Kaasfabriek FabLab regio Alkmaar, André van Rijswijk: “It is important to get children enthusiastic about science and technology”
Located in the cultural center HAL 25, Kaasfabriek (Cheese Factory) FabLab regio Alkmaar is a non-profit organization which relies on the work of volunteers and the support of private partners. Its main focus is to incline children toward digital fabrication by welcoming or reaching schools.
Everything here is conceived to attract children: the building is made up of colorful shipping containers and volunteers always wear a yellow smock, just like an actual worker would do in a cheese factory.
We spoke with André van Rijswijk, teacher in Amsterdam and cofounder at Kaasfabriek, about their mission, the way they economically sustain their activities, and their upcoming projects.
Can you tell us something about Kaasfabriek?
«Kaasfabriek is a FabLab, an open workspace that started a year ago.
We built it out of five shipping containers, one of which stands upright like a tower. There is no smoke coming out of the tower… but it is our factory!
People can come in and make use of our machines for free, after attending a one-night workshop on how to use them. The only requirement is to share knowledge, because that is what we do: we pay each other with knowledge.»
Kaasfabriek is a non-profit organization in which various professionals are involved: entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, artists and so forth. How was all that possible?
«Kaasfabriek, as a FabLab, is like a magnet for people with different interests who see their benefit in it: children come here to make, for example, small boxes for their Arduino or Raspberry Pi; artists come here to make art. We have an artist who makes shoes using the laser machine for cutting the leather.
There is a wide variety of users and that is the fun part of it: people in retirement, for example, who worked their whole life in arts and crafts, teach their knowledge to young users.
Sometimes people have to wait because the machine is already in use and they start talking to each other: “What are you making? Can I do that too? Can I use your design to improve my work?”. You get all kinds of collaboration here and that is really what this space is about.»
What are your core activities and how do you sustain them as a foundation?
«We are a non-profit organization and coming here is free, but people have to attend the basic workshop to use the machines. In addition to that, we organize other workshops, we give talks in libraries and for companies which want to get information about the new digital technology. There are several ways to earn money in order to pay the rent and to buy newer machines.
We received public funding for the start, but that is over now. With all the activities we do, we have managed to sustain this space, the Wi-Fi, the power, and all we need for running the machines. We even earn some money now…
We learnt from the experience of other fablabs. ProtoSpace FabLab Utrecht, for example, received a lot of public funding for the first years, but now it is not so easy due to the current economic crisis.
What we received from public funding was really important as we could build this factory and buy some machines thanks to it. However, we knew this would have stopped, so we immediately thought about all kinds of projects to earn some money and to keep the FabLab free for the people.»
In your mission you state that Kaasfabriek is “for creative makers, since 2 to 100 years old”. Indeed you hold courses for adults and children. Can you explain what are the differences, what captivates adults and what children?
«There is not so much difference, but children are much faster with computers and computer drawing, while adults have more experience with the traditional arts and skills. They all have abilities and use them to help each other.
It is important to get children enthusiastic about science and technology, because these are the people we need now but also in the future.
Children should be involved in science projects from primary school in order to engage them from a young age. This way, they might choose to study science and technology in the future.
That is what we do here: we have contacts with primary schools, high schools and universities. But primary schools are different, because they don’t have much money and that is why we ask private businesses, companies to support a primary school class and to collaborate on projects with us.
Students come here or we go to schools, because we have also a mobile FabLab container. We park it in the yard, open it… And then you have a little factory at school!»
Which are the achievements Kaasfabriek has already reached and which are its future plans and objectives?
«I think that we have done a lot until now considering that we opened just a year ago: we managed to build the factory, to install the machines, and to have a group of 30 volunteers; we work with libraries, schools, and companies.
Our goal is to maintain all that but also to increase the activity with primary schools. This is our main focus and we wrote it in our statute as one of the foundations of our company. That is the biggest goal for this year.
Moreover, we would like to combine a free entry FabLab with a paid bigger workspace.
There are many carpenters, for example, who used to work for big companies, but things are not going that well in the construction industry. Therefore they are starting their own activity as one-person business but without having their own workspace. So we would like to establish a big space where they can use our machines for their business.
It is a bit like the TechShop in the US: you become a member of a workspace by paying a fee that allows you to use all the machines available and you don’t have to share all the knowledge. You can, but you don’t have to.
This way we would have a non-profit side and a profit one.»
As you know, our followers are invited to raise questions to our interviewees through our website. Bart Bakker wrote us the following:
Bart Bakker: ‘The Kaasfabriek FabLab building consists of a number of well insulated 40 ft containers and is heated by a pellet stove. What do you have as backup/signaling system in case the pellet stove malfunctions? It once happened at FabLab Amersfoort and then the glass tubes of both their laser cutters froze and cracked.’
«Yes, that can happen. We have a pellet stove and it is convenient, but at night it is off as we can’t afford to leave it on, day and night.So we have a small electric heater near the laser cutter, where there is the glass tube with circulating water which cools down the laser beam.
What we do is to put antifreeze in the system and to leave on the electric heater at the lowest temperature. To properly solve this problem, there is a ribbon that is usually used around the domestic outside taps to heat the water when it risks freezing. Ultimately, I think that is the solution to this problem.»