FabLab Bremen combines workshop and computer lab. Along one side there are tool boxes, metal rails, screws, nails and heavy machinery, and along the other there are laptops, 3D printers, circuit boards and LEDs. A creative space for experimenters and makers – inventors for the digital age.
Just like Antje Moebus, one of the founders of FabLab Bremen and a driving force behind the project. “I’m excited by the variety of options on offer at FabLab. At the moment I’m particularly interested in programming with a Calliope board,” says Moebus, a sociologist working in the field of digital media in education at the University of Bremen. A Calliope board is a single-board computer that is controlled using a simple software interface. It is a great tool for learning how to write programs, and that is why Moebus runs workshops for primary school children.
Every Monday, Moebus welcomes visitors to the OpenLabDays as they make their way up to the first floor of the old post office building in Bremen. The OpenLabDay is just like an open house – anyone is welcome to watch, learn and try for themselves. And that is the thinking behind the whole FabLab idea: “It’s a ‘fabrication laboratory’ where anyone can use the new digital technologies to become a manufacturer. We help people to come up with ideas, with designing and developing them, and with turning them into a reality,” says Moebus. The idea of miniature factories originated in the US. The Bremen association was founded in 2013 and moved to its current location near the main train station in 2016 after three years based at the University of Bremen.
Moebus and a community of almost 60 enthusiastic tinkerers have filled the laboratory with plenty of kit. The well-lit, spacious premises house 3D printers, laser cutters, soldering areas, a CNC router, a vinyl cutter and a sewing machine for conductive yarns. At the moment, they are assembling four further 3D printers, which have been designed by a local engineer – digitalisation made in Bremen. 3D printers are a key technology of Industry 4.0, as they allow the custom manufacture of single items. Every piece is different and unique. “These technologies are changing our economy, and with it our lives. Anyone can come and try them at FabLab, there’s no need to be wary of them. We want to get people excited about technology,” Moebus explains.
People of all ages and from all walks of life have visited FabLab. Groups of school children regularly visit and learn about printing and programming from a relatively early age. At the 2017 Girls Day, for example, 22 school girls designed furniture for a miniature model house on the computer and then printed it right there. Masters students can manufacture parts for their theses, architects can design models, skilled tradespeople and engineers can discover more about this new technology, and start-ups can work on prototypes of their ideas. “This interdisciplinary mix is FabLab’s strength. Members share expertise, the Mercedes engineer helps the design student and learns about design at the same time. This is how we deliver education for digitalisation in a hands-on way,” explains Bernard Robben, research fellow and co-founder of the association. Like Antje Moebus, Robben is part of the digital media in education working group at the University of Bremen – FabLab was established in close partnership with the working group.
Both Moebus and Robben work as volunteers for FabLab, as do all members who organise workshops or help out on OpenLabDay. The association is funded by membership subscriptions, grants and commissions for work. The initial purchase of equipment was funded by Bremeninvest, among others, to provide small and medium-sized companies with easy access to new technologies. FabLab also collaborates with initiatives such as kraftwerk city accelerator, a business incubator supporting young Bremen start-ups that has moved into the floor above FabLab. This has allowed FabLab to establish a good network in Bremen. “We are facilitators between the creative economy, industry, education and science and research. We enable dialogue between all parties in a playful way, and we approach our task with plenty of curiosity and enthusiasm,” says Robben. He and the FabLab Bremen team plan to expand their offering, organise more workshops and extend the opening hours in the future. So that everybody can easily join the digital revolution.
FabLab Bremen’s OpenLabDay runs every Monday from 6pm to 9pm. Contact FabLab to find out about other opening times: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +49 (0)421 6967 9370
There are many other companies and research institutes in Bremen that work with 3D printing. You can find an overview in our article on how 3D printing made in Bremen is revolutionising our manufacturing technology (in German).
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