Obstacles to Digital DIY: notes from Bruxelles

The mobile fablab "STEAMachine, from Fablab Factory

In June 2016 we proposed Belgian makers and Digital DIY advocates and stakeholders to meet us, as we have also done in Greece, Veneto and Spain. This is what we found out talking with Stijn De Mil of Fablab Factory, a Belgian fablab that, among other things, "brings STEAM to every place" by means of the STEAMachine, which is the mobile fablab in the picture above!

Ah, the bureaucracy (again)...

Stijn explained that in Belgium (as in most of the EU, of course):

  • every piece of equipment needs to have security tests and EC certification
  • all the manuals and tutorials of every tool must be provided at least in one of the local official languages, that is Dutch, French or German
  • each machine with moving parts needs a risk analysis document, called the "machine directive"
  • during training of worker in fablab the employer is responsible for safety of the fablab, must provide insurance
  • every machine that is used within an educational setting (primary and secondary education) needs all the official declarations (CE certification, risk analysis..) for the complete machine - not for the individual parts.

The practical consequences, at least in education, are that maybe school teachers could build their own 3d printers, but not actually use them with their students. Such a possibility would obviously be very valuable, education-wise: but the moment the assemblage of a 3D printer is finished, it cannot be used anymore. We tried 5 years ago, the expert was not sure if machines were certifiable at all , we ended up not using them. Some legal way to use it must be found.

Maybe Universities may find a way to "walk around" these limitations by using/declaring to use such self-built equipment only for research / prototyping activities, but it is not sure.

Gender barriers to Digital DIY?

On this front, the situation seems the same as in most other countries. When we asked Stijn if he sees differences in how men and women, starting from school, approach "maker activities", his answer was: "What is critical in this maker education is to coach kids/young people and approach them with projects they find relevant or interesting (in general or on a personal level).  Technology has always been approached as something for boys, and then - of course - it comes at no surprise that boys feel more attracted to these subjects."

A lobby of makers?

We asked Stijn if, in his opinion, Belgian makers could or should federate/create their own national association/trade union/formal lobby, because such a proposal had come up just a few days earlier in our EU Maker Week Meeting in Rome. Stijn acknowledged that it could be interesting to form a group to represent makers and lobby for them.