US FabLab Network 2012 Symposium

The United States FabLab Network (USFLN) 2012 symposium was held April 10-12 at FabLab Tulsa (Oklahoma, USA).  The Symposium agenda is online.  I have uploaded my pictures to Flicker in two albums: one from the Symposium, and one showing FabLab Tulsa.

This post has clogged up my Write-This-Up queue way too long. I took LOTS of notes and thats one issue … After some observations below, I’m just going to tack on my raw notes… mostly so I can have em online somewhere. I doubt anyone will get thru em.  I apologize for this approach.

Another issue is my observation (see below) about lack of public communication and sharing among FabLabs – communication, documenting and sharing as a community is hard.  It takes a LOT of work and commitment.  In noticing this with Fab Labs, I must also note it with myself and with hackerspaces in general.  There are a few that are good at it, but alas too few.  I think the MAKE Education and MENTOR Makerspace folks are doing better than most at this… but thats for another post.

Ok.. on with post.  ….

I have been following the MIT FabLab since I read Neil Gershenfeld’s book “FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop” many years ago.  This was the first opportunity I have had to actually attend a FabLab function or even visit a FabLab.   It was a very good experience.  I met a lot of good people and learned a lot.

One interesting point was that while there were a number of attendees from various styles of FabLab (college affiliated, MIT listed, or community based), there were also quite a few people who referred to their facility as a Makerspace rather than a FabLab.  The distinction is basically the adherence to the FabLab Charter, which focuses digital fabrication techniques.  There are also some requirements for public access, sharing of  designs & processes, and prohibition of commercial use beyond startup.  Makerspaces go beyond digital fabrication and often support small/micro businesses operating out of the space.  Personally, I see a lot of overlap and common interests – and do not put a lot of emphasis on the names we call ourselves (hackerspace, fablab, makerspace, techshop, etc.)

An important part of all spaces is the community that makes them work – which extends to their web presence and sharing with the wider community.  The degree to which spaces are open about their activities, business setup, and general community varies greatly.  Many makerspaces have public web sites, wiki, mail lists, etc.  There is no official network of maker/hackerspaces akin to USFLN, however, there is the site with a wiki and several mail lists.  The wiki is an excellent resource for finding, starting and running a space.   The USFLN does have its website  and Facebook page as well as the MIT FabLab Central and FabFolk sites. Unfortunately, these do not have the openness and depth and sense of living community I find with the hackerspaces.  There is no active, accessible wiki site.  The USFLN does have a number of documents available, but only if you fill out an online request (oh wait, that link is dead).  It may be these have migrated to the DFLC-USA site.  During the symposium, there was talk of more documents being created and a URL would be available after the event.  I received four docs via email in May but these are not available online that I can find.

T I did receive an email with four USFLN files attached in late may. These

I have had a similar experience with the global FabLab network. The main web site cited for them is the forum here has no activity since November 2011 and the last blog post is from July 2011.

Ok from here down is a summary of my notes …

The first day of the event (Tuesday April 10th) was held in the gymnasium at the San Miguel School, a mile or so from FabLab Tulsa. It was a large luncheon with lots of non-symposium attendees, including kids from San Miguel and other schools, and various foundation backers of FabLab Tulsa. The kids had decorated the gym with pictures they created of (Neil Gershenfeld?) when he visited a few months before. The FabLab Tulsa folks had made a variety of centerpieces, including some really neat laser cut light boxes with portraits of famous makers like Nikolai Tesla, etc cut in the side.

Dale Dougherty, editor-in-chief/whatever of MAKE magazine, was the keynote speaker. Dale is a very good speaker and obviously quite involved with the whole “Maker Movement”. Dale’s talk was one of the big highlights of the event for me. I’ll try to summarize from my notes – he had so many good things that well over 1/2 my notes from the 2 day event are of his talk.

