Mind & Matter


Fab Labs for the Military

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Mobile Parts Hospital. Photo: Clegg Industries.


Digital fabrication has garnered much recent interest, offering the promise of just-in-time, decentralized manufacturing with reduced transportation costs. Neil Gershenfeld’s Fab Lab program at MIT promotes the technological empowerment of developing communities and entrepreneurial advancement of small-scale business organizations via mobile fabrication facilities.

These groups are not the only ones in the digifab game, however. The U.S. military has also been developing its own fabrication labs in an effort to reduce shipping costs and equipment lead times. For example, in Afghanistan—where there are not many computer-driven tools—the U.S. Army transported a Mobile Parts Hospital (MPH), a fablab within a shipping container. The MPH includes a high-speed satellite-based datalink and a laser and metal dust-based 3D part builder. According to PSFK, MPHs have fabricated over 100,000 parts in situ during the last six years. Although the scale of fablab operations in places like Afghanistan is relatively small, one can imagine the potential of such technologies in enhancing on-the-spot construction and infrastructure development.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.