FabLab Arnhem, Sergio Canestrelli: “People are crossing over the borders of different working areas: a designer is no longer a pure designer”
FabLab Arnhem, the fifth one in The Netherlands, is located in the University of Applied Sciences in Arnhem. It was born thanks to the will to enhance the educational method and to open the school toward the world of work.
Indeed the impact it has had on the community, has gone above and beyond what was expected: FabLab Arnhem is a hub for local economies, where needs and competences of students, private enterprises and public institutions, encounter each other and turn into cooperative projects.
We spoke with Sergio Canestrelli, daily operation manager of the Lab, to figure out how digital fabrication is breaking down barriers, from design to production and from education to business.
Sergio, could you tell us something about you, your background and how you arrived here?
“I grew here, actually: I used to work at the HAN as a student assistant, when the administration discovered what a FabLab could mean and said ‘Ok, we have to have one here!’.
I was looking for a new challenge within the HAN, so I simply applied for the position of care taker, and the next day I was working here.
My background is, in part, in the social areas and, in part, in electrical engineering: both the aspects of the activities conducted here… You need several skills, otherwise you will never survive here!”
As you said, sharing experience and knowledge is the core of FabLabs. Could you explain how interaction and exchange are changing the way we design?
“I think they are changing practically everything. Three dimensional printing has been used for over thirty years, but now we see it exploding.
Let’s think about hospitals: there are doctors making prosthesis, and they used to do that through measuring by hand, till they realized ‘Ok, this is three dimensional drawing and we have three dimensional scanners for our patients. Couldn’t we use the three dimensional data for printing?’ And that is how doctors started using three dimensional printing.
So what we see is that through this new disruptive technology, the additive technique, people are crossing over the borders of different working areas: a designer is no longer a pure designer.
Here we have, on the one hand, product designers who operate in mechanics, because they can help print mechanical parts, but they need other specific technical information. On the other hand, we have people who specialize in mechanics but don’t know how to draw in 3D. So people try to work together.
I think FabLabs are actually a reaction to a symptom that you could see in the world of production or creation everywhere. And that probably explains why we see three dimensional printing exploding like crazy.”
FabLab Arnhem was born with and within the HAN University. Does it have to be economically independent, or is it part of the financial management of the University?
“I think it is a mix.
When you are in a school, there is this contradiction: a FabLab is supposed to be open to everybody while schools tend to think ‘We have to keep this service for our students’. But schools have noticed that, by letting students from different institutes interact each other and with other disciplines, they learn a lot faster. Also the schools have seen the benefit of being open someway.
Therefore, we are inside HAN, but not exclusively for HAN.
That results in having to earn money by ourselves, alongside the school funding due to the presence of many internal students. That is the way we solved it, but there are many other different versions, like in FabLab Zwolle or in FabLab Enschede.”
FabLab Arnhem is connected also with commercial activities, like Media Markt in Arnhem, which you organized some events with…
“Yes, several actually… That started two years ago during the fashion festival Mode Biennale Arnhem which used to be held every two years. The team of the Biennale wanted to show the connection between modern production techniques and fashion. So we got an area split in two: on one side we showed 3D printed fashion accessories and, on the other side, a 3D printer setup so that people on the street could actually get to know this world.
At that event we were approached by the manager of Media Markt in Arnhem. He said ‘We would like to learn more about 3D printing, so that we can start selling three dimensional printers, having a good background of information’. So that is why they approached us. Then that encounter ended up in a cooperation in which we provide demonstrations in Media Markt. And it is part of our income as well, next to what we get from the school.
For us it was Media Markt, but there are many other examples where local companies established a link with FabLabs: ‘You are the guys who can do that, and we need this knowledge. Could we do something together?’.
Well, working together, in cooperation, that is what FabLabs are about.”
FabLabs closely related to universities and schools are increasing. Is it only for teaching scopes, or does it have to do with the role that institutions must play in the society?
“I don’t know how it is internationally, but here the system of school has changed a lot over the last twenty years. Educational institutions tend much more to companies: ‘What do companies want when they get students from Universities?’. They try to fit in there.
And also companies are changing, because there is still a lot of efficiency to gain in designing and producing, especially when it comes to digital fabrication, like additive manufacturing or laser cutting.
We are currently working with the province of Gelderland, which Arnhem is the capital of. They are launching a web platform for digital fabrication knowledge in order to combine local companies and educational institutions. We provide education, assistance, we do proof of concepts and research for the companies: if they have an issue, we try to see if we can fix it.
FabLabs can mean a lot for either education or commercial companies, or even research, because we try to do that stuff that usually doesn’t happen on the surface. We try to be open and to share knowledge… Something has to change!”