He lead off with a quote from Steve jobs “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

He then noted how the USA was once renown as a nation of tinkerers and inventors. We have lost much of that but the Hackers (aka Makers) are bringing it back. He neatly addressed the negative conniptions of “hacking” by noted that in this context it means changing and personalizing the physical (and cyber) world to suit the maker’s desires. He referred to it as physical mash ups – making it your own.

He gave a nod to Popular Mechanics of old with its “invitation to do something fun” for inspiring MAKE magazine. He noted that people are buying 3d printers simply to find out what they can do. They are doing free R&D and market development for the vendors… and creating small businesses in the process.

Dale admitted he is not that good at making things himself, but he is good at recognizing what people do, and helping create a community of those people. You do NOT have to be a Tech Wizard to be part of a makerspace. You show up with an idea, and the community shows you how to make it yourself.
The maker movement is the democratization of technology. It is open source, sharing and helping others. This community support allows new industries to emerge that would be very hard if not impossible to do alone (or even as a large company.)

I had worn my LED T-shirt to the event under my dress shirt and shown it to Dale before the luncheon. He invited me up on stage to show it off (along with the LED bracelet). The audience loved it. Dale asked me why I made it — because it was fun! After i sat back down, Dale told the audience they should come to Maker Faire – either the big ones or the mini-faires popping up around the country. “Its Jerry times 1000” he said.

Dale continued talking about the community of makers. once you start, you find others. Its easier today with online connections but it is very important to find local makers. Seeing them do gives you confidence to do it too.

Dale’s personal focus is the Next Generation of Makers — the kids. He noted FabLab is the first seed. When asked by people what tech they should get first for a makerspace for kids, Dale responds ‘Dont get confused and wrapped up in expensive high tech. Start with Cardboard and Scissors.’

Dale noted that common approach to STEM often focuses on elite performers. trying to make PhDs, academians and high end engineers. (a recent episode of Byte Marks Cafe had this emphasis.) However, STEAM should have Something For Everyone. Sci/Tech is everywhere and an essential component of our early 21st century culture and society. Understanding and appreciation should not be just for experts.

OK… summarizing is not making it much easier… so here are the rough notes from rest of symposium.  Again my apologies ..

ts part of the culture and society now. its everywhere, need not be just for experts – should be for everyone

Turned back on this type of Education.

(Play Experiment Fail Learn)

w standards testing and computer based training,

need unstructured play and making


“Project MAKE” is an invitation to make

1/3 of school kids drop out, 1/3 get along on dumb down math that they ‘wont ever use’ (teachers tell em)  only some inspired

use Making to motivate math — circumference calculation for laser cutting

Renovate/reInvent Shop Class — it is not a Fork In Road and path to Tech School/blue color serfdom

Invention Studio @ GA Tech — for college students

not just grades -> motivation.

Open to all departments & kids

becomes a community hub

How to be that hub? Training the Teachers


Me;; project Make in Maui.. classes in arduino, shopbot/cnc, laser, soldering

grow & develop community

not just for a few, but for all


Mobile shopbot by Cricket Trailer … small trailer unfolds, holds shopbot laser makerbot cnc electronics


Give them tools instead of toys

Questions – copyright vs Makers … closed vs open source




Dale, Sheri (Lass) Lassiter, Camille Caron (Autodesk Consumer) Sallye Coyle (Shopbot), Kelly (USFLN director) mc’d

FLNet > 100 FabLabs around the world this hear, double from last, expect to double again this year

Sallye is Shopbot community liaison, glass artist and NeuroPharmocology MS


Lassiter:  Is Pgrm Mgr of FabLab at MIT, direct of Fab Foundation

Center for Bits and Attoms – computers meet physical world, bio inspired

3 stages of Digital Revolution (MIT slide v common)

Analog -> Digital Communication (began ~1945)

A->D Computing ~1955

A->D fabrication ~2005  (nah was earlier. ’87 was sterolithography


How to make (almost) anything class… very fast 4hr lecture cover entire subject then students gotta do TA sessions and lab time

1) design tools 2) machining 3) 3dprinting/CNC 4) water jet, laser, knife cutter 5) materials and finishing 6) forms and molding … (missed rest)


wiki for FabLab ala

.. lessons/patterns for starting a FabLab, docs (ByLaws,etc) Projects

?? What happens when Fab Tech is in hands of everyone?

