Makers from around the world who are gathered in Shenzhen for a global networking event were brainstorming with not only expertise and technological know-how but also creativity over the weekend.

A highlight on the weeklong agenda of the 12th annual meeting of the global Fab Lab community was when global maker heavyweights exchanged ideas from their respective areas of research at the Civic Center in Futian District on Friday, covering topics ranging from genome research, biomedicine, self-replicable machines, game-making and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to how the Fab Lab Foundation operates to support makers’ projects and promote education.

Neil Gershenfeld, founder of Fab Lab and director of the Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that the network, with more than 1,000 small labs in 68 countries, is challenging traditional education in that innovative minds are inspiring each other in the network and ideas can be more easily transformed into realities in the labs.

The makers were also impressed by the resources available for industrial manufacturing after visiting the commercial hubs in Huaqiangbei where almost any model of electronic components can be found. Commenting about the place’s nickname, “copycat,” Gershenfeld said that he disagreed with the name, citing his own experience buying a phone there. “Huaqiangbei is not simply selling something manufactured by copying others — people there have made lots of amazing improvements based on the original designs,” he said.

Jonathan Ledgard, whose company is planning to design UAVs used for cargo delivery and airports for UAVs in Africa to facilitate transportation there, said Friday that the plan would be launched in Rowanda next month and he thought Shenzhen would be a key supplier of UAVs.

At the makers’ fair next to the auditorium at the Civic Center, visitors were excited to find a number of gadgets and machines crafted by makers fulfilling different tasks such as 3-D printing, cutting and design.

Jens Dyvik, an engineer from Norway, built a machine to produce the parts to make an entirely new machine in three days at the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab in the Sino-Finnish Design Park in Futian District. He said, while testing the machine, that the reason for making the machine was “more about the methodology for how you can enable people to create their own automation solutions, and inspire them to be not only the consumers of tools and solutions, but also creators of tools.”

Dyvik, who is visiting Shenzhen for the first time for the Fab Lab meeting, said that it was a very good occasion for makers to learn about Shenzhen’s place in the global network. “If I came alone, it would be very different. Now we’re here together, it’s very good introduction to Shenzhen’s [industrial] eco-system,” he said, adding that it’s a very special experience to teach people how to make machines.

“It’s a mix of design, manufacturing, teaching, and playing — it’s a lifestyle. We’re also thinking this in our everyday life: how you create business in a very interesting circumstance,” he said. “This is why we care about all the collaboration and knowledge-sharing and not doing things ourselves but also help other people do things, cause it’s good for our society.”

Stefan Woger, from Austria, whose company makes laser machines, said that the meeting was a good opportunity to learn about the market, marketing and finding new technologies and new ideas.

Liu Zhixiong, president of the Shenzhen Industrial Design Profession Association, sees that the time has come for sharing, inter-dependent growth and mutual benefit in the digital fabrication age. Liu’s company, 3nod Group, is joining Fab Lab to create a global platform for makers and share resources through an open eco-system to reach bilateral progress with innovative minds in the world. His company has inked two agreements with the Fab Lab Foundation to provide one-stop differentiated production solutions covering planning, design, supply chain, manufacturing and other services.

In an annual effort to promote international exchanges among makers, Shenzhen has also launched the second visiting makers program to select 10 young makers who will make a three-week-long exchange trip next year to maker spaces in Britain with the support of the Shenzhen Foundation for International Exchange and Cooperation.

(Shenzhen Daily)