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Insights from the US Fab Lab Network Symposium

Posted By Karen-Michelle Mirko, Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NACCE is delighted to be collaborating with the US Fab Lab Network.

Creating Fab Labs and Makerspacers is a top need for our members. I am on the ground this week at their symposium in the gorgeous Gateway Technical College SC Johnson iMET Center.  It has been an educational, resource rich symposium.

Most of the participants here are NACCE members. I can tell. Everyone is happy to share best practices, fails and are willing to problem solve with the participants that are just starting to launch. And continue the conversation after along day at an impromptu dinner. 

 These are some of the ideas that I have heard. Remember I am a Tweeter, and truck in bullet points. The US Fab Lab Network has been videoing the sessions. I will include links when they decide what they will share publicly.

Pre-Conference Workshop

Fab Lab & Maker Space start-up and implementation


James Carlson of School Factory - Way cool dude. 

Gives an overview of 8 types of Maker Space

  • 1.       1.Project Collaboration
  • 2.       Hackerspace
  • 3.       Open Democracy
  • 4.       Makerspace
  • 5.       Citizen Science
  • 6.       Co-working
  • 7.       Community kitchen
  • 8.       Artist Collaborative

 Need to a How to Start Kit? Check out the School Factory’s check lists


Tips for Starting a FabLab


  • Greg Herker, Gateway Technical College 
  • Matthew Wade, Patrick Henry Community College
  • Hugh Schuett, Metropolitan Community College
  • David Richardson, USFLN
  • James Carlson, School Factory


Discovery [Research & Interest Generation]

  •        Read the books and blogs that are out there
  •        Talk to your network and the Fab Lab Network
  •        Get buy-in from your executive
  •        Generate interest on campus with your colleagues, your students, your community  and your industry
  •    Let them use the equipment
  •    Bring in FabLab items – gears
  •    Bring in different kinds of people – let artisans show engineers what the equipment can do

Formation [Planning, Justification, Commitment]

  •        In planning, bring in every stakeholder, decide which equipment makes most sense for your community
  •        No one plan will fit your community. You need to know your community and their needs.
  •        Justification can be helped by engaging students, industry and potential students
  •        Commitment was easier when new buildings were added. A new FabLab was a natural fit.
  •        Generate commitment by offering FabLab as a SOLUTION. I see your engineering program is need to students. Have you thought of a FabLab? Do not sell it as a hot trend or a pet project.
  •        Utilize existing space to pilot MakerSpace. Test the concept.
  •        Need seed money? Think about going to Economic Development Corporation and tell them we want to diversify our economy and grow start ups.


Preparation [Installation, Training]

  • When installing, partner with your IT department. Every piece of equipment uses software. Some of it is expensive. See if there is site license on class.
  • When installing, focus on safety.
  • When installing, know your potential audience – HS, Kindergarten or adults. Or all 3?
  • When training, remind people they can fail. Not everything will be perfect.
  • FabLabs recommends to learn software
  • When training, have a process to onboard volunteers. Most Makerspaces are volunteers.


Activation [Implementation]

  • Opening Day – Get a PR Team. Use media to create a buzz.
  • Have a soft launch to test out the kinks then have a public opening.
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate.
  • Develop a portfolio of offerings for the collaboration space
  • Implement governance and value tracking
  • Add cameras above the machine turns the machines into the project. {RaspberryPi + webcam= CheapCam}
  • Become the GoTo Place in your City. Help them know what those way are. “Here are 20 Ways to Use your Makerspace.”
  • Have a script for your tours.  What do they see? What do they touch? What questions do they think about?


Forevermore [Enhancement, Maintenance, Sustainability]

  • For enhancements, add work stations so the folks aren’t too crowded. Add equipment if you can AND there is a demand.
  • Add storage space – extra wood, projects in process.
  • Reach out to new audiences – universities, home schoolers.
  • Keep MARKETING! Get in front of everyone. Make a video. Use video conferencing.
  • Advertising is not enough, how do you get them in there?
  • Listen to users. They have the best ideas.
  • Buy the latest. Your students will then be current and more employable.


Maintenance – Plan for ongoing expenses plus service calls, supplies.

  • Build a team of volunteers – faculty, community partners – to maintain and diversify program offerings.
  • How? Invite them to attend a course. Offer to fabricate a product that they need for there work. Offer the space for them to run their class.
  • Sustainability – Act like a business. Think through who is not in your space. Why?
  • Keep the energy high. Cycle in new advisors, board, members.

Mel Cossette, National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education and T.E.A.M.

Partner with industry. Take your courses and cross walk against employers’ needs.

Using Additive Manufacturing to Support Economic Develop & Entrepreneurship

Tom Crampton, Mott Community College

  • 1.       Engage StartUp - Help them develop prototypes.  Charge fee.
  • 2.       Engage existing businesses in their new product development
  • 3.       Engage existing businesses to improve existing businesses


And then an awesome dinner with 20 Movers and Shakers in the Fab Lab scene.

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