New Biz models — new economy

same equipment + distributed classroom => Fab Academy, entering 3rd year, learned lots


Camille @ Autodesk … Personal Products, community director biz development -> lots of tools shown to public use  may or may not ever become products

doing cloud based simulations

Building 3D Literacy … Make it Accessible (easier to use/learn)

Tools in her group:

123d home styler, fx series, instructables mimi, pixlr, sketchbook, tinkerbox

123d Catch => photogrammetry w. cloud compute  2d capture->3d model

instructables for FabLab — sharing projects


Sallye @ Shopbot… ~7000 bots in wild, 30 employees

Vectrix software – illustration based cad software

PartsWorks – cam… now supporting 123d and inventor as input to Shopbot — network of shopbot owners, connecting jobs to shops online — coming soon.


Desktop Bot : router + 3d printer + paper craft active knife $8k base model

3d print and knife are new prototypes -> core standards for teaching nationwide… how to tie FabLab tools to these standards  … supporting regular class topics with Digital Fab projects


Me: Question;; can we bring ‘flipping the classroom’ Kahn Academy style instruction to Digital Fab?  Thats how shop class is often taught (30+yo slide shows)


Sallye –



Q from audience … most inspiring make:

— MAKE mag inspiring prisoner to rediscover making

— Spanish Fab Lab creating destination for artists

— CES 13yo girl selling custom jewelry made from electronics… had confidence to do it.

— show Bot tom (at lima peru fablab symposium) from Kenya … had bad stutter but when teaching bot was very fluent… shopbot cures stuttering


— Create a Virtual Fab Lab online for simulation @ home


Seymour Papert (founder MIT Media lab, creator of LOGO & Turtle

Samba School of brazil for carnival… all ages and skills work together to teach & learn


flipping classroom – may still wind up following old style curriculum. Need more self directed learning;;; but many people don’t have that discipline?

don’t just do simulation – its out of context.  Give them real world building


instructables for teaching gportion.. how to use machine, teach theory behind tech

with ties to core standard…



Ignite Session at local art deco restored theatre  (in process)

lightning talks on your fab lab.

Notes in TEDxMaui notebook


Terry Prichet – director of FabLab Tulsa

Tulsa developed a

Conscious Ecosystem of Entrepreneurial Development

learned lessons thru experimentation

1) ace with entrepreneurial Mindset

2 work with a small dedicated team. not a big committee

focus on human capital development

3) let entrepreneurs lead .. E know what E need.. E grow more E

4) Tailor to region of town (what is there already?)

5) focus on needs of Entrepreneur

6) engage and Enroll Service Providers

7)  Build up  not top down

8) have business model coaches and mentors (Score, etc)

9) recognize and reward Entrepreneurs

10) Not all about Tech Companies… old school too


All net job growth comes from New Companies

Old companies are losing jobs (down size, increase productivity, etc)

~500k new companies formed per month

300 left at end of year

30 still in business in 5 years


Fox Valley Tech College

had fab lab trailer visti

doing wind energy explorations

digital fabrication certificates

Lorain County Commuinty College

work w Project Lead the Way — dissatisfied with script based teaching

finger maze

building laser living hinges

Teachingin Physics and STEM using Guitar Making (tom singer)

$1500 for basic lab for school we site

class project to augment physics classes… had to take physics to take guitar making

4 events for educators coming up this spring/summer

$175 guitar kits create $500 guitars (solid body electric)

