Making: A History and Present Applications
You may have noticed that other names besides “makerspace” are used for similar facilities. No matter what the name may be (Fab Labs, hackerspaces, and TechShops), they have one goal: creative making.
Fab Labs are fabrication laboratories. They’re a network of makerspaces around the world that share information and use the same equipment to fabricate things. Hackerspaces were originally dedicated to programming and coding. Today, hacking means so much more than the original computer hackers could have imagined. There are websites with instructions on how to “hack” furniture, electronics, and even your life.
Some makerspaces do not get funding and rely on membership fees or crowdfunding to keep their spaces open. You may have to pay for access at some of them. Some may be stand-alone and not set up for lab-to-lab sharing, but they still have plenty of makers and mentors to ask for advice and to share with.
THE MAKING REVOLUTION BEGINS
The first modern makerspaces were born at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1998. Professor Neil Gershenfeld taught a class called How to Make (Almost) Anything. The course investigated the overlap between Page 16 | Top of Articlecomputer science and physical science. The class had access to a large facility filled with industrial equipment that could “make and measure things that are as small as atoms or as large as buildings.”
Many of the students in that first class did not have many computer or technology skills. As the class went on, they realized that these machines could help them in their own fields. What started out as a class became a creative workshop. Both creative and scientific students saw the potential of digital fabrication. This was the birth of the Fab Lab.
Things began to happen quickly after the first Fab Lab opened in 2005. That same year saw the launch of Make: magazine. Making became even more popular with the first Maker Faire, which was held the next year in San Mateo, California. In 2010, Maker Faires were also held in Detroit, Michigan, and New York City. They’re a great way for people to socialize and collaborate in the ever-growing maker movement.
Technology is an important feature of makerspaces, but when keeping social studies in mind, we should always keep one foot in the past. What we now consider common knowledge was the peak of technology for past cultures and societies. Today, the average citizen can build or design almost anything he or she can imagine. When we create and share across different disciplines, we can get a better understanding of our world.
THE MAKERSPACE TOOLBOX
Now that we know what makerspaces are, let’s discuss what tools are available in them. The size and budget of a particular space will have a direct effect on what kind and how many of certain tools you may find within. We’ll explore some of them in more depth as they relate to our projects.
With the exception of Fab Labs (because member labs sign a charter agreement on what equipment must be included in facilities), not every makerspace has the same equipment. Some of the tools and materials you can use are listed below. If you’re curious about any of these tools and what they can do, take a trip to the nearest makerspace and see them in action.
Traditional Tools. These are the non-computer-controlled tools you can use to build or create. They include hammers, sewing machines, power tools, and tools for welding and working with wood and metal.
Computers. Screens and keyboards are essential to makerspaces. They can take our ideas, translate them into digital instructions, and send them to a variety of machines and devices to make them real. They’re used in 3D printing, making music, video, and animation.
3D Scanners. A 3D scanner can take a digital three-dimensional picture of a real object and convert it to a computer image or model. This is known as 3D modeling. Once a scan is complete, the data can be saved. Using computer-aided design (CAD) software, these Page 18 | Top of Articlemodels can be examined and adjusted before they are sent to a 3D printer.
3D Printers. 3D printers receive their instructions from a 3D-modeling program that allows a 3D design to be broken down into parts and printed layer by layer. Instead of ink, many 3D printers use spools of filament made of plastic or another material that is heated and used to Page 19 | Top of Articlebuild something layer by layer. Most 3D printers found in makerspaces are desktop printers, so the size of what users can make is often limited.
Laser Cutters and Vinyl Cutters. These tools are used to make precise cuts in thin metals, plastics, and foam. Laser cutters use a powerful focused light to make cuts, while vinyl cutters use a sharp blade. They get their instructions from digital files.
You’ll also find a variety of other materials in makerspaces. These include:
Office Supplies. These are made up of paper clips, rubber bands, notebooks, and especially paper—it’s good for sketching, making early models, and on its own for projects.
Recycled Stuff. Things an ordinary person may get rid of can be gold to makers. Cardboard, used bottles and cans, and plastics can all be reclaimed to form the base of many projects.
Used Things. Many makerspaces take contributions and donations that would otherwise be headed for the landfill. This includes old electronics, phones, furniture, carpeting, and much more.
Scraps. Sometimes, scraps and leftovers from current projects can be used again on later ones. Makers like to throw away as little as possible.
Nature. Don’t forget about the world around you—the sun, wind, and rain are all great things to use or study for projects. Dirt, trees, and leaves are other natural resources that can also spark your imagination.
Arduino. Arduino is an open-source platform that uses programmable circuit boards to connect to computers to perform tasks.
Raspberry Pi. This little credit-card-sized computer is much more powerful than it looks. It’s relatively easy to program and use, even for newbies with limited computer experience.
Robotics and Construction Sets. There are dozens of companies that make kits for robotics, including Play-i (now Wonder Workshop) and Lego. No matter the brand, these kits and sets let kids of all ages build some really cool robots.