Interview with Andreas Feron
Physicist, Engineer, Maker, and Fabmanager
In recent years Fablabs received recognition and attention from a wider audience than before. For a long time, Fablabs were believed to be specialty maker spaces where engineers created highly complex electronic goods. Today we understand that Fablabs are available to anyone interested in creating something new or update an existing idea.
Fablabs incubate ideas, help to nurture knowledge and educate everyone wanting to learn something new. We interviewed Andreas about his experience as a Fabmanager in prestigious institutions such as the Sorbonne and the University of Pierre and Marie Curie. We start from the beginning to help our readers to understand what Fablabs are and how a creator can benefit from joining one.
1. What is a Fablab?
It's a creator's space where everyone is welcome to use the machines to make something. The lab manager is there to centralize the knowledge and the capabilities. Fablabs encourage a versatile community, with a highly standardized environment. Most fablabs around the world use the same equipment. Some are more specified and focused on certain things such as wet labs and have additional biology related technology that requires extra restrictions and regulations.
The essence of a Fablab is information sharing, learning, and community building. At some point what matters is the file and not the product. People come to a Fablab to create and learn something; they have an idea but need help to finalize certain parts, require equipment such as the laser cutter which is the most popular equipment, to make a sample or to test the viability of the idea.
Sometimes the creators struggle with a problem that hinders the finalization of their product and through the Fablab community they receive support and knowledge. By sharing some details of their work, they enable people interested and knowledgeable in the same field to help them.
2. If you share your project details, how can you protect it from being copied?
You should not give away all parts of your projects, but give access to the parts where you need help. Provide others a general idea and not all the details. This way the entire project can be protected from copying. Inventors use the Fablab; they build something while educating others and leave with a product that helps the overall development of an idea.
What Fablabs usually require is that you leave something behind to teach and help others. It can be "just" knowledge and doesn’t have to be the ready-made idea. The project is open-sourced in the labs, but not all parts to protect the whole of the design from being copied or misused.
3. Who can join a Fablab?
Fablab is a new way of approaching science. Many people want to use the machines to see what they can create. There are lots of artists, architects, graphic designers, interior designers, etc. with ideas that need execution, or finalization of individual parts. Unemployed people are experimenting, engineers fed up working only on professional projects and want to have a bit of fun, students testing, and teachers wishing to find new ways to educate their students.
30-50% of the people go to the Fablab knowing precisely what they want, and often they need the high-cost equipment such as the laser cutter to create a product.
3. The most popular equipment is the laser cutter. What exactly is it?
It is an expensive machine that can move in X and Y directions and can work with 2D wood, plastic, and broad types of materials. With the help of a design file, you can create a 3D design cutting up the materials. The most efficient, versatile and fastest way to create a prototype or sample product.
People don’t know much about proto-typing, but after getting trained in how to use the cutter, they can adapt their idea into a product. They come with an idea and leave with an adjusted prototype of their original design. Many artists work by hand, and when one of their ideas contains 10-100 different parts, the laster cutter helps them to produce it faster and more efficiently.
4. What type of products can be created in a Fablab?
- Proof of concept
- Electronic goods
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Medical device (sensors)
- Military objects such as helmets
- The only limitation is biology and chemistry – because it is not only complicated to work with gas and liquids, but it can be dangerous without safety regulations in place.
5. Cost of Fablab:
Joining a Fablab is affordable. 10EUR-100EUR monthly membership enables all-around access to the lab. However, you still have to pay for the materials and the use of certain machines. Due to its overall popularity, the laser cutter is certainly one of those. The average price is 1EUR / minute – and time spent on it is 1-2 hours. When considering the total price paid for a functioning sample, it is still not expensive.
6. These days Fablab events are popular. What happens there?
Those community events create an opportunity to connect, try the machines, mingle with like-minded people and hear about new and exciting projects. Fablabs are there to create a product as well as build relationships that help to go further than just a single product creation.
7. What is the importance of prototypes and samples created in Fablabs?
These prototypes are used to prove a concept and help to find investors or even distributors to a project.
Andreas is an expert in engineering, prototype production and product creation.