Top 10 Lessons in building a fab lab – from Pat Norris of Fab Lab Tusla

10) no egos allowed – its a community, not an individual

9) improvise .. think on your feet

8) read Gladwell’s Tipping Point

mavens and salesmen are connectors

7) talk to community.  build relations, be proactive

6) plan YOUR exit… build team na replacement

5) be prepared to make it your life

4) raise friends before funds – but don’t be afraid to ask

3) you cant make em want it more than you want it

2) be prepared for NO

1) be prepared for YES


3 yr plan … revenue, equipment, people, etc

Amy @ FabFi

capacity/ time community values


Michelle fo FabLab Carolina

used to run Clothing Design studio school

as it was shutting down she was hired for FLC

possibility of dreams

there 2012-13 strategy is HipHop… do it with what you have

don’t need complicated tech equipment (musical instruments) if you have your hands

exercise… open your hand, visualize a shape, give it 3d, color, texture, etc

now make it in the shop

give homeless something to do, farmers something beyond the farm


John Harrison @ 4y college

Tufts state?

startup fablab

engr 101 let students drive online social media… not school IT people

do project and require posting of it on class blog w/ video

use Forum instead of email to teacher

Nate  of Fab Lab Tulsa

Its not Tech Its Other Peoples Brains (OPB)

he’s a furniture designer builder

CCDIO of Rice U

Startup weekend — mayor involved

gang plank – Arizona cowering space… no charge but give back

after ignite we went back to hotel and then up the street to a bar with retro game machines … pinball and video arcade boxes

Good chats with several people

then stopped at a sushi bar fo some food w other FL symposium folk

bathroom had maker wall paper


Wednesday  Day 2

(wow 15 more pages of notes!!)

Sherri Lassiter of MIT

(can we get her slides — and others — to use for talking to sponors?)

3 stages of dig rev slide (again)

networked world with ubiquitous computing and cloud

Bits To Its… Programming with  math in physical world

World Economic Model changing — what happens when everyone has access to Digital Fab tech?

Digital Natives — new generation growing up with online access

Tech capacity building from grass roots

empowerment -> education -> problem solving -> job creation -> invention

prob solving is iterative

job creation — local economy grow w/new companies, and kids prepared to enter the economy

FabLab as Libraries for Tech Literacy.  computer use, programming, fabrication

Fab Academy – 1 vid conf/wk, rest at local space

12-15 labs world wide, ~70 students per session

US – Formal Education – community colleges

starting to see middle/high schools

MC2STEM — 2 locations & mobile

Howard U. Middle school of math and physics MS2


Informal Education

lack of communication and good sharing

need assessment measures and testing results of FabLab

Manufacturing… network of distributed companies/fabs


Barcelona Spain Fab lab took over local city govt

doing local manufacturing

converting from PITO to DIDO

Product In Trash Out -> Data In Data Out

no (reduced) trash, export deficit

5 FL in different areas of City.

Solar House Decathalon

Solar House 2.0 now becoming 3.0,, cost reduction, better quality, etc

FabFit  using local materials easy to build

rural innovation, personal fab

Multi-touch device : 3×3 grid of conductive pads

FabLab Nairobi – Science and Tech Park


Distributed International Infrastructure — uavs & microsats

Utilimaker and other efforts to build low cost alternatives to ‘standard’ fab lab equipment.

The list of equipment online is just suggested so people can talk about same stuff.

Creating alternative cnc bots brings cost down

Nadias Slides — mitt Research (nadir couldn’t be there so sherri present)

machines that make… Ultimaker etc. Kokompe–software

MTM Snap — cnc router made of snap fit ABS plastic parts

kokompe software — modular unified interface for fab … all fab modules now read PNG files for creating objects

note experience reported.. interface is not that great, lacks many aspects of commercial tools. Often better to use different commercial tools to do particular jobs or use particular machines

Internet 0 — access from anyware with smart sw wifi???

composites — networked mold with intelligent sensors for temperature, curing rates, etc  give better control in large compsite molding setup


Digital Fabrication Learning Community Project DFLC


Fab Lab development Methodology

mitt — net based archive of info didn’t work well — needs of spaces were too diverse

Day job and burnout – FabLab network takes a LOT of work by itself.

