the tools they need to create technology, to be creative and make the stuff that they can’t buy in the shops. Manchester led the first industrial revolution and now it is at the centre of a new industrial revolution where anyone can make anything, anywhere using digital manufacturing.”
Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said: "Manchester has a proud history of innovation and Fab Lab will be another first, as well as another ingredient in the regeneration of east Manchester. This imaginative project has the power to inspire invention and innovation - bringing together young and old, businesses and individuals, to empower them to create their own products."
Shepherds in Norway have used their Fab Lab to create mobile phones to track sheep. In Afghanistan ‘Fab Labbers’ are creating a local telecoms infrastructure and prosthetic limbs, while in South Africa a government and business backed project is creating simple internet connected computers that hook up to televisions and cost just ten dollars each.
The Manchester Fab Lab is free to non-commercial users. Businesses and inventors can opt to protect their product development ideas by paying to use the service. It will reverse the top down approach to technological advancement by empowering everyone to invent.
The centre is managed by mechanical engineer Chrissy Phipps. Complete novices can use the centre and receive help in developing their own ideas, or in building some of the products made at other Fab Labs using ready-made instructions.
‘Fab Labbers’ can use advanced digital and manufacturing technology to make products out of wood, acrylic, composite moulds, silicon, cardboard, sheet aluminium, plastics, copper foil and vinyl. There are waxing, chemical moulding, milling and routing, laser cutting, electronics, textiles, embroidery, vinyl cutting and 3D scanning and printing facilities.
It will have a direct connection via the internet and real time video to the worldwide Fab Lab network, so that users can keep in touch, problem solve and brainstorm ideas with others as far afield as Pretoria, Ghana and Afghanistan.
1. Crackit bat‘Crackit Bat’
Warrington Wolves Rugby League player and Australian International Matt King hit upon the idea for his ‘Crackit Bat’ while playing beach cricket in his native Australia. It’s a cross between a tennis racket and cricket bat and light enough for both children and adults to use. He has worked with the Fab Lab team to prototype the product, which has been made initially in wood, but will ultimately be prototyped using ultra light composite materials.
2. Sky Baby’ Carry Cot
Rachel and Nico Arvanitis, of Liverpool conceived the idea for their ‘Sky Baby’ folding carry cot during a nightmare flight to Greece with their young baby. They have been working with Manchester Business School Incubator, who put them into contact with Fab Lab. Together with the Fab Lab team they have worked through designs and prototyped a Sky Baby that weighs 1.3kg, a quarter of a standard travel cot, and meets British Safety standards. It packs away into a small bag then unfolds to carry the baby safely on the carers’ knee during flight.
3. Young Inventors Group - three young carers
Melissa CurdMelissa, age 14, Manchester Young Inventors Group
Since she was eight, Melissa has helped to look after her younger brother, who is autistic. She is developing a multi-purpose DIY tool, encompassing a number of different uses around the home. Her inspiration came from watching her Dad climb up and down a ladder to retrieve the right tools for the job and her desire to make DIY easier. Melissa is a member of the Young & Unique Panel Group, she hosts a young carers radio show on All FM, called the Hour of Girl Power, attends the young carers book group and sits on the national Children & Young People’s Board. She is also a member of the Young & Unique Panel Group, which is the collective voice of young carers at a strategic level, involved with consultation and discussion with statutory bodies within the local council and other voluntary organisations
Milk BottleMunasha, age 13, Manchester Young Inventors Group
Munasha has invented a baby’s milk bottle with an inbuilt correct temperature gauge which is shown by changing colour. He started his caring role when he was seven, and looks after both his mum, who has physical difficulties, and his younger sister, who has learning difficulties. Munasha is a member of the Young & Unique Panel Group
Tayyeb, age 11, Manchester Young Inventors Group
Tayyeb has invented a toothbrush with an inbuilt MP3 player. He Toothbrushis also looking at an alternative version with pressure sensitive bristles - aimed at the travel market and small children market. He thinks that he will clean his teeth more thoroughly if he can listen to music at the same time and believes that this will appeal to teenagers. He has been helping to look after his younger brother, who has a genetic physical problem, since he was four. Tayyeb is also a member of the Young & Unique Panel Group.
4. Wind Turbine – school project
Manchester Creative and Media Academy, in Moston, North Manchester, is working to create an eco-sculpture that will harness renewable energy to make it move. The first phase involved using the Fab Lab to design and build a weather-proof wind turbine. Fifteen students from the all-girls school competed to develop prototypes and the winning design has been built into a fully-working model by the Fab Lab team.