How fablab in Copernicus Science Centre works?

One of my duties in Copernicus Science Centre (Warsaw, Poland) is to develop and maintain our in-house fablab. A lot of people ask me how to start a makerspace in school, classroom or somewhere else. There are tons of great guides, articles, how-tos you can find on the web. Here are some good resources which I used and strongly recommend for everyone interested in building the makerspace:

Youth Makerspace Playbook

Makerspace Playbook – School Edition

High School Makerspace Tools and Materials

The makerspace workbench

Designing a school makerspace

Make Space: How to set the space for creative collaboration

Digital Harbour Foundation makerspace – tool walls and soldering station blueprints

Before even starting thinking about what tools you should purchase and how much money do you need, I always advise to start with some essential questions like:

  • Why do you need a makerspace?
  • What type of activities do you want to happen in your space?
  • Who will be using your space?
  • What do you already have (i.e. tools, space, materials, experience, money, people, skills)?

Everyone has different situation, needs, constraints and possibilities. That’s why every makerspace / fablab is different and it’ almost impossible to copy everything 1:1. I would like to show you in that post, how this whole process of building a mobile fablab in Copernicus Science Centre looked like.

One year and a half ago I was given a task to build our in-house makerspace. It was quite a challenge for my institution, because no one in Poland has created similar space before. Moreover we had very tight budget and no space available. At the beginning I needed to answer for some crucial questions listed above.

 

Requirements and constraints

Here are some requirements, needs and constraints we have regarding building a fablab at our place. I think that everyone needs to define his/her own guidelines at the first place.

  • Our FabLab operates in a shared space. We don’t have a space only for our own.
  • The main purpose of the fablab is to provide different maker activities for students and teachers. Additionally, we would like to use this space by employes for prototyping and creating new exhibits, workshop formats, educational tools.
  • We have some safety, legal and organizational requirements, so we are not allowed to use for instance heavy duty power tools in our space.

 

 

Tools

Due to some constraints we’re not allowed to use some tools inside our space. Likewise we don’t have money to purchase all kinds of tools commonly used in makerspaces or fablabs. So we had to decide which tools we would like to use. Besides money we have also some more requirements such as:

  • We would like to conduct workshops for kids and this requires some more safe tools comparing to circular saws, etc.
  • Our FabLab is not fixed, but mobile. We share space with others, so we don’t want to use tools and materials which produce a lot of dust and dirt. Of course, we do have fume extractors, industrial vacuum cleaners and dust collector, but keeping the whole space clean is our priority,
  • Most of our activities are designed for beginners, so we don’t need professional and high-end tools. We rely on entry level and user friendly machines.

Given these requirements and constraints we came up with complete list of tools we would like to use in our space:

  • Hand tools and basic power tools
  • Electronics (soldering iron, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, sensor, etc.)
  • Digital fabrication machines (3d printer, CNC router, laser cutter)

It also determines which materials we are able to cut, shape, join and work with. So we use only basic materials like different types of wood i.e. regular wood, plywood, hardwood, etc. Besides of different variety of wooden materials, we also use all kinds of plastics (PP, PE, PS, ABS, PVC, etc.), cardboard (great construction material), some minor metal elements made out of steel or aluminium (profiles, rods, brackets).

 

Equipment

Due to our space limitations we need to set up a fablab every time before any activity and wrap up everything after. The best way to tackle this problem is to create mobile equipment. Every piece of equipment like tool walls, soldering stations, heavy duty workbench, storage cabinet (besides workshop tables) we put on casters. Moreover every furniture was built by only using tools you can find in our fablab. Someone said that you cannot buy a makerspace, you can only make it and I completely agree with that statement. Here are some more features of our mobile fablab:

  • Every piece of equipment is on wheels, so you can roll only carts you currently need. If you would like to do some basic work using only hand tools, then you take one tool wall and a workbench. There is no need to set up complete fablab every time (based on our experience it happens rarely).
  • Almost every cart has the same base – standard wooden euro pallet (EPAL). That solution provides very strong and robust foundation for every cart. Euro pallet is a good solution, when you want to move carts around the building (it’s only 80 cm wide so it can fit in almost any door). Sometimes we use our carts at different location during special events like hackathons or other workshops.
  • Setting up a whole fablab doesn’t take too much time. Based on our experience it usually takes approx. 5-7 minutes to roll every cart and set up the space.
  • Building mobile fablab is not a finished process. We constantly develop and experiment with new carts in order to find a solution which fits our current needs.

 

This is a brief article about our experiences with building a mobile fablab. If you would like to make your own mobile makerspace and have some questions, feel free to contact me!