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Friday, 31 October 2014

Innovative ‘fab labs’ on the way to west Cumbria

Fab lab technology is coming to west Cumbria, enabling businesses and inventors to create prototypes using precision laser cutters and 3D digital printers.

Fab lab photo
West Lakes Academy students get to grips with the type of equipment to feature in the lab

A fabrication laboratory or ‘fab lab’ is a small-scale workshop equipped with computer-controlled tools that can make almost anything from a digital design in a matter of minutes.

They are low cost in comparison to traditional tooling methods and ideal for producing prototypes or bespoke items unsuited to mass production.

Britain’s Energy Coast (BEC) is setting up fab labs at Createc in Cockermouth and at West Lakes Academy, Egremont, which are due to open this autumn.

BEC is investing £200,000 while a further £80,000 is coming from the Rural Development Programme for England.

David Jones, head of projects, energy and business support at BEC, said: “Encouraging and nurturing innovation is key to the future economic prosperity of west Cumbria.

“BEC fab lab will enable businesses to undertake research and development, schools to nurture the innovation of our youth and the wider community to spark invention.”

Fab labs were developed in US by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The first UK fab lab opened in Manchester in 2010 and there are now 250 around the world.

Shepherds in Norway used a fab lab to create a system for tracking sheep using mobile phones and in Afghanistan, a fab lab has been used to fashion customised prosthetic limbs.

Matt Mellor, managing director of Createc, said: “The facilities and equipment in a fab lab are fantastic for small businesses and inventors who cannot afford to buy prototyping equipment or create 3D models. This will make a world of difference to smaller, innovative companies like ourselves.”

Stephen Gilby, deputy headteacher of West Lakes Academy, said: “Ours will be the first fab lab in the country to be opened in a school.

“We are excited about the prospect of children turning their creativity and energy into real physical products.”

The facilities will be available to hire.

Enquiries to Joe Martin at BEC on 01946 595285.

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