Call to Action: Towards Fab Factories in Africa

Excerpted from Erik Hersman:

“The FabLab is small … What would happen if you put it on steroids and made it 10 times larger? What if we were talking about a Fab Factory instead?

A factory

A space that has all the machines needed to fabricate prototypes and manufacture pieces in at least small quantities. It would need machine tools, laser cutters, 3D printers, wood working tools and more. A place that you could rent time on the machines, rent a workshop, and get training on the machines you don’t know how to operate. Something that looks a lot like the TechShop in San Francisco, but tweaked to work in Africa.

A warehouse

Take the factory model, and layer on a warehouse. There are some items that we will not make on our own, namely computer chips. Having a warehouse would allow group buying to happen, where economies of scale could be reached for supplies to be brought into the country, as well as serving as a central facility for distribution of these items to the community.

A nodal network

Having a central “factory” and “warehouse” provides many benefits, but it’s not enough. As we know from 3 years of running Maker Faire Africa events, many of the most interesting inventions come from rural areas, mainly due to the fact that they have strong commercial upside. In this case it makes sense to take the original FabLab model and export that to the major cities around the country, making these types of capabilities much more accessible to a wider user base.

A tech store

Beyond building and inventing, there’s a gap where the people creating things can take them to market. Providing a space for these people to sell their products (and services), provides a bigger target for buyers, both consumer and B2B buyers to find new items. It also provides a much-needed stream of income for the small-scale inventors, with the potential to put them on the map for efforts to commercialize and scale their work.

Emeka Okafor, my organising colleague for Maker Faire Africa, has been on this fabrication thing for years. He has even more examples of small-scale manufacturing on his blog at Timbuktu Chronicles.

I imagine a place like that would get immediate use in certain markets; namely Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria, though others might line up quickly as well. It certainly makes sense for the governments in these countries to invest in this future, or at the very least to incentivize this type of ownership of our own technological future.

What I’m wondering is what other models are there like this?”

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