What do you know about FabLabs? Do you know anything about the stage of 3D printing in the developing countries? South America’s giant, Brazil, is the world’s seventh-largest economy with a population of almost 200 million. The middle class is growing, and millions have been lifted out of poverty. Over the past decade, the country has had strong growth driven by high commodity prices. However, for the past few years, Brazil has also grown unevenly. Public discontent was clearly made visible before and during the FIFA World Cup. Poor public services, high taxes, inflation, corruption, and antiquated and insufficient/lack of infrastructures, as well as slow economic expansion, are many reasons for this discontent. Nevertheless, the main issue is structural: “mostly-unfree” economic freedom. Rules, regulations, and laws limit economic choices and options. Brazil’s economy is the 118th freest in the 2015 Index. Thus, I was curious about the presence of 3D printing in such an economy.
Garagem FabLab is an independent FabLab in São Paulo, Brazil, founded by the architect Eduardo Lopes. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, a FabLab refers to a space for digital fabrication and computation, for learning and innovation, invention, and nourishment for local entrepreneurship. FabLabs are closely aligned with MIT’s Center for Bits & Atoms and there are over 300 Fab Labs located in 34 countries. All FabLabs must meet four criteria: grant public access, share common tools and processes, be a part of the FabLab network, and subscribe to the FabLab charter. Garagem FabLab offers space, machines, tools, and support to individuals and professionals for the creation of their products and ideas. It is open to the general public and organizes free or at-cost workshops, classes, and lectures.
Eduardo told me the story that led him to create Garagem FabLab: During his studies, Eduardo used computers to design projects. He also worked with state-of-the-art design software and architectural conception. AutoCAD and 3DStudio were among the design tools he used to use, although he found them far from reality. Things changed when he came across Rhino’s software, an advanced tool that enabled him to create complex geometries thanks to NURBS modeling. Later in 2011, Eduardo encountered his current adviser, Prof. Dr. Paulo Fonseca de Campos, who coordinated the first FabLab in Brazil, the FabLabSP. He immediately became passionate about additive manufacturing and collaborated in the FabLabSP before launching his own FabLab. The creation of the very first FabLab in Brazil thus led to the creation of a second, more independent FabLab.
● You are the first Independent FabLab, the first one in the world? What is a “dependent” FabLab?
Garagem is an independent FabLab, which means that it is not funded by any public or private institution. We are a private company whose main objective is based on people’s needs and not profit. Our aim is to democratize access to digital manufacturing’s tools and foster people to use these tools and share information and ideas. There are very few independent FabLabs around the world. Most FabLabs are subsidiaries of universities, local governments or innovation bodies. They count on external support to survive. I think it is important for laboratories to have public encouragement, but in my opinion, I prefer to be free and to act with my own means to create an innovative business model. That is an enthralling challenge.
● What is your financial model today? Can you give us further detail on what you do?
Garagem has become a very rich ecosystem, full of innovators. It is a very productive field for new business ideas. The FabLab is maintained by courses, workshops, and machines’ renting on organized during our open day on Wednesdays. Furthermore, we are approaching companies and making partnerships with some of them via the organization of workshops and lectures pitched to their employees. We want to wake up innovation and show how it is possible to work with education in a FabLab. That makes it sustainable. However, our profit comes from other companies, from spin offs. Today we have a company that offers rapid prototyping service, the FabLabPRO; a shop that offers 3D materials and accessories printing, the GaragemFabShop; and we are currently opening a new shop focused on 3D printing and scanning in high resolution.
● Is industrial 3D printing making inroads in Brazil?
Large-scale 3D printing has already been in Brazil for several years, but mainly in the field of rapid prototyping. Robtec, a national company recently acquired by 3D Systems, has been working for many years as a rapid prototyping service company, in the large-scale industry.
However, all key market players are located in Brazil: 3D Systems (now locally), Stratasys and EOS. I am certain that additive manufacturing is spreading not only here but worldwide.
● Are companies using additive manufacturing? If so, in which industries? What are the applications?
One of the core fields to benefit from the direct application of additive manufacturing is life sciences and more precisely in the field of manufacturing of prosthesis and orthesis. I am a consultant for an association of people with motor disabilities. I contribute to the creation of a laboratory of digital manufacturing of orthesis (AFO’s, KAFO’s) using SLS printers and the state of the art in thermoplastics. We won’t make prototypes. However, we will do research on redesigning orthesis to adapt them to new production processes and to print all final parts in 3D. As far as I know, there is nothing like that currently underway in Latin America.
● What is the stage of 3D printing from home?
Three years ago, only one Brazilian start-up made and sold 3D printers based on the RepRap models. Today, in addition to the great system manufacturers and to the “made in China” system importers, there are around ten small manufacturers. Like everywhere else, 3D printing is increasing exponentially.
Every Wednesday we welcome dozens of people at the FabLab who are interested in getting to know a bit more about 3D printers.
Printer sales do not increase because of Brazil’s tax system and currency devaluation. Equipment is therefore three to four times more expensive in Brazilian reals than in dollars.
Just to paint the picture right, a reasonably good-quality 3D home printer, like a Replicator 2 by MakerBot, does not cost less than R$5,000. This is a lot of money to just have with a 3D desktop printer. Most people who buy these machines in Brazil are either free-lancers or small companies that in some way get something back from the 3D printers.
● 3D printing has had a strong presence in the FIFA World Cup: The ExoSkeleton, the KXX, the SambaCan, Nike’s 3D printed duffle bag and 3D printed shin guards, iMaterialise’s soccer stadium board game… Has the FIFA World Cup marked a turning point in the history of 3D printing in Brazil?
Absolutely not. Despite the attempt of companies to link both things, the increase in the interest in 3D printing is not linked to the World Cup. We are in the country of football; Brazilian people only focused their interest on the ball during the World Cup and nothing else, at least until the semi-finals stage.
● 3D printing is considered to be a potential boost for economies. It could help to design and make equipment affordable to meet local needs, such as prostheses, infrastructures, etc. What do you think is necessary, and what can be done, to extend 3D printing throughout the country?
Companies are doing their best; they are trying to improve their performance in the market. Medias are also supplying documentary evidence in the increase of consumer and enterprise interest in 3D printing.
In my opinion, solving the country’s tax problem would foster 3D printing throughout the country. We have the most complex tax system in the world, therefore foreign companies are much more reticent about settling in our country. Foreign companies do not understand the system. Therefore, there is a climate of insecurity, which chases away investors.
Furthermore, we inherited laws from the old military government, from over 30 years ago! These laws aimed at protecting the national electronics industry, which never really existed. This makes taxation on electronic products excessive, about 60% on top over the value in dollars. Therefore, competing seriously or stimulating the competitiveness of the sector in the country is inviable.
What we have done the field of education is to adapt our projects with Open Source 3D printers to the local reality, using components that can be easily found here and reducing to the maximum the use of imported pieces. Next year, we are going to launch a new project together with an important local foundation to bring adults and children closerbin public schools to the technology and the magic of 3D printing.
Let us know what you think about these insights into the Brazilian makerspace in the forum thread at 3DPB.com.