Innovation Cities

Barcelona: Bringing 3-D printing to the masses

Anmar Frangoul | Special to

Barcelona is a city steeped in architectural and artistic history -- from the towering spires of Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Familia to its ramblas, museums and galleries.

Building on this heritage of creativity, the city is keen to promote itself as one of the world's most innovative places. And FabCafe Barcelona, opened in March of this year, is a prime example of this innovative Catalan spirit.

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Located in the center of the city near Plaça de Catalunya, FabCafe Barcelona is a coffee shop with a twist. As well as serving customers steaming cups of café con leche, it offers people access to laser cutting and 3-D printing technology, enabling them to do everything from creating a 3-D replica of their face to engraving logos on their shoes.

"What we're offering is on-the-spot, in-the-moment, walk-in services for 3-D printing," Cecilia Tham, the founder of FabCafe Barcelona, told in a phone interview. "At the moment, there is nowhere in Barcelona that offers this," she added.

Today, smart minds around the world are helping to realize the potential of 3-D printing. Buildings, prosthetic limbs and even guns have been made using the technology.

The ethos of Tham's café is based around broadening access to this transformative tech, she said.

"3-D printing and laser cutting – they're not new technologies, but they haven't really been accessible to the general public yet," she said.

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"We wanted to create that 'accessibility for all'. It doesn't really matter if you're five years old or 90, or if you're amateur or professional… we really believed in the act of creating and building creative confidence," she added.

It costs 36 euros ($48) for 45 minutes of 3-D printing, and 10 euros for 10 minutes' access to the laser-cutter.

Allan Baxter | The Image Bank | Getty Images

"If you are new to the sector, there's a whole entire array of online platforms where you can download pre-made models and we can print them [for you]," Tham said. These pre-made products include bracelets, necklaces and superhero models.

Citywide, Barcelona is embracing innovation on a grand scale. Last year, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona added a fully electric, zero-emission bus to its transport fleet, while almost 80 fountains in the city are now remote controlled in order to ensure more efficient use of water supplies.

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The European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, recognized Barcelona's efforts when it awarded the city the inaugural European Capital of Innovation award earlier this year.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, praised the city's use of technology and innovation to improve citizens' lives, saying, "Barcelona is a deserving winner of the first iCapital award, for its dedication to using new technology for the benefit of its inhabitants."

For Tham, FabCafe Barcelona is just the beginning. "We're planning a whole array of events and workshops, we really want people to get involved and get to know about the machinery," she said.

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