There’s a growing space in the world for a growing community of “makers.” Makers are those who transform the virtual into actual physical objects. They “make” in a network of laboratories specifically equipped for rapid fabrication, thus, “fablabs.”
A new member of this global network, and among very few fablabs in the Philippines, the UP Cebu FabLab has made its presence felt since opening in September 2016. A project of the University and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), it is doing what it set out to do: people the booming industries of Cebu with digital creatives able to convert their designs into solid reality.
UP Cebu Fablab enables those creatives with fablab basic services: laser cutting, desktop and large CNC (computer numerical control) milling, 3D printing, large-format printing, and vinyl cutting. It has two conference rooms with Wi-fi: one equipped with 15 computer units with 3D modeling and design software.
On top of these physical features is the laboratory’s young but already cherished tradition of openness. “I know for sure there are some companies who have machines like these: the typical tarpaulin printer machine, laser cutters, and this CNC. But they are privately owned. What we provide here is democratic access to these machines,” UP Cebu Fablab manager Jay Nathan Jore says.
“And it’s a kind of a one-stop shop,” he adds, as he emphasizes the training the facility also provides on fabrication and the use of the machines.
One is hard put to call it a “laboratory.” Jore would rather call it “makerspace,” a “communal space” open to makers in the region where there had been none.
One comes in and is greeted cordially by teachers, staff, and a cardboard T-Rex as tall as a human. A shelf presents rows of curios and collectibles. At the farther end of the main hall is a quirky lounge set and a CNC-shaped conference table. Beside it, an arcade game console is ready to be played. All are prototypes fabricated in-house. Walk-in guests get a rush of ideas and possibilities.
They comprise the majority of the clientele: enthusiasts from outside UP, and micro, small, and medium enterprises in the region. The 30-percent student clientele mostly come from other universities, to include medical students 3D-printing brain, parts of the spinal column, and teeth for visualization.
“We are one center that can bring students from different universities—competing universities—together and to work together. In one weekend there were students from San Carlos, from San Jose Recoletos, from others, who all wanted to have something done in the Fablab. It was fun seeing them together,” Jore says, adding that students are given discounts on the already cheap rates.
“People would come: entrepreneurs one day, artists and designers the next, and engineers or architects on another. We know these engagements would germinate things we could not by ourselves [in UP Cebu].”
The Fablab has served 350 individuals as of October 2017, germinating 25 to 30 product prototypes a month. These include scale models of buildings, trophies, electronics, and prize-winning entries to design contests by UP Cebu students. Apparel, fashion accessories, shoes and bags developed by UP Cebu students from scrap and salvaged wood in the Fablab won this year’s “Green Fashion Revolution.”
For Jore, engagement is an essential feature of a fablab, and that which characterizes UP Cebu Fablab and the people it attracts. He noted this in a burgeoning group of “tinkerers, makers, and breakers” which the Fablab formed out of its online subscribers, eyeballing upon the initiative of an Australian volunteer. No longer virtual, the group comes up with a 15-person turnout every Thursday night, indulging their maker enthusiasm together, learning more about fabrication and brewing ideas for projects.
As a government-subsidized facility, the Fablab has been helping the Cebu provincial government directly. DTI refers enterprises to it for product design consultation. The Fablab is also integral to Cebu DTI’s One-Town-One-Product program.
“Aside from being the workspace for the program, what happens now is that our Product Design graduates from UP, who were trained in the Fablab, were hired by DTI to do prototyping, designing, research and development for products of the towns. We have them here and they use the machines,” Jore says.
He shows an example of the label and packaging design for Argao’s specialty food items, torta and tablea, which reminds him of “DOST wanting us to study creating a center for packaging,” in which Fablab appears to be developing a specialty.
“Another important thing the Fablab has done was organizing side by side with DTI Cebu the Slingshot Philippines Makers Edition in February this year,” Jore adds. “We brought together all fablabs in the Philippines. Together with Fablab Bohol (based in Bohol Island State University) and Fablab Mindanao (based in the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology), we were able to propose the establishment of the Philippine Fablab Network to provide a support system for all the fablabs in the Philippines. We hope to encourage more fablabs to open in the Philippines,” Jore says.
He also hopes to upgrade the UP Cebu Fablab to keep up with the growing community. “We only have one 3D printer. We need to acquire at least three more. And we need to acquire another kind of laser cutter to cut through hard metal and stones, because this one could only cut through wood, plastics, and soft metal. . . . And sewing machines, soldering and other jewelry equipment. We need to cover ceramics and glass.”
With these, UP Cebu Fablab can better respond to the public.
“We provide a public service,” Jore reiterates. This public includes future designers as young as senior high school students. The Fablab must continue extending its services, even as the community gravitates to this special Cebu hub on its own.
The more followers UP Cebu Fablab has, the more secure will Cebu’s place be as the birthing ground of innovations, which begin with fabricated prototypes.