CM to inaugurate first such MIT-backed facility to come up outside US
Kerala will get two new fab labs this weekend when Chief Minister Shri Pinarayi Vijayan will inaugurate a mini and super version of the technical prototyping platform for design fabrication technology, giving India’s hardware industry a huge leap.
The super fab lab, which is to come up in Kochi, will allow researchers, innovators and developers to do things beyond the purview of the state’s existing fab labs. To be inaugurated at the January 25 function being organised in Palakkad by the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), the super fab lab completed in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will be world’s first such facility to function outside of the US.
At Saturday’s 11 a.m ceremony in Government Polytechnic College, 150 km northeast of this city, the CM will do a remote switching-on of the machine, marking the inauguration of the super fab lab based at KSUM’s Integrated Startup Complex (ISC) in Kalamassery here.
Shri Vijayan will also perform the ribbon-cutting of the Mini Fab lab in Palakkad, adding to a state-wide network of 20 such establishments that allow students to learn digital fabrication and experiment with the technology which combines computer-aided design with additive and subtractive manufacturing.
Water Resources Minister Shri K Krishnankutty will preside over the function. Shri M Sivasankar, Principal Secretary, Electronics & IT, will present a report on ‘Fab Lab & Startup Ecosystem’. The other speakers will be Shri V K Sreekandan, MP, Dr K P Indira Devi, Director of Directorate of Technical Education, and Shri M Chandrakumar, Principal of the Govt Polytechnic College.
The upcoming super fab lab at ISC, 20 km north of here, will have state-of-the-art machines worth more than Rs 7 crore in an area of 10,000 square feet. Kerala today has two electronic fab labs, functioning at Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. The super fab lab at Kochi will make ISC one of the country’s most sought-after investment hubs, coming as it is after electronics hardware incubator Maker Village and its biotech counterpart Bio-Nest.
KSUM Chief Executive Officer Dr Saji Gopinath said the Startup Mission’s collaboration with MIT will also allow Kerala’s hardware startups to use the Super Fab Lab and work with researchers of MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms on an MTM (Machine That Make) project. “This explores the possibility of using machines in a fab lab to create machines for its own use. In essence, it creates a pathway to desktop manufacturing,” he added.
The first experiment in this direction has been successfully completed at the Fab Lab in Thiruvananthapuram with the creation of a 3-axis CNC machine. KSUM is positioned to lead the transition of MTM project from research projects in the lab to fully functioning units in the field. “In doing so, we become the epicentre for technology startups around machine design and manufacturing besides support the creation of digital fabrication labs across India,” Dr Gopinath noted. “This is an opportunity for us to rekindle the state’s hardware industry and intellect.”
Besides being hardware innovation centers, Kerala’s existing Fab Labs have become a platform for students, faculty and entrepreneurs in the state to learn the ropes of digital fabrication. These fab labs also provide innovators the capability to rapidly prototype their ideas and create bespoke solutions. Two of the most notable startups who made use of Fab Lab facilities are GenRobotics, which created a sewage cleaning robot named Bandicoot, and EyeRov that created the country’s first underwater robotic drone (EyeRov Tuna).
Currently a standard community fab lab includes a laser-cutter, a sign-cutter, a high-resolution NC milling machine, a large wood-router and a suite of electronic components as well as programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping. To this, the super lab adds a set of highly-specialised machines that can do small to mid-volume manufacturing and can also be used for prototyping with a variety of materials including metals, composites and carbon fibres, besides testing, design and fabrication equipment and materials that cover length scales spanning from microns to meters in fabrication size.