February 01, 2016

I want to learn how to make everything

fabacademy

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This week I took my first class in a five-month course in digital fabrication called FabAcademy. This global program is running concurrently at makerspaces around the world and coordinated by the FabFoundation. I’m participating in this program in Providence, Rhode Island at AS220–a DIY art organization with a maker space, a community printshop, a media lab, and whole lot of other programs and spaces.

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What is digital fabrication? Digital fabrication is the process of using digital design processes to create physical objects. That means using software to create designs that are then manufactured with computer-controlled machines. That could be creating a design for a wooden object like a chair, which is carved using a computer-controlled router like a ShopBot, or designing a snap-together box that’s made by cutting acrylic sheets with a laser cutter, or 3D-scanning an object and then creating a mold to cast more copies of that object. The FabAcademy course covers all the skills required for these kinds of projects. Each week there’s a lecture from Neil Gershenfeld about like product design, software development practices, 2D and 3D design using CAD software, electronics, 3D printing, molding & casting, computer-controlled machining, arduinos & raspberry pi’s, and lots of other fun topics.

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Why am I excited about digital fabrication? Digital fabrication is exciting because I see it as a way that we can take the culture and the politics of the Web and apply it to the manufacturing of physical things. In open source software there’s an expectation that you can take the source code of a project, remix it however you like, and then make your own version of the software. You could download some code and add some new functionality, or fix a bug, or you could use someone else’s code as the basis for your entirely new project. This is easy with software because it’s an entirely digital product. By using a digital design process for physical objects, we could do the same with physical objects. Digital fabrication is exciting because it gets us closer to having an open source system for physical objects. You could download a design for a chair, remix it on your laptop, and then use a computer-controlled machine to cut your own version.

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Filling the gaps in my knowledge. This digital fabrication stuff isn’t entirely new to me. I’ve used a laser cutter to make stencils for activists, made laptop stands out of a pizza box, and etched a funny face onto a block of tofu. With a vinyl cutter, I’ve made a mobile app prototyping whiteboard and produced some car decals for a non-profit. I’ve played around with 3D printers & 3D scanners and made a little 3D selfie. Even though I have some experience with these tools, I have significant gaps in my knowledge and I feel limited in what I can make. The way that I learned how to use these tools is mostly from trial-and-error or watching Internet howto videos. So during this course I’m focusing on filling in those gaps. And I’ll be documenting the projects that I do along the way.

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A new project each week. Over the next few months I’m producing a project each week, based on the skills that I learned in the course that week. As much as possible, I’ll be documenting projects by writing step-by-step guides, sharing photos, and recording videos. I’ll be sharing that content here on this blog and also publishing them on my FabAcademy project page. Check back to see my progress and my experiments.