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Fab8 - what did you think?

Posted by Inquisitor 
Fab8 - what did you think?
August 30, 2012 05:08AM
Last Sunday and Monday, I attended some of the Fab8 conference at Massey Uni=versity's new fab lab in Wellington. I was impressed with the fab lab, and enjoyed what I saw of the conference.

The highlights for me were:
- helping Vik Oliver and team (OK, slowing down - especially when I broke the hot end) producing a new RepRap variant.
- talk on 3d printing body parts
- talk on new 3D printing materials
- talk from the guy with the solar 3D printer in the desert hot smiley
- Vik and Suz Oliver's unique presentation style smoking smiley
- seeing the water cutter in action smileys with beer
- and not to be forgotten, the discussion on the evil uses of 3D printing cool smiley
Re: Fab8 - what did you think?
September 11, 2012 07:42PM
Sorry it took so long to respond but I hope the length makes up for it :-)

If you go to [webcast.massey.ac.nz] and install Silverlight/Moonlight+Microsoft Media Pack into your browser you will be able to watch the talks held at the public academic symposium. The talks are all run together into a 6 1/2 hour webcast (warning: I have had odd issues navigating forward and backward through it and have found that if you click on a slide thumbnail it works better than going to a particular time). There is at least one talk missed out however. For some reason JP Lewis's talk is skipped at around 4:45:00.

Starting at approximately 2hr 28min is "Pandoras Box and Advanced Manufacturing" by Michael Hopmeier. In reference to the saying "one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter" he seems to have the given a classic US culture of fear/paranoia/security/military type of "catch the terrorist" talk at a conference where everyone else is of the academic/liberal/techno-anarchist "support the freedom fighter" bent. To give him credit he was basically saying that he is asking the question of how to stop bad people doing bad things with this technology, not that he has any answers on how to actually stop them (although his talk seemed to imply that tracking and taking away anonymity was what he was thinking about, talking to him afterwards he wasn't set on this, it just seemed to be the first/only thing he could think of).

If you go to [webcast.massey.ac.nz] you can see all the other recorded talks at the week long conference as well. I was only there for 2 days unrecorded un-conference and this public symposium so I don't know what they are about but I'll probably try and watch them over the next couple of weeks.

As for what was most interesting, I liked getting a close up look at Vik's Simplebot "Patches" even though it isn't finished yet. The talk he gave on the Saturday morning was also great as he went over a lot of the "fiddly bits" in the hotend and how he constructs them as well as some of the issue he has had.

Aside from that, it was really interesting seeing the Fab Lab equipment and talking to the people involved and getting a handle on the different cultural mindsets between FabLabbers and Reprappers. I think it comes down to the way in which FabLabs have been spreading primarily through academic institutions. Its not something I had thought of before but talking to the people there was very familiar from my own time in academia.

With FabLabs there is the division (but not necessarily a formal hierarchy) of teacher/student/public where you can go from being an interested person of the public to being a student and then a teacher over time (with a formal acknowledgement of the fact with certificates etc.)

The checks and balances needed to ensure quality education leads to a more centralised and inward focused environment (which I had initially taken for elitism when looking at it from the outside and comparing it to the more outwardly focused Reprap community). I think this has also lead to a slowing of the possible uptake of FabLabs around the world but it is still enormous: at the start of the academic symposium it is mentioned there are 135 FabLabs around the world with that number doubling about every 18 months. Given the overlap of people interested in FabLabs and Repraps I would think that this is slower than it could be as there has been an estimated doubling of Reprappers every 6 months.

The goal of FabLabs is also different to Reprap. Its not so much a difference of "give a man a fish" vs. "teach a man to fish" as it is "teach a man to fish and give him a timeshare rod" vs "teach a man to fish and how to build a fishing rod". Both are better than simply giving him a fish but I think the FabLabs are inherently limited in their usefulness although at the present time they are much better than a similar sized community of Reprappers (if for no other reason than the fact that there is more money thrown at the equipment problem than most Reprappers would think of doing).

One of the interesting things I thought was all the cool toys in the Fab Lab and how they are being used. If you break it down, most of the machines were computer controlled subtractive machines of one sort or another with only a few additive machines i.e. 3D printers and those few were not really being used as much. So, I wondered why not?

There was a Bits From Bytes machine and 2 UP plus machines that I saw being used. They all give good quality prints but are a lot slower to build a standard 'thing' than cutting a similar shape from the appropriate block of material. In theory additive manufacturing can do a superset of the things you can do with subtractive but at the moment that capability is not being taken advantage of as the people using the machines have been 'traditionally trained'. On a side-note this is also similar to one of Vik's comments about Reprap designs at the moment and his motivation for his Simplebot: they are designed to be printed quickly so that people can sell them, rather than being designed to be easy to assemble so that more people can put them together.

I think it will take a while for people to work out the ways to take advantage of additive manufacturing to make those things in a single step that can't be done with subtractive manufacturing (the classic is printing out a gearbox as a single print). And this probably won't happen until a while after you can print good quality things out fast enough to compete with the computer controlled subtractive machines.

Neil Gershenfeld (head FabLab guy) has been quoted as saying in 2006 that we're 20 years away from the Star Trek replicator and at the conference his exact wording was that we may be on a 20 year journey to the Star Trek Replicator. I would like to make a slightly closer, and more vague, predication: based just on a gut feeling I think that in a decade (chosen because its a nice round number in the right time-frame) we will see a switch in utilisation of the machines in the successors of these FabLabs to be primarily using additive machines as we start to harness the (currently theoretical) advantages of the latter generation Repraps and cousins over the more primitive cutting tools.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/11/2012 07:48PM by reece.arnott.
Re: Fab8 - what did you think?
September 12, 2012 04:47AM
One small criticism of the symposium. The talk from the guy from Weta Digital was a little out of place. It was a well presented, interesting talk on a fascinating subject, but it should have been someone from Weta Workshop, not Weta Digital. Especially since Weta Workshop are now designing and building their own 3D printers.

I agree with Reece about Michael Hopmeier also appearing to be out of place with his message on the potential misuse of fabrication technology. But I think that this sort of event is exactly where this sort of discussion needs to start happening to avoid the whole big-brother approach that could so easily make our hobby difficult to practice.

Reece, I'm surprised to learn there are only 135 Fablabs at present. Still, if they are doubling every 18 months, it won't be long before their resources are available to everyone. The expensive machinery will be needed by the hobby 3D printing community for some time yet, at least until some major improvements happen in the printing materials front.

I recomend anyone interested in 3D printing, or fabrication in general, to view the symposium presentations.
Re: Fab8 - what did you think?
September 12, 2012 06:03AM
Being in silverlight means it can never be viewed by people like myself (who don't and wont run Microsoft)
Re: Fab8 - what did you think?
September 16, 2012 03:43AM
I am running Firefox on Linux and I used the Moonlight plugin (although I also had to install the MS codec pack). Firefox has just had an update however which stopped my Moonlight 3.9.9 plugin from working. Given that I am now running Firefox 15.0.1 I guess it was either Firefox 14 or 15 that I was using.
Re: Fab8 - what did you think?
September 16, 2012 04:49AM
Vik has a picture of the new RepRap variant on his diamondage website. The watercut perspex looks cool.
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