Fab Labs Inspire Innovation Through Digital Fabrication Tools

Dr. Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms and founder of the Fab Lab Network, likes to say that the “power of digital fabrication is social, not technical”.  Speakers at the DigiFab Conference in Cambridge, MA on April 22 and 23 demonstrated Professor Gershenfeld’s point with remarkable examples of innovative solutions to pressing problems that have grown out of worldwide fab labs.


Digital Fabrication Laboratories, or Fab Labs, contain new technologies such as 3D Printers and 3D Scanning, but also CAD software, laser cutters and markers, CNC milling machines and microelectronics workstations with things like Arduino and Little Bits.  With a little training “Fabbers” can make…well, almost anything!  It was especially gratifying to see projects beyond 3D Printing Christmas ornaments that have real impact on the world.

Although all of the talks were fascinating, here are some highlights:

Global Humanitarian Lab

The International Committee of the Red Cross has pulled together a number of international organizations to start the Global Humanitarian Lab.  David Ott, Senior Innovation Analyst at the Geneva-based organization, described the myriad of humanitarian issues that could be helped through building necessary items onsite in areas of conflict, including refugee camps.  A major issue for aid organizations is getting supplies to those in need and making directly bypasses political and military issues.  A great example is the Israeli physician who is 3D Printing stethoscopes in Gaza.  Medical and other life-saving devices are crucial to the humanitarian effort. Perhaps Digital Fabrication tools in the future will aid those in need even in areas of conflict.

Fab Lab Rwanda 



One of the newest fab labs to open is in Rwanda, with support from Solidworks.  Marie Planchard explained that with a large majority of girls not attending school, it was clear to the CAD and design software company that they needed to support education in the African nation, especially for girls.  The hope is to foster an innovation ecosystem in the country stemming from the fab lab to the entire community.

Enable Prosthetic Hand Project

3D Printing is getting a lot of press in the medical field and for good reason.  One of the most powerful applications of the technology is its inherent ability to easily adapt a design to a multitude of customized users, mass customization if you will.  While Enable started with a generic design, Autodesk senior scientist and Enable Board member Andreas Bastian led the DigiFabCon audience through the process that has led to Human-Centric design.  Utilizing these concepts, we hope to see better prosthetic hands that are easier to 3D Print and more useful to their recipients.

Corporate Responsibility: Chevron’s Investment in STEM Education


With a $10 million investment to start new fab labs, Chevron has been at the forefront of corporations stepping up to the plate to ensure the workforce of the future is ready to meet the challenges of Digital Fabrication.  The Fab Foundation’s Sonya Pryor-Jones explored the impact this kind of corporate involvement can have on specific education settings from K – 12 through institutions of higher learning.