Training and Development

21,000 Flexible Public Fabrication Facilities across the USA

The USA needs more large neighborhood shops with a lot of flexible machine tools. The US government should fund the construction of 21,000 flexible fabrication facilities across the USA at a cost of US$50 billion, places where any American can go to learn about and use CNC equipment like mills and lathes and a variety of other advanced tools and processes including biotech ones. That is one for every town and county in the USA. These shops might be seen as public extensions of local schools, essentially turning the shops of public schools into more like a public library of tools. A few variations have been developed in that direction (Men's Shed, FabLab, TechShop, or in books like David Morris' "Neighborhood Power: The New Localism").

Here is a related article about "The Case for Working With Your Hands":

And a related idea:


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  1. Comment
    G. Zhang

    This is a very interesting idea. But to support our high standard of living, we have to produce more and better "knowledge workers," in the words of Crawford in the NYTimes article.

    However, I also see your point: there are some jobs (e.g. electricians, car mechanics, etc.) that (fortunately) can't be outsourced, and we would be smart to try to fill those jobs first in this recession. I don't think 21,000 facilities is a reasonable number, but maybe a handful in large cities? I'm also not sure classes on biotechnology and other "advanced tools" should be available to everyone; it makes more sense to keep these in the colleges and institutions, where students are prepared and already understand the basics.

  2. Comment
    Paul Fernhout ( Idea Submitter )

    Without a basic hand-on understanding of post-scarcity technology like robotics and CNC, it is almost impossible for anyone to later be a "knowledge worker" in the area of technology. Without a basic understanding of modern technology, it is also difficult for the average US citizen to productively discuss and vote on many of these issues in a democracy. Right now, for example, US designers who were children in the 1950s are aging and there are fewer US citizens who have a deep understanding of making things around to fill their shoes (there are some, like through Lego or US FIRST). Related:

    "Make Magazine's Dale Dougherty explains what a "maker" is and why its so important to America"

    There is a whole generation of young people in China who are learning how things are made by direct experience in factories (though that is a rough and painful way to learn), and they will be most of the designers of tomorrow (unless other countries also make available hands-on learning).

    The reason there needs to be 21,000 centers is to place a center near everyone in the USA, for informal education. For comparison, there are an estimated 123,129 libraries of all kinds in the United States today according to the ALA. Would we be better off as a country with only a handful of libraries in the cities? While cities could benefit from more centers, they also have the resources and density to have more private ones. It is in the rural areas in the US where many young people still have the most connection to making things and which might benefit most from such places at first. It is important that tools be available to people for hobby or commercial use because otherwise, what good is knowledge if you can't apply it?

    That said, universities could have an important role to play in supporting more advanced centers (like some do now, with business incubators) -- though this idea encourages providing access to technology in a way that is much more open ended and playful rather than having people only gain access to technology after they have raised funding with a business plan. These sorts of centers can provide supervision and guidance for people to learn how to use these technologies more safely. How are entrepreneurs supposed to know what is possible without playing with technologies first, like was possible by using personal computers, leading to many computer companies? The choice now is not people splicing genes in universities or not; the choice is people splicing genes in accessible and safety-minded local labs or doing it in their kitchens.

    Also, most formal education provides abstractions, whereas most people learn by experience with specifics; the abstractions are useful, but usually they really make sense only after people understand the basics from hands-on direct experience and so have real experience to relate the abstractions to and so see their value. So, this plan is also trying to address a more general flaw in a US educational system that stresses verbal literacy and abstraction and not mechanical literacy and hands-on play.

  3. Comment

    The federal government has screwed up enough things already!