SA invests in ‘FabLabs’

7 August 2007

South Africa has set aside R16-million to establish 10 Fabrication Laboratories, also known as “FabLabs”, around the country, providing disadvantaged communities with opportunities in the design, testing and fabrication process.

FabLabs are a state-of-the-art resource venue aimed at promoting cutting-edge design, product development and process technologies for crafters and designers.

Speaking at the launch of the Northern Cape FabLab in Kimberley this Monday, Science and Technology Deputy Minister Derek Hanekom said the facility was a hands-on laboratory with advanced desktop manufacturing equipment that allows for the building of “just about anything” from inexpensive and readily available materials.

“Skills include design, fabrication, testing and debugging, monitoring and analysis and documentation of the process,” he said, adding that they were the brainchild of the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Centre of Bits and Atoms.

The department is rolling out FabLabs nationally through its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy (AMTS) implementation unit, which is hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The AMTS unit has in turn entered into partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Centre of Bits and Atoms, the founders of the concept, to roll out 10 FabLabs across South Africa.

Other FabLabs around the country are located at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, in Soshanguve (north of Pretoria), Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Potchefstroom in the North West province.

Access to technology
According to Hanekom, the launch of such FabLabs across the country will put the country further along on the path towards achieving growth targets to accomplish the full impact of the infrastructure.

He said it was important to make communities aware of the support and services available at the FabLabs, as they not only offer access to technology, but there is staff assistance in the development of design ideas, while there is fee applicable for users, opening up numerous possibilities to crafters and innovative designers.

There are currently FabLabs in various countries around the world such as India, Costa Rica and Ghana to developed nations such as Norway.

“The FabLab programme is a strategic intervention which provides appropriate skills development and infrastructure for entrepreneurs to develop new products that can be tested and modified in the market place according to customer needs,” Hanekom said.

With regard to the establishment of the Northern Cape Fablab, he said there was the potential for not only job creation, but also the development of competitive small enterprises, the provision of enabling infrastructure for innovators and most importantly skills development.

“Many of the young learners who have visited our FabLabs in the other four provinces have used the fabrication tools to develop many useful products,” Hanekom said.

“These include a community based alarm system to warn fellow neighbours in distress, the alarm also indicates their location to enable emergency services easy access. There was also a disposable and affordable thermometer which can be used by anyone at home and disposed of without the hazardous risk associated with mercury based thermometers.”

Source: BuaNews