There's a place in Turin where you can go and build yourself anything you want under the guide of expert hosts to whom you can ask even the stupidest questions. FabLab Torino is Italy's first FabLab, and at a recent event I finally got to participate in a real workshop in this almost mythic location in the world of Italian Makers. Let's see how it got started and what makes it special.

Officine Arduino

In Turin in 2011, during the celebrations for the 150 years of Italy (of which Turin was the first capital), Riccardo Luna (ex director of Wired Italia) organized an exhibit called 'Stazione Futuro,' inside which was developed FabLab Italia, which Massimo Banzi describes as follows:

“A space that created a little community of people interesting in understanding how they might invent new productive processes, new models of business starting from digital fabrication, from open source to collaboration between people.” (source)

At the end of 2011, there were machines, but nowhere to put them. Not wanting to let the enthusiasm generated disappear, Officine Arduino was born. It's a start-up that is incubated by Arduino and hosted at Toolbox co-working space. It has the mission of promoting open hardware and open source in Italy and being a place of reference for schools. It shares the location with FabLab Torino, which is open to card-holding members almost every afternoon. Katia De Coi, project manager of Officine Arduino, takes me around the space and explains how it works. The lab always has an expert user present who helps those less skilled at using the machines and developing their projects. At the workshop I did, I verified the great patience of these hosts by asking rather dumb questions, resulting in tactful, serious and patient responses based on deep knowledge.

una domanda stupida ad un host del fablab

To someone like me who is not all that knowledgeable about tools, the FabLab looks pretty much like any workshop, with some machines and a nice storage and display system for the tools, which look rather traditional. Turns out that some of those machines are a bit more fancy, like a laser cutter (Sei Eureka), a CNC milling machine (mdx-40a Roland) and a few 3D printers - one Ultimaker and two Prusa Repraps.

The workshop that I participated in did not actually use any of these machines that tend to be prefered by makers; rather it was to learn how to solder electronics, a technique and tool that is essential for anyone wishing to use microchips beyond the prototyping phase. We made a small LED jewel - the result is cute, although from a design perspective it leaves a little something to be desired...

 

Una ragazza impara a saldare

At FabLab Torino they don't just do one kind of workshop. Enrico Bassi, coordinator of the FabLab, tells me more about these events, which can be divided into categories as for beginners or experts, or related to projects. To help makers get started there are introductory workshops to techniques of 3D printing, milling etc. The more advanced courses involve electronics, programming, Arduino and other things. And then there are how to courses in which the goal is to construct an object while learning a new technology and technique, such as soldering a circuit like I did, or making a sprout box or a bike accessory.

Biomass machine

I was surprised at the number of women at the workshop - all very talented! Bassi says that the FabLab's members are " of all types, from students to pensioners. Some may be architects, designers, mechanics or engineers..." And it is just these people that are the heart of the FabLab, the most important part: "developing new collaborations is interesting, but what really counts are the people who donate their time and effort," Bassi explains.

Nonetheless, some of the most rewarding moments in the Lab's first year of life have been when other FabLabs or hackerspaces have asked for advice to help get started. In the coming year, I asked Bassi what he hoped for: "That the FabLab may become autonomous and find its own path to become self-run, organized, structured and sustainable."

With thanks to Enrico Bassi and Katia De Coi for their hospitality at Officine Arduino, with the hopes to see each other again soon in Turin.

 

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