Digital fab lab to incubate hardware startups

MakeIT.Center is an automated fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) franchise to incubate hardware projects. A technological space where anyone can rent advanced equipment and industrial tools to create almost any prototype from an idea to alpha-version independently or under the guidance of our operators.

Industry:

STPs Ecosystem

Smart Manufacturing

IoT

TRL:

1 → 9

Project duration:

2 years

Challenge

The importance of stimulating innovation encouraged regional and national economies to create new laboratories of technological excellence for startups and SMEs. Unfortunately, these activities are typically very poorly coordinated, mismanaged and therefore ineffective.

EnCata wanted to help solve this problem and thus created a new form of Fab Lab ecosystem that provides access to advanced equipment, specific industrial tools and integrated software, the knowledge of technical experts and the financial means to educate, innovate and invent.

We developed a pioneering IoT-enabled Fab Lab, fixing many of the common weaknesses of existing makerspaces.

While working on such a complex multi-task project, EnCata faced and overcame many obstacles, such as:

  • New ecosystem development in the absence of direct analogs.
  • Establishment and growth of facility infrastructure in a challenging underground environment since an existing civilian bunker was the available location for a future fab lab.
  • The ventilation and heating systems were not ready for daily use.
  • Lack of control systems that could help to monitor the equipment condition after use as untrained users could damage or break the machines.

Our Role

  • Technology Scouting 
  • Technical Specifications Development
  • Requirements Analysis
  • Engineering R&D
  • Concept Development of Equipment Rent Model
  • Web and Mobile App Development
  • Internal Training Software Systems Development (Prototyping Training Module, Machinery Training Module, 3D Modeling Training Module, Project Management Training Module)
  • Embedded Software Development
  • Custom Electronics Development
  • Mechanical & Electrical Engineering
  • Industrial Advanced Equipment Installation
  • Video Guides Production
  • Office Equipment, Computers & Printers Installation
  • Partnerships Development with Scientists, Entrepreneurs, Universities, Governments, Corporations, VCs, Accelerators and Incubators
  • Community Network Building
  • Customer Service

Technologies Used

Engineering R&D

Engineering R&D

Java 11

Java 11

MongoDB database

MongoDB database

Docker software platform

Docker software platform

REST API

REST API

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Barcode/QR Code readers

Barcode/QR Code readers

CAD Design

CAD Design

3D Printing

3D Printing

CNC machining

CNC machining

Laser Cutting

Laser Cutting

EnCata offers comprehensive hardware and IoT product development services at a fraction of the cost

For Enterprises

R&D + design + manufacturing under ONE roof
Scale up and down your team
Intergrated hardware + software development
New technologies and research 

CORPORATIONS click HERE for more info

For Startups

MVP and POC prototypes
Affordable consultancy rates
All IP is yours
In-house batch production

STARTUPS click HERE for more info

Approach & Solution

Historically, innovation ecosystems were developed rather sporadically by a cohort of hi-tech companies involved in various governmental programs. Some other ecosystems emerged as a result of a particular ‘push’ from various governmental incentives and infrastructure investment.

Currently, the innovation development landscape in Central Europe can be characterized in the following way:

Therefore, our approach was to create full circle infrastructure and prototyping services in one place to maintain the ‘flow‘ and facilitate the growth of deep tech and scientific startups. The MakeIT Center was created with the world's best fabrication laboratory management practices in mind. We created a unique experience and live ecosystem solutions for fablabs, makerspaces / hackerspaces.

We wanted MakeIT Center to be a place where the owner of an idea can get technical, financial and consulting support - it doesn’t matter whether the innovator is a student or an experienced businessman. The service is oriented to hardware-products and technologies.

Most factories work with TRL 8-9, R&D centers operate in the range of TRL 5-8 and technology parks are usually concentrating on TRL 4-5. For the initial phase, TRL 1-4, there is a gap as at this stage startups are trying to make proof of concepts by themselves in a garage.
Our Fab Lab helps to fill this gap and increase the percentage of successful startups by supporting them and providing them machines, materials and competencies.

Automated MakeIT Center is a franchise to incubate hardware, IoT and deep-tech startups and SMEs. It is a 500m2 technological space where startup teams can rent any advanced equipment and industrial tools to make a prototype independently or under the guidance of our operators from an idea to alpha-version. Milling machines, 3D printers, welding equipment, CNC machines, and many others are available. Each day the startup teams spend in our fab lab, their projects become closer to market launch.

Most ideas and teams fail at the stage Idea → Alpha-prototype so they never meet the final stage -> Product. The major reasons for that are:

In this way, the fab lab MakeIT Center is the IoT-based box solution that addresses all of those problems as it offers an area with all the necessary equipment, special training system and internal software that helps to implement Lean manufacturing culture into production. The makerspace is composed of the following components:

a. Manufacturing facility. Its infrastructure complies with all the manufacturing standards compiled with mains 220V/380V, water supply, drainage, combined extract-and-input ventilation and air filtration system. 

When designing the laboratory, we finalized the ventilation system and installed additional heating to heat the bunker facility in the winter season.

b. Rentable equipment with the help of QR code readers. The visitors scan a QR code on a certain machine so they can book machine time to do self-prototyping, watch video tutorials, study how to work with machines and specific tools and buy all required components and screws. Each machine is connected to IoT-powered Wi-Fi controllers.

