There are minimally two kinds of people you need to run each of your Fab Labs:  a Champion, and a Technical Guru/Mentor.   (And if you have the funding, a part-time IT person).

A. Champion

This is the local community leader who believes in  and is passionate about the fab lab concept and what it can do for the community. This is a person  who is closely connected to the community base in order to bring resources (financial and otherwise) and commitment to the fab lab from within.  This person may already be running a NGO or community center, and has a personal commitment to and community mission for that center, rather than performing merely an administrative role.  Mel King here in Boston is that person. Haakon Karlsen in Norway is their Champion. The Bright Youth Council (see FORM lab description) in South Africa performs that function. When times are tough, these champions find the commitment and resources to sustain the operation, and have enough vision to keep the community excited about it.  Champions are  critical to the success of the fab lab.   This person does not need to be technical, just committed and passionate about the idea, and well connected within the community to sustain the operation.  This person may or may not serve as administrative/managerial support for the lab.

B. Technical Guru

This is the person that makes the lab operate on a day to day basis.  They must like to make things. That’s far and above the most distinguishing factor for a fab lab guru, they must love to make things.  It helps a lot if they have either a mechanical or electrical engineering background, OR a background making things professionally.  Electronics and programming are good skills to have as well.  In the US, high school teachers who lead robotics competition design classes are terrific for this kind of job, as are those with  arts or architecture training, or training in industrial arts.  This person is always multi-tasking, between maintaining the equipment and supplies, to helping mentor people through projects, and training users on the design software and the fabrication hardware.  It’s a big job, and if you have a big lab, you need two of them.  Below is a job description from one of the fab labs in the network that’s a pretty good model. Most of all this person has to be open to new ideas, have a passion for making things, and patience and capability to teach  users 

Fab Lab Director description:

The Fab Lab @ XXX is a place where ideas and concepts are realized by embracing computerized manufacturing technology, computer science, electrical/electronics engineering, mechanical engineering and other disciplines. The Fab Lab was designed around the emerging possibility for ordinary people to not just learn about science and engineering but actually design machines and make measurements that are relevant to improving the quality of their lives and the communities around them. The Fab Lab director is responsible for {insert specific responsibilities here}.

  • A technical degree (ME,EE,CS,IT) and/or similar job experience is required.
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills are required.
  • Desire to seek and pass on knowledge to others is a must. Previous teaching experience is preferred.
  • Proficiency in common desktop applications (web browsing, word processing, image editing etc) required. Familiarity with CAD/CAM and/or PCB Design software preferred.
  • Must have experience running and maintaining PCs and LANs (your home PC and LAN may be sufficient). Familiarity or expertise in Linux preferred.

The Fab Lab Director and the Fab Lab itself will cross the boundary of multiple disciplines including education, arts, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science and manufacturing engineering.  The ideal candidate will likely have a background that is just as diverse and will be eager to embrace new concepts and technologies when appropriate.

Below is a recent description for personnel needed to manage a permanent fab lab faciliy, with the possible addition of a mobile fab lab as well to the program.  In this instance the fab lab  is a large lab that will have a lot of people coming through, with  one on-site manager, 4 gurus (2 work morning shift, 2 work evening shift), and  plans for one guru to run a mobile fab lab as well. 

For a permanent stationary lab  in a building, we’d suggest you start out with the following staff:

1.  Manager/Champion: the person who promotes the fab lab, gives tours of the fab lab and hadles press, manages the finances of the fab lab, raises funds for fab lab, develops community programs for fab lab, schedules the fab lab… that sort of thing. (This position could also possibly handle scheduling and programming for the Mobile fab lab as well.  In fact, it might be a good idea for the permanent location to be “home base” for the Mobile Fab Lab–that way supplies and repairs and operational capacity of the permanent fab lab facility can be leveraged for both labs.)

2.   Fab Lab guru/technical expert: This person ideally has a background in mechanical engineering or design or possibly architecture,  with some experience with electronics and/or  computer programming.  This is the person who will work directly with users and students in the fab lab.  He/She will teach people how to use the software, the machines, and safety, as well as help people make and design their projects. This person will also handle the maintenance of the lab machines and insure that inventory of materials and parts is up to date and available.  This person would also help design programs for community.  If you plan to handle a lot of schools and groups, you probably want to hire two (2) experts for the permanent facility.  If you plan to participate in Fab Academy, you will probably want to have two gurus on staff.

3.  Part time technical support person:  This person maintains the computers in the lab, maintains the networking and internet access. And other technical needs that come up in the lab.   This is a 1/3 to 1/2 time position. Again, you could leverage this person to handle the needs of both the Mobile fab lab and the Jeddah fab lab– which could be 1/2 to 2/3rds of a full time job, or possibly full time job. 

If the permanent (brick and mortar) fab lab facility is going to be part of a business incubator or have a self-sustaining entrepreneurial focus to it, you may need a full time designer/engineer to help entrepreneurs and small business innovators design and prototype their ideas.

A Mobile fab lab should also have at least one full time guru/technical expert on staff, and depending on how  you schedule the lab (that it, lots of schools, or lots of community centers, very close together in time) you may want two gurus, or one guru and one person to help with crowd flow/control.