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The Third Industrial Revolution is at the First Fab@CIC

Drop in for a hot coffee or a pastry at Render Coffee, and the whirr of the espresso machine won’t be the only buzz you hear. You’ll likely also see and hear a digital fabricator or two laser-cutting a rough, miniature prototype for a new chair, building a dental model for a custom oral retainer, or simply “printing” a beautiful piece of digital art. You might also hear the buzz of designers, entrepreneurs, educators, and other innovators – coffee in hand – collaborating across disciplines and sharing skills with each other.

Welcome to Fab@CIC, a digital fabrication lab and community providing an open platform for people to support each other in their efforts to make new things. Powered by CIC Boston, Fab Foundation, and Render Coffee, Fab@CIC is a fabrication lab, yes, but we’re more than that. We’re one of more than 1,000 “Fab Labs” in 78 countries around the globe providing space in which the technological future of personal fabrication and manufacturing can be tested and tried. We’re bringing together innovators from across the region to collaborate, as well as connecting our local design and startup communities with a rapidly flattening global business network.

To understand the significance of what we’re doing at Fab@CIC, one must understand the era in which we are now living. Technology historians say we’re on the precipice of a Third Industrial Revolution. The first American Industrial Revolution, born in the mill towns of Massachusetts in the late 18th century, launched the transition from handmade products to machine-powered manufacturing. The Second Industrial Revolution, which ran roughly from 1870-1914, involved another rapid ramp-up in industrialization behind mass-production of steel and the use of interchangeable machine parts.

This Third Industrial Revolution, sometimes called the Digital Revolution, involves the digitizing of how we make things. And like the first Industrial Revolution, this digital revolution we’re experiencing now was born in Massachusetts. Futurists see a day when rather than producing something in one place and shipping it thousands of miles away to be used, communities are producing more of what they use locally in fabrication labs.

Here at CIC Boston, our fabrication lab is a place where designers and entrepreneurs – really, anyone in Boston – can experiment and create in a supportive and collaborative environment. Technology available to the public in Fab@CIC includes 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling, vinyl cutting, soldering and electronics, and large format printing — skills that should not be hijacked by the scientific elite.

“We want to democratize access to the tools needed to invent the next generation of manufacturing and personal fabrication,” says Julia Hansen, one of Fab@CIC’s managers. “Everyone should be able to take part in shaping our physical world. We love great coffee, too.”

In the coming months, this blog will unpack some of the ways in which digital fabrication is being used here at Fab@CIC to design products that will improve lives around the world. We hope these stories – like Fab@CIC itself – will inspire someone who didn’t know she could make something, connect our work to the global Fab Lab movement, or link a product conceived in Boston to a market beyond the city limits. We hope you’ll check in here regularly, because, as we believe at Fab@CIC, the unexpected unfolds when new technology and creativity meet.