Kauai Makers aim for fab-lab

LIHUE — An effort two years in the making would establish a community fabrication lab on Kauai that would be a material and technical resource for everyone from hobbyists to entrepreneurs.

Founding member Carl Lozar is currently a stay-at-home dad in the Wailua Homesteads while his spouse works at Wilcox Memorial Hospital. He put his career in brain imaging aside for the time being, and is enjoying the chance to help start the Kauai Makers group.

“Our goal is to create a community workspace with tools and helpful members to facilitate making, creating, crafting and inventing,” Lozar said. “Additionally, we want to pursue projects that further our education with builds that improve our technical competence. Finally, many of our members have or want to develop their ideas into business, so we seek to support and assist each other as entrepreneurs.”

The idea came as he saw the Kauai Made model take off. Kauai Art Factory formed with community artists to provide common work space for textile and fashion, and the proposed Kauai Creative Technology Center would focus on professional film-making and editing.

“We happen to live at a great time with 3D printers and laser cutters that are affordable, and computer software is powerful — but it is not free,” Lozar said. “Most people want to make something, and have an idea that a laser cutter would help — but have never used one before, and a community laser cutter with a couple of guys who can get you started is the big idea.”

About 50 people are on the mailing list with about 20 core members attending the meetings, which are held at 6:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month at Kauai Beer Company, and the third Tuesday of the month at Ha Coffee.

The meetings are free and open to all. Participants can present and discuss projects and connect with other makers. The goal is to build interest in creating a cost-sharing facility, with space and equipment for the community to make things, whether a personal project or cottage industry prototype.

“We want to be there for the pre-entrepreneur on down to just making jewelry for your wife,” Lozar said.

These are people who can built a 3D printer out of old computer parts, and they are looking at getting an industrial model to help get several projects off the ground. A network like this solves problems and the members benefit from collective expertise, Lozar explained.

“History has shown that when you get like-minded people together, that great things happen,” he said. “There are 15 of us meeting regularly and having good conversations.”

Many people have different entrepreneurial experiences and are looking for a niche, Lozar said. They need a place to get good advice on everything from Java code to woodworking.

“They would be stuck alone,” he said. “This facility gets them together as a way to help one another down the line.”

Someone may have an idea to make koa wood puzzles for toddlers or rooster slippers for their family — or to sell them at Kapaa Art Night. Others may want to build or improve micro-homes, photovoltaic systems or fix something rather than replace it.

The group plans to incorporate in January and pursue a nonprofit status. Membership and user fees would be reinvested into the community makers space.

“It is hard to afford a garage and own your own tool set,” Lozar pointed out.

The industrial space could include a garage and custom paint shop, a plasma cutter or metal shop. Agricultural applications could include making special tools for farming.

“This might be something to help in the area of sustainable technology,” he said. “Anything in the realm of making is possible.”

Other founding members include a watchmaker who got started with Kickstarter. Another is a former investor who wants to help craft the organization’s structure. Another makes handmade koa wood guitars and is interested in laser cutters to perform intricate inlay work and save several hours of labor.

“Now he can do that part of his business that much more efficiently,” Lozar said. “It may not be necessary to buy his own cutter when someone with the tools can just show him how to do that.”

Founding member Michael Armstrong of Kalaheo works at Pacific Missile Range Facility as a software engineer. He also likes to tinker around with HTML, Java and Visual Basic, and with other projects that fuel an entrepreneurial spirit.

Speaking from a conference in Maryland, Armstrong said there are two similar groups in Baltimore. The first and most famous community scale digital fabrication workshop, FabLab, is at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“That is how I heard about it and now every major city has two or three labs,” Armstrong said. “I just went to one last night in downtown Baltimore.”

Kauai needs this because creative people need access to tools and a way to share ideas with other innovative people, he added. It is not a far-fetched idea when you see how well it has caught on around the country, especially in places where there are few other opportunities for access.

The labs are all a little different and the challenge for Kauai is to figure out which way to go, Armstrong said. Some groups are membership driven and some are open access. Some emphasize electronics, and others are about wood or metalwork.

Key is finding that middle ground for serious projects while also making room for the “weekend warriors,” he said.

“We are still figuring that out right now,” he said. “We are open to ideas for business and personal use.”

There would be procedures to make sure people are competent at using the tool before they check it out.

Many people schooled in one specialty have nowhere to work. Someone can go to Kauai Community College and learn to work with metal, then go somewhere to access the same machines. The same principle could apply for an automotive shop and even a culinary center.

“I took a welding course at KCC two years ago and it was great to learn how to weld, but I have not had a chance to weld after that,” Armstrong said.

The plan is to become a nonprofit but the group can do that with bonds investors, then offer tax-deductible donations once the organization has incorporated and its tax status is approved. The group can also take material donations such as old tools.

Find out more at kauaimakers.org, Facebook under Kauai-Makers, and Pinterest under kauaimakers. Lozar can be reached at info@kauaimakers.org.

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