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Top 10 Challenges of Fab Lab ICC Part 2

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

This is a recap of the remaining top 10 challenges we’ve faced in the creation and operation of Fab Lab ICC since we opened in October of 2014. Although our successes and these challenges have made us what we are today, I’d change some things if I were setting up a new Fab Lab or maker space. 

Member and Volunteer Training 

The challenge of learning so many processes and machines, especially well enough to show others, has been daunting. We now realize training for members and volunteers will be a combination of how-to outlines and videos along with short, 1 or 2 session starter classes for those ready to begin learning how to do something new. There will, however, always be a substantial element of self-learning and knowledge-sharing among members. That’s part of the culture and fabric of fab labs and maker spaces. 

Fab Lab Blab Newsletter 

Our “Fab Lab Blab” newsletter is very popular. The stories tend to be inspirational. We email the digital version to nearly 2,000 people both regionally and around the country. We regularly receive requests to be added to the email list and people in offices tell us they share it with others. When we do presentations and speaking engagements, we usually take a stack of 20 – 50 printed copies and they nearly always disappear. 

As we’ve become so very busy, it has been difficult to find the time to write and edit the stories, select the images and assemble everything into the format. This continues to be a challenge this year and will require an extra effort to publish the next and following issues. 


Organization of our supplies and materials has been a challenge from the beginning and continues today. Perhaps the challenge has grown as we’ve moved machines, equipment and supplies to the new building. There’s a Japanese discipline called “5S” some of us have used previously in manufacturing environment 

5S is a workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words: seiriseitonseisōseiketsu, and shitsuke. These have been translated as "Sort", "Set In order", "Shine", "Standardize" and "Sustain". 

We could certainly use all of the “S’s.” so we’re trying to figure out how to implement “5S” in the Lab.  

Web Site 

For five years, we’ve struggled with our web site presence and how to keep things current. This and so many of the other challenges are due to the “bare bones” staffing practices of the fab lab culture. I mentioned “Wild Apricot” last time as the web-based system to help us with member management. Turns out, “Wild Apricot” is an entire web site management system as well. It makes it easy to change content and keep it current.  

Images and Video 

So many activities have generated thousands of photo and video opportunities. We’ve captured about 1/3 of them, but getting them from the capture device, our myriad of phones, digital and video cameras into some kind of organized, searchable system has been extremely challenging. Currently Dropbox for Business seems to hold the greatest promise for not only storing but also tagging and cataloging the image content. 

Project Management 

Many, many projects and tasks have been on our combined plates starting even before we opened the doors. In knowing and remembering what work needs to be done and a rough order in which the work needs to be performed we’ve relied on a hodge-podge of manual lists, scratch pads and sticky notes. We’ve not ever tried a sophisticated system like Microsoft Project because it has failed in every company in which I’ve seen it attempted; too complicated. We’ve tried a couple of newer, web-based project management systems with little success. One most recent attempted solution had no provision to print a report, everything had to be viewed on screen or phone. I’m not quite ready to give up paper just yet. Using concepts from manufacturing planning systems I’ve used in previous lives, we’re developing our own web-based system so that everyone sees the stuff they are supposed to be working on and when it is supposed to be finished. 

These were the top 10 (11 if you’re counting) biggest challenges in our first five years. There will always be new challenges as we move forward, but I hope if I revisit our biggest challenges in a year, some of these will drop off the list because we’ve figured out solutions. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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