It’s late in the afternoon on a Friday. Sunlight streams into Laney College’s Fabrication Lab–or FabLab, as it’s more commonly known–in Oakland. A high-tech workshop, the open-air space is reminiscent of a wood shop class with a cutting edge twist.
Next to the high-power saws, milling machines, and drills, between the uniquely designed wooden work tables and stools, amongst the rows of protective goggles and earmuffs, sit a generous amount of computers and machines. Each corner of the lab houses a specific machine pairing. The 3D printer is immediately to the right upon entering the lab, next to the laser cutter, which is across the lab from the immense router machine that cuts designs into large sheaths of plywood from codes entered into its computer system.
The machines are classified as “CNC” machines explains Danny Beesley, the Director of Idea Builder Labs and founder of the Laney College FabLab. CNC stands for Computerized Numerical Control machines. Users are able to create three-dimensional designs for furniture, signs, or knick knacks made out of would using computer-aided design (CAD) software, and then input that design into CNC machines which directs them to produce and manufacture a specific product.
Unfortunately, Beesley says, Friday afternoons tend to be relatively quiet compared to the rest of the week. Today is especially slow because Albany High, a local high school that shuttles students over to Laney College for weekly FabLab classes on Fridays, didn’t have class this week. On top of that, his only other staffer called out for a work injury–he scratched an eyeball.
Beesley is explaining his five year effort to increase flagging district support for bringing FabLabs into Oakland Unified and Peralta Community College Districts when a teenager shuffles into the lab.
With braces and a mop of curly brown hair, 17-year-old Gabriel Cardozo further emphasizes his presence in a hot pink T-shirt and a purple bandana tied around his neck, outlaw style. He’s part of the group of Albany High students, he says, and dropped by after school to see if he can work in the lab. Without funding for a larger staff, there is no one else present to supervise Cardozo in the lab and Beesley has to turn him away for the afternoon.
Beesley points out that this is a prime example of why fablabs need support from the district–the enthusiasm among students to learn this type of technology is present. “They had no class today and he came here on BART. It’s unfortunate when you see that type of initiative–he just took BART for 35 minutes to come here specifically to use the lab and wasn’t able to,” said Beesley.
The fablab, safety gear still hanging on their assigned hooks on the wall, piles of wood waiting to be shaped into furniture, and shiny high-tech CNC machines at the ready, stands relatively muted in the afternoon’s waning sunshine.