Fab Lav Dev process

Front end — get it going, keep it going

Midwest Digital Fab Partnership

results available to help justify.

getting quantiative and qualitative results

DFLC supports spectrum of FL 4yr, 2yr, cc, mid/hischool… unaffiliated FL & Makerspaces

Baltimore Aug 6-10 planning workshop

under represented student outreach

mobile fab labs  = dflc portal being developed in pbworks… creating a project database

email to steve – open by invitation   gordon snider is it guru.

FabLab learning spiral:

imagine-> create -> play-> share->reflect -> imagine

similar to Autodesk t-shirt

Panel How To Start a Lab

idenifty constituency

Nate — grants

3 parts of constituency: 1 community itself; 2 biz & industry, entrepreneurs; 3 education/schools

michelle -durham NC fab

open resource community

aim at high poverty & unemployed

statement of Needs … LISTENING TOUR

Josh Miller – Foundation Rep

delineate goal

know the audience (foundation you are addressing, people and org)

beware of mission creep (to satisfy foundations, etc)

Meliisa – Librarian Non profit connector

Coop Collection of Foundation Center (NYC)

Foundation Director online

q: time scale for funding..

differs for each..

cant explain well until they see it.. FL is unique and complicated for many to grasp

paper work for np -> 9mo

identify skill sets for board (who are your fund raisers!)

level of funding – $500k for building and equipment

Develop relationship overtime then later ask for $$

demo of whats around the world

talk with other foundations that have funded fablabs

minimal requirements for “Fab Lab”

– shared equipment (same stuff) so can talk to others for help/share curriculum

– fab lab charter

0 self assessment on wiki

each foundation has its own timeline and calendar

know your funder’s calendar and when each needs paperwork

show biggest returns

File with Sec of State -> articles of incorp

form 1023 — 501c3 to get fed tax

up to 2 yrs to complete

get advance vs permanent ruling letter

some foundations wont give on advance letter, require perm letter

have diversity in your funding pool

grants, corporate and community sustainabitly programs

Letter of Inqueriy


go visit and listen to needs in area you will serve

% and numbers…. how many will start, graduate, go on to use it etc

have achievable goals (so you can meet them)

US Highland talk…

powertrains motorcycles quads, etc

use Rapid Prototyping at Tulsa Fab Lab to prototype working motor parts

3 founders killed in plane crash, needed to reinvent/invigorate company

lots of IP in area, ~20 employees

Corporate Membership – gets exclusive access to space to keep IP private (mornings, N days per year, etc)


USFLN Staging Plan

* mission Statement

* vision statement

* core values and strategic priorities

where is (USFLN) now and where in 10yr, how get there, refine & distribute

framing -> visioning-> plan -> final

Report will be given to us online… where??!!!

me ?  how do hackerspaces relate to FabLab

FL are growing away from Institute of higher learning a

some are straddling the Maker/FL line

FL tend to particular set of equip and charter but that is changing w/open hardware alts

usflan evaluating and assessing spaces?  assess vs the space’s stated goals, not some Network Standards

Part 2 Starting A Lab..

Know your Customers

* indivituasn, in class, etc.   effects types of equipment focused buying

amy:: lab is NOT the Set Of Machines

i  equip and prcesses evolve

focus on process and change

be future flexible  (early labs had fixed ventilation/exhaust systems, couldn’t accommodate new equip easy)

going to have desires that fall short


nathan – FL more than Facility & equipment — community

– programming and offerings

Liability and Insurance:

– Property Liabilty $3k/yr

– workers comp is biggest part of ^^  classified as machine shop even if employees don’t touch machines

Waivers? Repository for waivers?

property insurance – replacement value

“Staving Artist Insurance” NYC — company to check with

Always have trained technician in house if open

they can tell if not using correct matierial or approach

noise protections

have burnt/broken examples in public places

have place to put pieces that break — so we know it happens. not to fix blame

idea: IR watcher cameras (Kinect?) over machines

Liability Waivers and check/sign they are aware of rules and safety, etc

youth rptection policy

in loco parentis


background check on all volunteers and paid staff

Lab Wiki — self grade/assess equipment etc

fabfolk wiki


Foundations Getting $$ –> what foundations are where and what do they give to who

