Fab Labs. I write about them a lot. As an artist, I love the idea of communal spaces where artists, designers, engineers and whoever else wants to get together in a shared space and hash out ideas and projects together.
I had never actually been to one though, and today I decided to change that.
I took myself down to what is known as the Maker Mile, a square mile of maker spaces, studios, shops, galleries and workshops in East London between Bethnal Green and London Field stations. There you can find pretty much everything to fuel any creative endeavor. Need to build a bike? Go to Maker Mile. Want to create some funky furniture? Go to Maker Mile. Find yourself wanting to learn the art of milling flour for bread? Maker Mile.
As much as I wanted to walk into each of these amazing spaces and soak up the creativity through osmosis, I was at Maker Mile for a tour at Machines Room, a Fab Lab with facilities such as 3D printers, laser cutters and a giant CNC machine.
Machines Room is part of the Fab Lab network, as well as Maker Library network. Machines Room was created by Thomas Ermacora and is operated by a team with both technical and artistic backgrounds. The space especially welcomes creative projects from makers, designers artists and hardware startups. They are a DIY space with a focus on facilitating knowledge and skills exchange and encourages public engagement with making.
I rang the bell and was met by Gareth Owen Lloyd, head of maker projects at Machines Room, and coordinator of Maker Mile. He welcomed me and showed me around, introducing me to the facility and all it had to offer. While we walked and talked we were joined by a student interested in using the facilities for her projects (and also by resident pug, Rory).
So what does Machines Room offer?
There are several different spaces within Machines Room, flexible spaces that can be turned into exhibition sites, conference spaces, whatever you may need. They are one of the only Maker Spaces that can do that.
On top of the workspaces and machines designed for public use, there is a classroom within Machines Room as well, designed to facilitate the induction for the machines before members can use them. They also run classes and workshops in programs like Blender3D and Autodesk Fusion 3D to name a couple.
What makes them special?
Members exchange is something that is unique to Machines Room, which I thought was pretty neat. They have a system of an hour for an hour: you help out for an hour, you get an hour on the machines.
Gareth told me about one lady who tidied up the space in exchange for time with the 3D printers, which, depending on what you are printing, can be costly. One of the major misconceptions I encountered when talking to people at London Comic Con about 3D printed cosplay was the cost. 90% of the people I spoke to were under the impression that you need to buy your own printer in order to have access to the technology and all it has to offer. With places like Machine Labs offering hourly rates for machine hire or even exchanging machine time for services and skills, it becomes incredibly affordable. Offering your own services like writing about your project in a blog, or helping with photography of the space can also score you machine time without paying the hourly fee.
Opensource community projects
Places like Machines Room are vital for emerging designers and creators, and are home to a vast number of independent and community projects like Hack on Wheels and Precious Plastic. Hack on Wheels is a project started to disrupt disability, and involves 3D printing broken wheelchair components. Machines Room are helping establish an online library of opensource designs and instructions for making fully customizable wheelchairs that anyone can freely use, adapt and develop.
Collection of plastic waste from their 3D printers also contributes to the Precious Plastic project, in an effort to reduce waste and reuse the materials. They have a heat press, they have started using it to melt down the plastic from shredded plastic bottles.
The amount of innovative projects coming out of maker spaces and Fab Labs is incredible, and revolutionizes the way we share information and ideas. I for one plan on utilizing the facilities Machines Room has to offer and the expertise of the people there (probably for cosplay projects). You can find out more about their operating times, fees and facilities on their website, or check them out on Twitter and Facebook.