In order to use the equipment (which costs thousands of dollars) everyone should study brief instructions on how to work with machines and pass an internal exam. There are no exceptions even for CEOs of innovative companies and startups who visit the makerspace. The reason for that is to avoid doing harm to yourself by an accident.

c. AI and IoT-based devices are integrated everywhere.
In order to personalise the use of common prototyping facilities (a range of sophisticated CNC prototyping machinery and a large set of tools) the fablab uses a software web application with elements of artificial intellect (AI). All the equipment, door locks and vending machines are equipped with IoT devices - communicating with and managed by a server application allowing for automated tracking/charging for use of supplies and equipment.

To cultivate a positive culture of utilizing industrial machinery, advanced equipment, and tooling which costs thousands of dollars, we came up with an idea to implement a unique 'review & feedback' system. We called that tool "Karma".
When renting a machine, a visitor rates its state. If any equipment is low-rated, the user should provide a photo proof. After that, the user who used the machine before will be fined - his karma will be lowered. The consequences could be the following: inaccessibility to appliances (coffeemakers, microwaves, etc.), higher prices on equipment rental, inaccessibility to machines, and, finally, denying entry to the Fab Lab.

The tools are stored on a board using the 5S tool board system (LEAN manufacturing approach) empowered with an AI neural network to control tool availability. Neuronet using cameras placed above the boards assigns a tool to the person who is using it at the moment. If an unauthorized person takes a tool, the neuronet will activate the alarm to prevent unauthorized use. As a result, everything is stored in its proper place.

d. Vending machines. Lack of required components, materials, specific tools and screws often slows down the project progress. 

From our 10+ years manufacturing operational expertise, EnCata prioritized often-used, most wanted and quite unique components and placed all of them into automated vending machines so any user can get even such rare-used parts as a heartbeat sensor, an inner hexagon screw, metal sheets or wooden fillets in less than a minute just by scanning QR codes on the vending machines. The Web and Mobile applications provide detailed descriptions and costs so a startup team can manage and plan project expenses.

e. Special practice-oriented training system. Various online training and mentoring programs and workshops. Access to the makerspace community all over the world. If somebody has the idea of a startup, but doesn’t know where to begin, the community will help and embrace a new startup member.

Lack of expertise in making a prototype becomes evident when a startup actually starts to design and manufacture it. One can google non-stop and come up with tons of info on how to use this or that CAD tool or why a microcontroller does not work properly - and all in vain as each case/prototype is unique.

To lower the average time required for training on the use of the equipment, ​we integrated into standard manuals the video instructions which in 'use case' form show from start to end the entire process of using each machine or tool and adapted the technical vocabulary to language clear to ordinary users.
As a result, for example, 3D printing training takes just 1-2 days to learn.

EnCata’s professionals have the knowledge, expertise, methodology, resources and the international contacts to provide the resources needed to support emerging early stage startups. Our fablab offers a solution to bridge the gap between technical professionals, engineers, scientists and those who are seeking to turn their ideas into successful products. The visitors of the MakeIT center can attend 2-hour intensive workshops and lectures where specifics of technology and manufacturing are explained and discussed. While our fab lab runs the workshops on its manufacturing ground in a real environment/at the factory, a team can start 3D printing during the training course under the guidance of a lector.

f. Enabled opportunities for R&D integration. MakeIT center is an entry point of a startup team's integration into the engineering industry and the creation of new hardware products so the educational digitalized fab lab platform, being a part of a complete cycle, allows startups to enter the R&D market.
In other words, the Fab Lab is a completed part of the infrastructure that transforms an idea into a product on the store shelf. Such a place allows a region to develop and produce its own products and then bring them to the world market. Attempts to create this infrastructure by reinventing the wheel are futile and require a lot of time and resources while the MakeIT Center is a ready-to-use and easy-to-set-up solution.

g. Access to the Fab Lab community all over the world. MakeIT Center provides space for talented founders to share their ideas and learn from each other. If somebody has the idea of a startup but doesn’t know where to begin, the community will help and embrace a new startup member.

On the software side, the Fab Lab payment system encompasses a tokenized payment and equipment rental system, combined with an ERP/CRM software platform that tracks the user’s access to equipment, components and materials inventory with the help of QR code readers. The payment system has something like internal currency for paying for hard-goods and hard-services. The software allows inventors/startups/SMEs to book machine time to do self-prototyping and pay on the fly at reduced rates due to lower operational expenses, and to buy components and screws, for example, in a vending machine.

The Fab Lab management system is also integrated with a grant and vouchers issuance system - software developed for the transparent process of using money in makerspaces so that franchisees through their personal admin profiles have access to all payments. That is very important for future reporting on money spent for this or that.

We believe that MakeIT Center is a unique solution which can be realized on a global scale. We plan to establish  a few Fab Labs around the world and work with various educational institutions and private companies engaged in this sector to expand their availability.

Results

EnCata created a scalable ecosystem for deep/hard tech startups and small businesses, enabling convergence of deep-tech startups, SMEs, business angels, venture capital investors (VCs), donors and government - all to take advantage of our Fab Lab ecosystem solution MakeIT Center. We help the next generation of world-changing companies to emerge, grow and produce tangible "spillover effects".

30+ units

of industrial equipment were purchased and installed to provide the Fab Lab users with self-prototyping

5+

hardware startups have been completely incubated inside our Fab Lab since its foundation.

7 teams

can work in parallel on their projects with comfort in the fab lab facility.

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