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Like the earlier transition from mainframes to PCs, the capabilities of machine tools will become accessible to ordinary people in the form of personal fabricators (PFs). This time around, though, the implications are likely to be even greater because what’s being personalized is our physical world of atoms rather than the computer’s digital world of bits.

     (by Neil Gershenfeld)

In his book of Fab(Fab: the coming revolution on your desktop—from personal computers to personal fabrication 2005) [6] and also in his TED talks [9] of fab lab, Neil Gershenfeld have predicted a personalized fabricating machine which is able to producing the material and other machines.

In less than ten years, this machine Neil described have already became reality and by have brought a revolution in the field of Digital fabrication under the context of digital humanity.


Figure 1. Objects made with personal digital fabrication tools and shared by their creators on Thingiverse[11]

Digital Fabrication  

As quoted by Gershenfeld, desktop fabrication or digital fabrication is the digitization of analog manufacturing techniques. [6] Comparable to desktop publishing, it affords the output of digital content(e.g. 3D models) into physical form(e.g.plastic). It also personalizes the production through accessible software and hardware, with more flexibility and rapidity than its analog predecessors[2]. Or put it in a simple way, digital fabrication turns bit into atom by creating material object from digital signals.

Research in Digital fabrication under the context of digital Humanity

In the context of digital Humanity, the key question is raised up as how to mobilize the histories and investment of digital humanities to significantly contribute to desktop fabrication research and its role in cultural heritage. According the research in the paper Made to Make: Expanding Digital Humanities through Desktop Fabrication[1], there are three most significant findings of the research field.

Workflow A workflow needs to be articulated, tested in several contexts, and shared with the community. Normally, the object/ material to be exhibited are of these three types: stationary object, interactive exhibit of cultural heritage materials,  putting online material for exhibition. Based on the these three types, different procedures are involved which are shown in Figure 2.

stationary object interactive object online objects
use DSLR camera to take photos of the object integrated the fabricated object into a circuit using sensors think about the before publishing issue
use software to sitich image to 3D scale model write a sketch to execute intelligent behaviors through the circuit license all the files appropriately
output the model as an STL file test the build and document its behavior publish the STL file, G-code, circuit, sketch, documentation
use printing software to process STL into G-code refine the build for repeated interaction
send G-code to 3D printer to fabricate using milling and laser-cutting technique to enhave interation

Figure 2 different workflow of three types of object exhibited

Infrastructure In order to receive feedback on relevance of fabrication to the preservation, discoverability, distribution, and interpretation of cultural heritage materials, humanities practitioners should active consult with the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) professionals. Researchers find out that the importance of makerspace should not be neglected. In the research field involving delivery of cultural heritage materials in 3D and other fabrication related research field in digital humanities, makerspaces should play a prominent role. The current trends of makerspace in researching digital humanities are as follows:1) training in digital/material convergence, 2)a combination of digital and analog technologies, 3)a flexible infrastructure, which should be open-source and sustainable, 4)actively partnership with GLAM institution 5)research focusing on the role of desktop fabrication in the digital economy.

Think globally, fabricate locally

(Neil Gershenfeld [12])

Fab Lab: worldwide labs which practice digital Fabrication

As what is discussed in the previous research, the trend of digital fabrication calls for policy-making activities and certain community that could combine techniques with digital humanity. The most remarkable feature of those communities is sharing and crowdsourcing. Once the product is made by those communities(the production procedure have been discussed previously), the next step is digitalize the product, so it is necessary to mix, remix, sell and share the product, which is the same way with the sharable of digital music& video.

The common community-based social spaces include the Fab Labs affiliated with MIT Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), independent makerspaces and similar groups. The paper: The rise of personal fabrications [8] demonstrates a detailed listing of the individual fabrication service providers since 2007. Online Fabrication Services such as Shapeways, Ponoko, i.materialize and Sculpteo provide on-demand 3D printing and laser cutting services to individuals, while Distributed manufacturing networks such as 100kGarages, CloudFab and MakerFactory connect designers with manufacturing tools, allowing creators to get their concepts produced locally and providing tool owners with a new stream of revenue.

The fab lab program was initiated to broadly explore how the content of information relates to its physical representation and how an under-served community can be powered by technology at the grassroots level.[wiki fablab] In this ted talk 2005, Neil describes an outreach program of Fablab and now it has spread globally. At the beginning of 2011, the international Fab Lab network consisted of over 50 Fab Labs in 16 countries. Even Switzerland has four fab labs affiliated with MIT CBA [10]. The paper of A community fab lab: Introduction to making [2] introduces  the Champaign Urbana Community Fab Lab(CUCFL) , which is also affiliate the International Fab Lab Network that originated MIT. More than 140 labs worldwide are operated independently, sharing and cooperating through standards and a common vision.[2]

In the future, The trend of Digital fabrication under the context of digital humanity includes not only the policy-making field, but the communities itself and the procedure of making, exhibiting and sharing the product.


Abstracts from Digital Humanities 2013

[1] http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/ab-441.html

[2] http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/workshops-009.html

[3] http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/ab-151.html

Additional resources

[4] MIT FAB LABS http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_gershenfeld_on_fab_labs.html

[5] wiki relab-opensource fablab http://blog.opensourceecology.org/2009/11/replab-the-open-source-fab-lab/

[6] Gershenfeld, Neil A. (2005). Fab: the coming revolution on your desktop—from personal computers to personal fabrication. New York: Basic Books

[7] make magazine: witness the desktop fabrication revolution http://makezine.com/2013/09/13/witnessing-the-desktop-fabrication-revolution/

[8] The rise of personal fabrication: http://www.researchnotebook.cc/2011/08/the-rise-of-personal-fabrication/

[9] TED talks fab lab  http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_gershenfeld_on_fab_labs.htm

[10]Switzerland fablab http://fablab.ch/

[11] Thingiverse http://www.thingiverse.com

[12]Neil Gershenfeld How to make nearly everything: The digital Fabrication Revolution http://cba.mit.edu/docs/papers/12.09.FA.pdf