You are on the front wave of a new, international movement in personal fabrication—and therefore you would be considered an “early adopter. The cheapest and fastest method to get a fab lab is to buy  and assemble it yourself. This approach does require that you have some good expertise on hand to help you set up,  install, debug and train. There are a few other ways to get a lab, but they are more expensive and require some contractual transactions.

Here’s the road map:

  • The inventory of hardware and materials that we deploy in a full Fab Lab can be found at: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/about/fab/inv.html . This is the entire list of equipment, tools and consumables for a research grade fab lab.  A fab lab currently comprises from $25-$65k in capital equipment and about $15-40k in consumables. The open source software or freeware we typically use can be found at our Fab Academy class site:  http://academy.cba.mit.edu/classes

  • The Fab Foundation can be your one stop shop when setting up a fab lab, and we have partners all over the world who can help. While we can’t do an over the phone consultation to get you started, we have plenty of resources here online. The Fab Foundation here in the US is designed to be a resource for purchasing and installing fab labs, training managers, sourcing difficult to access fab supplies, general fab lab network support, a portal to advanced technical education, and eventually  an umbrella for matching funders to communities who want a fab lab and meet the network criteria. Let us know your of your interest, your application and your location and we can connect you. <info@fabfoundation.org>

  • MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms is selectively entering into institutional partnerships for fab lab installation, training, and research. These agreements fund the development and deployment of enabling processes and projects. CBA will also continue to informally collaborate on establishing exceptional individual fab lab sites. Its address is <info@cba.mit.edu>.

Outside of formal contractual programs or the network’s Fab Academy program for training there is a growing online body of information which addresses many questions, and a growing archive of tutorials online.  (http://fab.cba.mit.edu— look under “tools”, “classes”, fab lab wiki at http://www.fablab.is/wiki, or the Fab  Academy repository at http://academy.cba.mit.edu/labs/index.html)  Live help and support from volunteers in the network can be accessed through videoconference and our MCU online videoconferencing unit, where members hang out during the day and can help one another.   It’s free and you can visit once you are set up to do so: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/about/video. There are also some good experts in the network now that you could contact directly to see if they would be interested (for a fee) in coming and helping you set up and train.  I can connect you to those people if and when the time comes.

The best background on fab labs  and the digital fabrication movement is Professor Neil Gershenfeld’s book:  FAB: The Coming  Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication.  (available on http://www.amazon.com).  It contains a wealth of information for you and is a good read.  

Please also see: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/about/faq/

And the fab charter at: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/about/charter

Another good resource for you that will give some background is Neil’s talk at the Library of Congress, as seen on CSPAN. See this link: rtsp://video.c-span.org/project/digital/digitalfuture032805.rm or try http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=3725

as well as a few links to other information:

http://cba.mit.edu/events/05.07.Norway/

http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3786368

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_18/b3931027_mz005.htm

If you are trying to jump start a fab lab there are few more things we’ve found that are helpful when trying to start a lab:

1. Identify a host agency to host and take ownership of the Fab Lab.
The host agency could be any organization ranging from Govt. agency, community organization, educational institution etc. The Fab Lab needs to be hosted, housed and owned by the right agency to ensure success.

2. Identify the right champion to lead this Fab Lab.
Very important. The successful Fab Labs are driven by the right champions. The champion needs to have passion for community development through technology deployment and should be respected by the community.

3. Finalize partnership/ contractual agreements Contracts and agreements-including if appropriate Fab Foundation/ MIT, local partners, funders, service providers need to be put in place.

4. Secure funding for this Fab Lab.
Secure appropriate partnership for this Fab Lab. If you are interested in developing a network of fab labs–in South Africa there is a good model evolving around Public -Private- Partnership. Government funds equipment, host agency funds space, running and management expenses and firms pay for projects. Having said that this is a cumbersome process. The best would be to find the funder for a first Fab Lab and later pursue the SA model. If you get to this point the Fab Foundation/ MIT team can assist in budgeting, proposal writing etc.

5. Identify and prepare site.
Site selection is critical- in that it should be accessible to the community and should not deter potential users.

6. Procure, install and commission the Fab Lab.

7.Train the trainers (technical and management)
Proper training and handing over of the Lab is crucial for the success of the Lab. Trainers will be trained to train users and with our help you can put together a crash course of ‘How To Make (Almost) Anything’ with the early users.

8. Identify projects.
Starting with local problem solving, the Fab Lab will be integrated into the bigger Fab community and will have access to and participate in projects worked on globally and in a distributed manner.

9. Launch the Fab Lab.
Key community, govt and private stakeholders can attend the launch to not only understand the Fab Lab concept but also witness the demos of project outputs.