Fab Labs empower Ekurhuleni’s youth through innovation
Fab Labs empower Ekurhuleni’s youth through innovation, but operational challenges remain. The Democratic Alliance in Ekurhuleni is impressed with the innovation happening at the various “Fab Labs” around the City of Ekurhuleni, but there is room for improvement with a number of operational obstacles hindering the overall experience.
On the 22nd of November 2017, the Economic Development Oversight Committee conducted oversight visits to the Tembisa, Duduza, Tsakane, Vosloorus and Thokoza Fab Labs, respectively. According to their website “A Fab Lab is a technical prototyping platform for innovation and invention, providing stimulus for local entrepreneurship”. The purpose of the oversight visit was to determine the functionality and impact that Fab Labs have on the communities they are situated in.
During our visit we noticed that the labs were well-equipped with the latest technology such as 3D printers and CNC machines. Exposure to these types of technology is often out of reach to many of our Metro’s township residents, and it was great to see that members of the community were encouraged to come into their local Fab Lab and experiment.
At the Tsakane site, we came across a young gentleman by the name of Vusi, who plied his trade there and created an eau de toilette range. He has not only created the various scents himself but the packaging of the product too. He informed us that the Fab Lab programme had assisted him in becoming an entrepreneur and in doing so he had gained international news coverage.
Whilst we acknowledge the good work that has been done, we as the DA see it fit that several issues are addressed to make it a more conducive environment for creative destruction and innovation. We were informed that restrictive ICT policies prevented the labs from having the necessary internet access they required to expose learners to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online lectures. All of which are accessed freely except for the associated internet costs.
Secondly, there was one project manager for all five Fab Labs, who in turn had to rely on 4 interns per site without any permanent staff to assist in the day-to-day tasks required. This over reliance on interns poses a problem and in order for the initiative to attain full efficacy it is important that permanent staff are employed.
Thirdly, a lack of marketing has meant that the Labs aren’t as well utilised by residents as what they could be. This could be rectified with a concerted marketing campaign and the forming of partnerships with local schools to improve awareness and participation.
Innovation in the science and technology space is central to the realisation of the 4th industrial revolution. The forming of partnerships with public and private sector stakeholders is a key mechanism to ensure that such initiatives remain well-resourced. The DA, therefore, urges the MMC for Finance and Economic Development, Cllr Doctor Xhakhaza, to address these issues to enhance the overall Fab Lab experience and spearhead the fight in ensuring that innovation is used to empower Ekurhuleni’s youth.
What is a FabLab?
The FabLab concept was first introduced to South Africa in 2005 by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) under the auspices of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy- Implementation Unit (AMTS-IU) and managed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). It is a concept that originated as the educational outreach component of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) NSF-funded Centre for Bits & Atoms (CBA). A FabLab consists of a suite of off-the-shelf, industrial grade, digital fabrication tools, an electronics workbench, seven computers, programming tools, and is supported by open source design software.