June 19, 2018
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Brunswick entrepreneur hopes new lab will help Maine inventors turn ideas into products

By Dylan Martin, The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Local inventors and visionaries may soon have a place to meet and fabricate their own creations using sophisticated technology.

Sarah Boisvert, a Brunswick resident and co-founder of a Maryland micro-manufacturing company, said she is in talks with a private school to start the Maine Fab Lab, a digital fabrication center that will offer public access to 3D printers, laser cutters and other fabrication tools.

The school’s name could not be disclosed because negotiations are still underway, Boisvert said, but the lab could possibly become a fixture of the school, complete with its own staff. It would also allow public access.

“(The school is) a very special place, so a fab lab will tie into learning opportunities for students who don’t fit into the standard school system,” Boisvert said.

A decision could happen by the end of January, she said.

Boisvert co-founded Potomac Photonics and is a fellow at the Laser Institute of America.

She said the Maine Fab Lab will join a worldwide network of fab labs started by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to MIT’s website for the program, fab labs “have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the north of Norway.”

Boisvert said fab labs can have different applications, whether it’s for an entrepreneur who wants to create a prototype for an invention or an artist who wants to use modern technology to fabricate new creations.

Fab labs also can lead to new opportunities for business growth, she said.

“I moved to Maine because I love the quality way of life, but as I’ve talked to people, I wanted them to have the same opportunities I had in starting a high-tech company,” Boisvert said. “It may not be a high-tech business, but a business that gives them real results and a way to make a living, but also to give them a sense of great accomplishments.

“Maybe a kid in a fab lab will create a better lobster trap. It can be an invention that is important to people’s lives,” Boisvert added.

In Deer Isle, Haystack Mountain School of Arts houses its own fab lab, where residential artists and students from nearby schools use the facility to work on projects from printing plates to making molds.

“It’s been really exciting that way in terms of looking at the idea of who’s creative or how you use things,” said Haystack Director Stuart Kestenbaum. “It really brings together the art mind and the science mind.”

Kestenbaum said Haystack’s fab lab began as a partnership with MIT after the school had Neil Gershenfeld, a professor and fab lab inventor, first visit in 2010 for a four-day lab.

“It was a really interesting addition to what we do with our tools and materials,” Kestenbaum said.

Kestenbaum said because it’s likely children, teenagers and young adults will have grown up with computers in their life, fab labs now make for a seamless fit in places like an art school.

“Increasingly, I think more people are seeing it as another tool and not something that’s part of the vocabulary,” Kestenbaum said. “I think it can all fit together.”

If Boisvert’s fab lab gets board approval from the private school later this month, younger generations in Brunswick and surrounding areas will have their own chance to transform the digital into physical.

“I think the fab lab is a place where (students) can hold an idea in their hand, take their ideas and turn them into opportunities,” Boisvert said.

Boisvert said non-students will be able to pay a membership fee, and companies can pay on a sliding scale depending on their size.

Boisvert said anyone will be able to use the fab lab for commercial purposes, but it will not be designed for mass manufacturing. The fab lab also will be open source, which means people will be able to use existing templates created by others, and create their own.

Boisvert said the equipment for the school is already funded, and she’s now raising funds for staff. With that and hopes to start a commercial facility in Brunswick, Boisvert said she is planning to start a crowdfunding campaign within the coming months.

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