The HRW FabLab is located at the “Hochschule Ruhr West University for Applied Sciences” (HRW) in Bottrop, Germany. Bottrop is located in the Ruhr district, the densest populated area in Germany which has undergone significant degradation after the loss of its industrial base.
Due to the explicit orientation on education and empowerment, the HRW FabLab is helping to raise the human capital of the area by teaching practical skills for innovation. Psychological barriers to higher education are consciously broken down by inviting pupils to the FabLab who could usually not imagine following an academic career. The research and development services benefit especially local SMEs who might otherwise not have the budget for tailor-made R&D services.
The HRW FabLab is primarily a laboratory for students at the technical University of Applied Sciences “Hochschule Ruhr West” (HRW) and has also open hours for non-students from the wider community. The HRW is a technical University of Applied Sciences with focus on computer science, engineering, mathematics, natural sciences and business administration.
According to the motto “How to Make (Almost) Anything”, the HRW FabLab encourages its students to experiment with rapid prototyping in a wide area of fields like robotics, electronics, 3D-design, -printing and –scanning, film-making, clothes-making, drone-making, and the pursuit of various individual projects. The HRW FabLab offers furthermore a wide variety of hands-on workshops and learning experiences in the above-mentioned fields for primary and secondary schools as well as other interested groups like refugees and youth from disadvantaged areas.
The FabLab does not have a formalised membership structure, but the facility manager estimates that it has a user base of approximately 200 people who regularly use the facilities, plus a larger number of one-time users who come to workshops and courses.
The FabLab is run by staff and student assistants who are employed by the university and offers research and development services for local enterprises. The FabLab is financed through university funds, federal- and EU-funds, commercial funds through innovation vouchers, education funds for STEM-projects with schools, and project-based funding.
On Wednesday evenings the FabLab opens for the wider community where usage of machines is free and open to everyone and student assistants are there to help new users with the development of their projects.
The HRW FabLab’s goal is to be extremely innovative and to implement research and development independent of all. The facility manager describes it the following way: “Enter with an idea and exit with a finished product. Irrespective which product we are talking about.” The aim is to enlarge the world of possibilities and to empower students, pupils and other users in their personal development and in their prototyping capacities.
Furthermore, the FabLab is very actively being put to use to transmit STEAM-knowledge and interests to pupils from primary and secondary education. The FabLab has a particular employee who organises these Maker workshops in the context of STEAM-education and who acts as the local node of the nationwide network “Future Through Innovation”.
With its social orientation, the FabLab also organises special workshops for other groups like refugees and youth from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in collaboration with local neighbourhood associations. At the weekly Open Lab, interested citizens and other members from the wider community can use the FabLab and its machinery freely. Local enterprises cooperate with the FabLab for research and development. The FabLab cooperates with other universities, offices for economic development and German Ministries in research projects. Being part of the International FabLab Association, the HRW FabLab also takes part in the Fab Academy. There is a strong network between the FabLabs in the Ruhr area, so makers of different FabLabs know each other, use each other’s makerspaces and the FabLabs collaborate on events like trade fairs.