A new business hub aimed at making low cost digital technology universally accessible will be launched in Exeter later this year.
Devon County Council has been working on the Fab Lab project for the last 18 months with the aim of creating an environment where SMEs, students and artists can access equipment such as 3D printers, milling machines and computer aided design software.
The Exeter Fab Lab will be based in the £4.2 million revamped Central Library, which is due to open in May. It has already secured £90,000 in funding from Devon County Council and £30,000 from the Real Ideas Organisation’s SW Bridge Challenge Fund. It has also put in a funding bid for £30,000 from Nesta/Nominet Trust (Digital Makers Fund).
“We want to create a generation of creators not consumers,” said Tom Dixon, economic development officer at Devon County Council. “The idea is that you should be able to walk into one of these places with an idea in your head and come out with a prototype.”
The Fab Lab will also provide business and intellectual property support to help people develop their ideas. So far, 150 people have registered an interest in the scheme.
An operator will be chosen for the scheme by the end of June, when a long term business plan will also be put together.
Devon County Council are in talks with Exeter College about working in partnership on the scheme. The University of Exeter is also involved with five final year civil engineering students helping project leaders with sourcing equipment and the Fab Lab layout.
In addition, discussions have also been held with KEVICC’s, in Totnes, about the idea of establishing a Fab Lab centre there as part of a bid to roll the concept out to different parts of the region to allow as many people as possible to access the technology.
The idea of a Fab Lab was developed by inventor and scientist Professor Neil Gershenfeld at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the idea of providing the environment, skills and technology to make things cheaply and quickly anywhere in the world and to make this available to entrepreneurs, students, artists and small businesses.
The first UK Fab Lab was set up in Manchester and, since then, the concept has spread across the country to locations including Falmouth University and Plymouth College of Art.