PCs, the Internet, and smartphones have had huge impacts on societal networking, in economic opportunities, and in technological advances. 3D printing, laser cutting, and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) are amongst these advances. For the past 15 years, these digital manufacturing tools and their networking modalities have revolutionized industry worldwide and opened-up manufacturing possibilities that once seemed unbelievable.
These opportunities have not been widely recognized in Canada, being too new and not implemented enough to catch on. Canada has yet to realise the enormous potential in innovation of these technologies and the skills needed to master them.
“It is to make people aware of the resources available as well as the new opportunities that can benefit their communities that Fab Labs Nation is being launched today; an adventure involving a cross-Canada, three-month tour by caravan to meet Canadian Fab Labs and other collaborative manufacturing projects,” announced Ms. Monique Chartrand, general manager of Communautique.
This initiative, audacious in its scope, aims to help develop a Canadian inter-structure that is mindful of each region’s specificities. This is concurrent with a rapidly expanding network of over 1200 Fab Labs, spread around 100 cities across the globe, that collaborate via the Fab Foundation, itself a creation of MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms (CBA). Following are excerpts from CBA’s mission statement for Fab Labs :“Fab labs are a global network of local labs, enabling invention by providing access to tools for digital fabrication. Fab labs share an evolving inventory of core capabilities to make (almost) anything, allowing people and projects to be shared. Operational, educational, technical, financial, and logistical assistance beyond what's available within one lab. Fab labs are available as a community resource, offering open access for individuals as well as scheduled access for programs.”
Fab Labs also help start-ups and established companies prototype their products and aid in commercial launches by tapping into shared knowledge, all in order to better innovate. They can guide inventors in business’s agreements and help kick off new business’s models, maybe even new types of business.
Communautique, the open innovation Hub, is dedicated to facilitating learning, training, collaboration, research, and experimentation in social as well as technological innovation. It has assisted the growth of Fab Labs in Quebec for the past 6 years. For over 18 years, the organisation has endeavored to democratise access to technology in view of economic, cultural, and social development. The initiative is backed by partners dedicated to both Communautique and the tour’s success.
Fab Labs and digital manufacturing
Some consider Fab Labs to be a “third industrial revolution.” This type of laboratory/workshop is part of a movement that empowers everyone to innovate, create, produce, distribute, consume, repair, and/or recycle objects for themselves, with others. It is a space that can be called upon as a partnering model between organisations and territories; an open space where high-reaching innovation, communities of students, workers, and various other end users, as well as R&D clients, can come together.
An international community of end users gravitates towards Fab Labs. They are set up as laboratory/workshops in thousands of cities and towns. They hold enormous potential and can be vital for the growth of communities. They have proven their usefulness in a variety of sectors: health, creativity, education, entrepreneurship, etc. Fab Labs form part of the Open Innovation movement and are faithful tools for a Smart City. Moreover, they can showcase knowledge of arts and crafts by using new technologies at the dawn of this new industrial age.