We’re a creative workspace for anyone to make (almost) anything, through digital fabrication and rapid prototyping. We help individuals and companies learn about the application of digital technologies, rapid hardware prototyping, 3D printing and sustainable design practices.
Fab Lab London
Multidisciplinary team of makers
Fab Lab London in details
All you need to know about the workshop before getting there
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A guided tour of Fab Lab London
Interview of Ande Gregson and immersion into the workshop
MakerTour's 6 topics
Understand in depth the mecanisms and practices of this workshop
In 2013, Andrew Gregson was running a company he was about to shut down, while he was discovering the maker movement. An idea came, opening his own space to mix technologies and sciences, which he brought to his friend Tony Fish. Why? “To apply technology to a social context! Projects need to have a purpose, have benefits with social aim for people.”
In early 2014, the space was found and Fab Lab London company cofounded. By the summer, they had the keys. “We bought two drills to bring the wall down, and assembled the lab in 4 months from recycled materials at 80%!” The great opening happened in September 2014.
It was aimed at makers. “In the UK, a maker is someone who makes jam, textile, crafts, not necessarily an engineer. My mom makes cakes, my son makes a mess. The lab was focused on IoT, Tech, digital fabrication at the beginning.”
The interests are wider now with projects about food, smart materials, bio-techs, fin-techs, green-techs. “You can apply what we do here to many many contexts, environments, markets. But we were doing too much, and now we are trying to do less and less. To focus.”
According to Andrew, there’s no main profile within Fab Lab London’s community. “It’s everybody, from kids, to old engineers and craftsmom, along with startups, business, parents, bankers, innovators, product designers, agencies, companies, universities, school teachers, students, artists, disabled people. We try to span as much as possible.”
Fab Lab London members projects span over a wide range of interests: IoT, tech, digital fabrication, food, smart materials, bio-techs, fin-techs or green-techs like Andrew.
People coming discovered Fab Lab London through Google mostly, word-of-mouth and personal networks, social media, and come often to pay a first visit out of curiosity.
“Most of them come back, especially during the OpenDays. But it take them sometimes 6 months after the first visit.”
The pedagogy and animation
Fab Lab London’s team works as a flat organisation through shared projects. “We try to create and foster a community, with more or less 15 people in this small ecosystem: 4 associates, interns who come here to do their own projects, projects for the lab and help with stuffs everyday and volunteers.”
“We have a very open approach when someone new arrives. Safety instructions, teach how to use the machines at least, invite the person to make a project, think of one, and come up with something to contribute. They’re then invited for the monthly beers and pizzas, run the lab introduction with us and get opportunities for paid work: events, design, etc.”
To stimulate the fablab, the team tries to find specialists who can come to create their own classes and workshops and run it. They can then generate some revenues out of it, build their own reputation while the community can enjoy the events and possibilities.
“One of the models we trying to work on is to have people come to the lab, form a group to work with and an idea, and start a Kickstarter campaign. Like Suzie and Amin (two interns) with Pegged In project.
Fab Lab London uses several tools to document and communicate on a daily basis. “We have a wiki to capture operational information. On the blog and social media, it’s more about marketing and shout about what we’re doing.”
“We try to document but we’re not great at it. Documenting the projects is up to the users. They do it on the wiki and the blog. We’ll be sharper with projects like the irrigation and aquaponic system.” Get a look at their wiki and blog!
Fab Lab London also does the FabAcademy since 2015. Two students are taking it this year, their documented projects website is accessible here.
The business model
Fab Lab London is a social enterprise created in 2014 and self-funded with 25.000 euros. Andrew Gregson and Tony Fish (the two cofounders) did the space renovation themselves and bought/recycled/funded the machines.
Today, the fablab is a 15-people ecosystem (associates, interns and volunteers) with a 400 members community. Through its different income sources - internal/external events, workshops/classes, commercial work, work with large organisations, personal funds, memberships, grants - the yearly budget is approx. 64.000 euros.
“We try to create value as an ecosystem. Every contract is brought to the 15-people enlarged team, someone’s up, does the job, get paid with a margin taken by the fablab and everyone’s happy.” They’d like to develop a fund to invest (taking equity) in startup hosted/born in the fablab, to have a “channel” of Educate, Make and Grow activities.
Their indicators of Fab Lab London’s good health? “The survival (laughs), the diversity of projects coming through the doors, the kids saying they wanna work here and how busy we are all the time!”
But what makes Fab Lab London unique in the fablab/makerspace world? “We’re in the middle of the City, opposite to the Bank of China. We have an entrepreneurial look as a social enterprise and independent lab, started by two guys. A very diversified focus and eclectic people, what makes Fab Lab London special is the people and projects you’ll find here.”
Talking about environment, Andrew and the team try to source all the materials from thirds parties. “We only buy what we can’t find somewhere else, like Arduino.” They don’t even sell materials to users but give them recycled things the lab got for their projects. On energy consumption, “we try to use as little as possible. We get a spreadsheet of the global use, but not per machine.”
To raise the awareness among the population about the challenges of repairing objects within your everyday life, they collaborate with The Great Recovery to learn how to design more sustainable products. On a daily basis, they repair their machines and share the learning with the younger users.
Lately, Andrew’s trying to develop a Green Lab : produce food locally, reduce energy consumption, how to use mycellium for packaging (mycellium eats PLA).
The great practices of Fab Lab London
The good initiatives of this workshop which should inspire everyone
The future development and projects of the workshop
Migrating Fab Lab London to a bigger space
The cofounders would like to move to a new space, from 350 to 950m2. It would also be the opportunity to create a different model, adding a desk and space rental to its current activities and deploy the Green Lab.
Developing Fab Lab London’s Green Lab
Lately, Andrew Gregson has been trying to develop a Green Lab within Fab Lab London. The project is to produce food locally, to reduce energy consumption, and work on projects like learning how to use mycellium for packaging (mycellium eats PLA plastic). He has also been working on an irrigation and aquaponic system. Moving to a new space would be a great opportunity to develop the Green Lab project further.
Wait, there's more to read!
A few links and ressources about the workshop
- Movilab's link: movilab.org/index.php?title=Maker_Tour
- Fab Lab London opens in the heart of the City : http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-09/19/fab-lab-london-launch
- The FabBike project : http://www.fabbike.cc/
- How Fab Lab London is changing the face of digital education : https://www.virgin.com/disruptors/how-fab-lab-london-is-changing-the-face-of-digital-education
for their warm welcome and the time they dedicated to the initiative!