New digital fabrication lab to boost Made-in-Rwanda drive

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Software developers at K-Lab. Fab Labs are part of a global community that believes in knowledge sharing and collaboration to turn ideas into sample products for mass reproduction. (Timothy Kisambira)

Made-in-Rwanda, a campaign that was conceptualised to ensure locally produced commodities are given precedence over imports to help narrow trade deficit, is set to receive a huge boost.

The boost has come in the form of Rwanda’s first Digital Fabrication Lab (Fab Lab).

Works to install equipment at the facility, which is hosted at Telecom House in Kigali, are ongoing with the assistance of personnel from the United States’ Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The digital lab is set for launch on May 12.

Digital fabrication involves joining design and production through the use of computer-aided design and manufacturing and three-dimensional modeling software.

The software allows designers to produce material digitally.

The latest world leading technology enabled solutions, such as affordable prosthetic arms, have been linked to digital fabrication technology.

The facility is being developed through collaborative efforts between multiple agencies, including the Private Sector Federation’s ICT chamber, Rwanda Development Board, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Ministry of Education, SolidWorks Corporation, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Kigali Digital Fabrication Laboratory is part of a global community of over 1,000 fab labs in more than 78 cities across the world.

The development is a key aspect of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is predicted to succeed the current digital era.

Dr Marie-Christine Gasingirwa, the director-general for science, technology and research at the Ministry of Education, told The New Times that the development will go a long way in designing, prototyping and producing locally manufactured goods that are globally competitive in quality.

She said the lab will aim to transform the ideas and innovation of tech enthusiasts and learners into products that can be designed and produced for use.

“Just like K-Lab helped to transform the ideas of emerging entrepreneurs into enterprises, Fab Lab will turn the ideas into usable products which can be produced in mass,” Dr Gasingirwa said.

She added that, by designing, prototyping and producing high quality solutions and products, the facility will help in reducing the import bill and trade deficit.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is currently promoting Made-in-Rwanda as an initiative to promote the production and consumption of locally-manufactured goods to reduce the huge trade deficit which, according to the National Bank of Rwanda, was estimated at $1761.3 million last year.

Sherry Lassiter, from the Centre for Bits and Atoms at Massachusetts Institute of Technology – who is part of the team setting up the facility – said Fab Labs help develop usable hardware solutions to address social challenges utilising easily available material.

Lassiter said Fab Labs are part of a global community that believes in knowledge sharing and collaboration to turn ideas into sample products for mass reproduction.

“It presents an opportunity for communities and societies to custom-make hardware solutions based on readily available materials and issues to be addressed,” Lassiter said.

Among the areas of focus of the facility will be digital design industry, carpentry and wood industry, agricultural machines, mechanical engineering, electronics and prosthetics.

The Fab Lab concept was borne of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Centre for Bits and Atoms and has in recent years spread across the world.

Prof. Neil Gershenfeld, the director of the centre and the founder of the concept, saw it as an avenue for invention, job creation, problem solving, and education.

Gershenfeld is expected in the country for the launch of the facility as well as to give a public lecture on digital fabrication.

The facility is also in line with the recently launched ‘Smart Rwanda’ master plan, which, among others, aims at creating new technology companies, expanding technology exports, and transforming non-ICT businesses using technology.

The development is also in line with President Paul Kagame’s remarks early this year during the World Economic Forum that Rwanda was keen on going beyond consumption of technology to production.

President Kagame has in the past visited the Centre for Bits and Atoms at MIT and recommended the establishment of the facility in Kigali so as to enable Rwandans to benefit from this global trend.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw