Below is an excerpt from a recent interview with Abhishek Bali, 3DEXPERIENCE Ideas Lab Senior Manager, 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, as he discusses how a digital fabrication lab can help during crisis times and how he sees what is happening right now in the world as a design problem.
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Q: Tell us in your own words what is going on in the world right now.
Abhishek Bali: So what’s happening is that the current crisis, the pandemic, we’ve been confined to our homes. Our bodies are confined to our homes, but not our minds. Our minds are everywhere and they are solving problems right now.
So what’s going on in the world is actually quite interesting. There are a lot of theory aspects to it, but I see this as a design problem. It’s an engineering problem. It’s a design problem. It’s a problem of trust in some ways. But what I feel is that it’s a great test case for how much we have planned out in the future. There are a lot of things that have broken, a lot of systems, lots of protocols. But on the positive side, what I see is that it has given us, and a lot of makers and creative people, a lot of chances around being more creative around taking innovative approaches to doing the same things.
Being an optimist, I would like to look at that aspect more than the negative side of it. I’m told that very soon we’ll be able to find a way out of it. But in that fray, the kind of the nature of the quantity and quality of innovations that have happened and which thankfully on due to my role, I’ve been able to facilitate. I think that has opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about the shortages. There are a lot of shortages happening right now. What can you tell me about that?
Abhishek Bali: Right. So it’s, it’s basically a demand and supply problem. When you design a system or a service, the first thing that you start with is, what’s the capacity that you are actually building out through that system? Because of the unprecedented amount of load that has been imposed on the system that was existing, our healthcare system, even like our telecom systems, all the different systems that make our world tick. There is a problem in terms of the supply that was actually allocated to that system. And because of that, there is a gap. And because of this gap and since the supply chain has only this much of bandwidth and in order to fill that gap, there have been a lot of innovations that have sprung up from across the world to kind of fill this gap in their own race.
Q: So we all think that computers and computing are a vital part of the solution. But do they also have limitations to what we’re able to do?
Abhishek Bali: Oh yeah, definitely. Because, just look at it this way, that computer science, the way it started in the university, they were like the best universities in the world. There is a gap that computer science is very in the digital format. It’s all about bits and bytes. But the physical manifestation of it is that the world we live around in, the built world, the urban built world that we are part of it is a physical world. And on this physical world in which we interact as individuals and humans with the technologies that, or products that we physically interact with, there is a layer of technology.
So while the computer science is teaching us and the students about that, that layer of intangible technology, it misses the point in some ways that it does not teach the students how well the physical and the digital are meshed together. So this is a problem that has been there with the way computer science has been taught and this has been since 1950s to be very honest.
Q: Abhishek, what is a fab lab and how does it work?
Abhishek Bali: So a fab lab is short for a digital fabrication lab. You can call it a maker space or a Fab Lab, these words are interchangeable, but basically it’s like a collection of machines or digital fabrication machines like laser cutters, 3D printers, vinyl cutters. So the basic aim is that anybody who wants to get into personal fabrication, who wants to build something for him or for a particular use, not necessarily for mass production or for selling in the market, they have access to the tools that can make that possible, right?
And so that’s why additive manufacturing is a huge part of a given fab lab because 3D printers are a way for a maker to conceive something in their mind and then take it to 3D or using wildfire software, whether it’s SOLIDWORKS or CATIA, and then find a physical manifestation of it by 3D printing it. So that’s how a fab lab and additive manufacturing are so, you know, intertwined and so related.
Q: How do you see a fab lab perhaps helping with the current crisis that we’re living through right now?
Abhishek Bali: By definition, a fab Lab gives you access to all these amazing tools that help you take that journey from your concept to reality, right? So whether it be through 3D printing or vinyl cutting or laser for example. So what we’ve seen in this pandemic is that there has been an unprecedented amount of involvement of makers from across the world who just got this idea and when they came up, when they came to know that the hospitals across the world and the healthcare workers or healthcare angels, for a better word, that they are, they are facing a gap in terms of the demand and supply of personal protective equipment all across the world.
Makers just sprung out and they just kind of self organize themselves into groups or you know, maybe worked in individual capacities to help out. So it’s amazing that across the world fab Labs and maker spaces, these makers started making all these PPEs. What that means is that they started modeling their ideas in 3D software, mostly SolidWorks, CATIA. And they, they did not charge for it. They did not, nobody actually went and got a patent for what they were designing.
They just floated it in public domain, so that a maker in New York who’s solving for a need for say, New York Presbyterian hospital, his design could be used in China or in India or in Cambodia by a maker who’s trying to help out in his local environment, in his local hospital.
So that has, what has really been fascinating for me personally to see, because I never knew that could be a possibility where, you know, human beings enabled by the right technology or appropriate technology could actually help each other out without knowing each other. That’s the most important thing. These makers don’t know the patients that they are helping or the doctors they are helping out with.
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