60% increase in non profits in last years

if foundation fives 1/3 of project budget in 1st 3 yrs, they you tip over to becoming a program of that foundation

know/show How your project helps foundation meet its goals

Board Source – who should be on your board…

Attorney, CPA/Financial, marketing, subject matter experts (engineers)

No Nepotism.. Minimuy Std on attendance

service on committee

contribute to organization — why board not backing it with some of own $??

you want a working board, not an emeritus


Zoning — some get zoned as Art Space

if the area zoning is not good, get a variance

Know how to contest one you don’t want

FabFi with Amy Sun

Global Tech Development

Tech (ad hoc wireless mesh)

create biz case (african group makes one)

scaling – it scales up but getting full city build out is $$ no matter what

impact – how to assess/measure it?

How to Make (& fund) a Global Tech Development Project

Tech was developed by FabLab Afganistan

Biz is self sustaining biz in Nairobi kenya

Scaling – small community up to big city & make a nationwide difference

impact — what futures. how big does it need to be to affect a region’s economy

— unemployment, net GDP, exports, etc

Scaling issue: can municipality legally be a service provider?

can we adapt this GreenField model for US? (greenfield-> brand new, never existed here before… africa was greenfield for WiFi, US is not)

have a small biz doing the service providing

apple Mass – off grid network

First adopters vs consumers of technology

general public are the consumers

Some FabLabs are NSF grant funded, eg Ghana.

Teach to Learn, Learn to Teach —

MIT program

april->june grad students teach highschool

Computer Programming with Scratch

Physical Programming with PICO Crickets

Graphic Design with GIMP Projects 2011

Digital Fabrication and Design in the Fab Lab

Design Challenge with Arduino, ModKit & Fab Lab Press Fit

Alternative Energy

Summer -> teach middle/high school kids


Camile from Autodesk Consumer;

Caroline McEnnis – TIES

Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM  443.955.9168  410.409.2486

missed her keynote – need slides!! sent email, no reply yet

Creating an Educational Framework vs Curriculum Script

Many of the commercial STEM support offerings to schools are relatively strict about their materials – how you present them, ordering, even down to providing scripts to use (and stick to).  FabLab offers (can offer?) a more open framework on which teachers and self-starters can build their own educational curriculum.

(note some other attendees referred to Project Lead The Way as the latter – PLtW gives you scripts for lesson plans and expects you to read them)

Panel… David Isenbach Claremore OK midle school teacher Will Rogers Jr High Fab Lab

Equipment Start/run receipe/review…

Have simple recipe chart posted next to machines (with safety and startup steps)

for people/teachers who haven’t run it in N months and need a quick reminder

THIS IS NOT THE Safety And Basic Use class.

Learn One Piece of equipment at at time … vs dump all FL equip on staff at once and say Learn It… learn one for 3 mo, then next, review 1st add 3rd, review 1&2…

Stanford Makers

Transformative Learning Technologies Lab

TSA Technolyg Student Association.


ShopBot Workshop…

demo new desktop model 18×24″ bed with multiple tool heads:  router, spindle, 3d printer, knife, pen, laser.   (latter is still TBD.  Knife and 3d Printer were demoed but this week at symposium.

KentCNC makes dust skirt w/magnetic hooks & brush edges for vacuum dust extraction — much better than ShopBot optional equipment.

Generally uses Aspire’s PartWorks software

workshop was NOT a hands-on exercise. It was more of a show & tell by vendor and attendees.

1 reply
  1. Michelle GG
    Michelle GG says:

    Hi there – we met at the Tulsa conference. I was a newbie then (well, still feel that way most days). I was wondering if you or anyone ever found out what program was used to make the faces for those awesome lighted centerpieces?


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