When Dennis Savic and a team of mechanical engineers recently moved their tools into a new public makerspace in Footscray, it represented a significant milestone on the road to production of Australia’s first electric motorcycle.

It also represented a ‘coming of age’ for FAB9 – a superbly equipped workspace on the banks of the Maribyrnong River that is turning heads across Australia for its ground-breaking combination of skills training, start-up expertise, and the country’s most sophisticated collection of engineering and manufacturing machines.

FAB9 is the brainchild of Hans Chang, a former Silicon Valley product manager, who after a career with the flash-memory company SanDisk, opened FAB9 with the world-renowned makerspace pioneer, Dr Evan Malone.

Chang’s experiment has also attracted significant support from the Victorian Government’s start-up agency, LaunchVic, which – buoyed by Malone’s backing – has funded FAB9 to the tune of $1 million.

“FAB9 is an important piece of infrastructure in our start-up ecosystem, as it provides a particular manufacturing focus for start-ups wanting access to low-cost facilities to prototype, build and test products,” says Kate Cornick, the CEO of LaunchVic.

The funds have enabled Chang to create “Australia’s best-equipped public makerspace”, with a range of machines usually available only to multinational corporations and research labs – including the laser-guided Markforged X7 3D printer, and the Multicam Trident 3000 CNC router – one of the most precise and versatile flatbed cutting machines in the world.

The 900-square-metre workspace also has an extensive range of hand tools, power tools, electronic prototyping equipment, and manufacturing machines, including vertical bench-saws, thicknessers, laser-cutters, industrial sewing machines, and more.

Moto madness

While FAB9 offers a productive launchpad for DIY projects and maker-entrepreneurs, its huge range of tools and expertise also makes it an ideal venue for serious start-ups and hardware pioneers.

Dennis Savic, the 27-year-old wunderkind behind the Savic C-Series, says the makerspace was a perfect spot for him when he was considering venues to test, tune and assemble the country’s first high-performance electric motorcycle.

“As we’re pre-seed, it doesn’t pay for us to lease an entire factory yet, when we’re basically working nights and weekends,” says Savic, who works as an optimisation engineer at Ford Australia by day. “At FAB9, we have a semi-permanent space in the metal workshop with our own bench and bike stand with plenty of space.”

Savic launched the advanced prototype of his café racer at the 2019 Australian Motorcycle Festival in Wollongong in November and was ensconced at FAB9 within a week of returning to Melbourne. He says interest has been most intense in his top-of-the-range Alpha model – a 60kW machine “capable of 0-100 kmph in 3.5 seconds”.

The team is aiming to produce its first ‘founder edition’ bikes by August 2020 and has already received 99 expressions of interest for its first 49 vehicles, with formal orders opened in early December.

Savic’s team is using FAB9’s workshops to test the electrical components, refine the motor tune, and finalise development of the bike’s powertrain. Savic says the company is in discussions with a number of venture capital firms, and is remains quietly confident of meeting its target for first commercial deliveries in January 2021.

“FAB9 is perfect for us because it gives us a spacious workshop, with great equipment, friendly staff, and complete security,” says Savic. “Plus, of course, it’ll cost us less than half of what it would cost to rent a similar standalone factory space.”

For Hans Chang, however, you don’t have to be the inventor of Australia’s next transport revolution – or even be particularly handy – to benefit from a membership at FAB9.

“You don’t have to have a watertight project or a detailed engineering plan before you come and see us,” says Chang. “All you need is an idea and the enthusiasm to further your journey.

“You don’t even have to have any practical expertise – just an interest and a willingness to see how far you can take your making ambitions.”