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The Fab Lab: Fab Labs--digital fabrication laboratories--were set up to inspire people and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into new products and prototypes by giving them access to a range of advanced digital manufacturing technology.

The Fab Lab model was created by Professor Dr Neil Gershenfeld of The Centre for Bits and Atoms (CBA), in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was conceived when the Professor set up the first laboratory for digital fabrication, also known as 'Fab Lab' (Fabrication Laboratory) to study computational capacities that are inherent to physical systems. As an interdisciplinary educational outreach programme, the CBA has supported the setting up abroad of a small number of similar Fab Labs, to be able to do to be able to do further research. The Fab Lab concept quickly became popular among users outside the research domain, and an international network of similar Fab Labs came into being that were all active in the areas of research, education and application of personal digital fabrication. These Fab Labs cooperate with local communities, universities and (international) governments.

Fab Lab Airedale lies in the Aire Valley Corridor an area still rich in manufacturing and particularly engineering, with names including Pace, Carnaud Metal Box, Kone Escalators, within a five mail radius of the site. The majority are however, micro and SME companies producing high quality products for large multi-national companies, some being unique in their fields. There are in excess of 90,000 people involved in manufacturing and engineering in the Aire Valley (West Yorkshire Observatory 30/1/14) and this figure is likely to increase with initiatives such as the Aire Valley Enterprise Zones. Companies in the area face issues with training, funding and investment, age profile and succession planning.

The Fab Lab Airedale works on several levels:

* Working with schools to encourage young people to consider engineering and manufacturing as a career path

* Working with HE and FE students to allow them access to Fab Lab's tools and expertise

* Supporting SME companies with training and development and assisting them in finding funding and other resources

* Linking Micro and SME manufacturing businesses to other support services such as the Manufacturing Advisory Service

* Assisting Micro and SME companies with product development *Working with large employers in developing a pipeline of candidates for succession planning

* Offering free community access to encourage families and young people to engage with engineering

"Fab Lab Airedale is a highly flexible space offering opportunities to involve young people in a wide variety of activities including budget planning, project management, engineering design and build as well as building communication and presentation skills. We also see a wider need to up-skill the existing engineering workforce and to assist them in the move from analogue to digital," says Chris Stott, Operations Manager.

There are a number of activities aimed at school age children, including bootcamp where they are based at the Fab Lab for a week and take part in a design challenge. The candidates design and build a product to a brief and then pitch to a group of local business 'Dragons'. Following the bootcamp they are offered work placement opportunities with local employers. In addition to this there are one day workshops for schools based around national curriculum where students can take part in exercises that they are unlikely to be able to complete in school such as building an electric hovercraft.

"The Formula one in schools ( forms another part the offer to schools. Here we take in 3D CAD drawings created by schools of their own racing car and machine from balsa. These are then raced against other schools, not just in the UK, but across the world. The cars all have the same propulsion system and wheels to ensure that the competition is all about the design of the chassis," adds Chris.

There are two product development engineers permanently based at the Fab Lab who have been able to assist a number of local Micro and SME businesses in taking their product to market. They have also assisted a number of existing businesses in improving both their product and the way in which it is manufactured. The diverse range of products that Fab Lab Airedale have assisted with includes a fuel saving device, an anti-counterfeit system, and innovative cutting tool and cable tie furniture.

Fab Lab Airedale is offering 25% off its one day courses to IED Members. One day 2D CAD courses start from [pounds sterling]67.50 and 3D CAD from [pounds sterling]101.25. The Fab Lab also offers a wide variety of other courses too.

At the heart of Fab Lab is digital manufacturing technology, combining 2D and 3D design with the latest fabrication technology. Embracing a broad spectrum of methods ranging from CNC machining to 3D printing, it can produce a single unique product from a digital design in a matter of minutes and at a very low cost in comparison to traditional tooling methods.
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Publication:Engineering Designer
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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