Chapter 3 — Power to the People: The Irresistible Rise of the Maker Movement
There was a time when, for good reasons, industrial-grade machines could be found only in professional workshops and factories. That game has changed in the past decade with the rapid expansion of open workshops around the world.
These spaces offer people access to software, technical support, education, shared learning and advanced state-of-the-art machinery. Whether called makerspaces, Fab Labs or hackerspaces, they increasingly enable almost anyone to make almost anything.
The so-called maker movement is an umbrella term for a new generation of hackers, artisans, designers, artists and entrepreneurs, who are all part of the rise of a worldwide technology-enabled extension of DIY culture. Makers are now empowered to entirely design, model and fabricate what they want themselves.
The maker movement is in full swing and goes far beyond the physical world, fostering thriving online communities. Instructables.com, for example, is one of the larger maker communities online, attracting 30 million people every month.
Makers organise physical fairs and maker events: Maker Faire launched in 2006 in San Mateo, California, and has attracted 2.3 million attendees. There are now over 150 Maker Faires around the world.
According to a Royal Society of Arts report, the increased popularity of makerspaces, physical and digital, goes deeper than making simply being currently “in fashion” or down to economic necessity:
“The maker movement is a reaction to significant technological upheaval and indicative of a desire among people to have more control over their lives — as workers, consumers and citizens.
The act of making is one means of regaining mastery over technology — not just because it enables us to be more self-reliant but also because it can boost our sense of agency.”
Designer, maker, retailer: A coherent chain
In the overall industrial landscape, the impact of the maker movement is still very marginal. But as new technologies, new funding mechanisms and new distribution platforms become more and more accessible, and more and more efficient, its potential increases as fast as the movement grows.
Digital fabrication is opening the doors of manufacturing to almost everyone, and increasing the possibility for goods to be produced locally by people themselves or local makers. It also enables small agile companies to move into areas of production that were previously the exclusive domain of large corporations.
The world is “on the verge of a consumer-driven entrepreneurial revolution that could provide as many relative benefits as the industrial revolution did in the 19th century,” says Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The internet has dramatically shortened the distance from producer to consumer, making it feasible to connect them directly and sell small-batch, locally produced items online.
This means individuals and small companies today can prototype, design, make, market and connect directly with customers. We are starting to see how these new technologies could disrupt top-down business models by transforming the way we make and distribute goods.
“Small and medium-size enterprises will flourish in this new era of manufacturing, and global companies will increasingly metamorphose from primary producers and distributors to aggregators.
In the new economic era, their role will be to coordinate and manage the multiple networks that move commerce and trade across the value chain”
– Jeremy Rifkin, Economist
Even funding product development and setting up production is being disrupted by crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe and RocketHub.
Small players get proof-of-concept and pre-production financing directly from prospective buyers, making it possible to enter the field, sometimes with nothing more than a good idea.
The Fab City movement: Connected and self-sufficient
Fabrication laboratories (Fab Labs) are similar to makerspaces with one significant difference: they are connected and share the same space requirements, tools, software and curriculum, creating a standardised global community. The programme is building a connected laboratory across the planet for research and invention.
From community-based labs to advanced research centres, Fab Labs share the goal of democratising access to the tools of technical invention. This community is simultaneously a manufacturing network, a distributed technical education campus and a distributed research laboratory working to digitise fabrication, inventing the next generation of manufacturing and personal fabrication.
“Fab Labs are cultural agents and enables the transition from a centralised economy to a distributed one, by transforming our current industrial model.The Fab City project challenges cities and regions to start building the infrastructure to be locally productive and globally connected. It is not just a city full of Fab Labs. It’s an ecosystem that is varied and coherent,” says Tomas Diez, director of the Fab City Research Lab and Fab Lab Barcelona.
Diez and a global network of leading partners (MIT, Fab Foundation, Danish Design Center, RCA in London, Zero Waste Europe, etc) are spearheading a new urban model, where citizens are not just perceived as consumers but as producers, empowered through technological breakthroughs and access to knowledge and tools, in order to reclaim some means of production and bring manufacturing back to our cities.
The Fab City vision extends beyond industrial production to renewed capacity for cities to feed themselves and produce energy and new materials. It nurtures the idea of locally productive ecosystems, where local communities could fuel a more circular economy towards self-sufficiency.
“We see more than a thousand Fab Labs in almost every major city as a Trojan horse for the circular economy. This taps into the open source movement and is basically transforming everything,” says Diez.
LET’S BREAK IT DOWN:
The vision is to create a global network of cities that share knowledge and best practices on urban solutions emerging from citizens, companies, educational institutions and governments.
It encompasses various strategies, including:
- An advanced manufacturing ecosystem of local networks of Fab Labs and mid-scale production centres connected to the larger global network of supply chains, sharing knowledge, best practices and projects.
- A distributed production of clean energy, in which households and businesses contribute to generate and share power and resources.
- An urban network of local food-producing infrastructures at domestic, neighbourhood and city scales, to create a closed-loop system for food production, harvesting and distribution.
- A strong emphasis on learning-by-doing and engagements at all levels of education in creating solutions for local needs, through digital fabrication, that can be shared with the global network.
- A step into a more circular economy, by reducing the amount of imported goods, and instead increasing the use of recycled raw materials for the local production of objects in cities.
The Fab City takes the ideals of the Fab Lab — connectivity, culture and creativity — and scales it to the city. It promotes an ecological system of more empowered citizens, where the need for raw materials, the consumption of energy and related carbon emissions is drastically reduced.
In order for this to be possible, the city must become locally productive and globally connected. In 2014, Barcelona was the first city to officially commit to becoming self-sufficient within the next 40 years. Today, 12 major cities (including Amsterdam, Boston and Paris) and two countries (Bhutan and Georgia) have made the same commitment by joining the Fab City initiative.
The Made Again Challenge: The first Fab City prototype
SPACE10’s mission to investigate new models of circular societies and enable a better life for the many people quickly led us to explore more sustainable alternatives for production and consumption.
Inspired by recent developments in digital fabrication, the rise of the maker movement and the vision of self-sufficient cities, we joined forces with the Fab City Research Laboratory and IKEA to conduct an ambitious experiment in Barcelona. Together, in the summer of 2016, we created the largest Fab City prototype to date.
For the Made Again Challenge, we turned the Poblenou district into a one-square-kilometre testbed to explore the potential of making and remaking products collectively, self-sufficiently and within a productive ecosystem of people, places, machines and materials.
We invited biologists, tech professionals, local makers, craftsmen, IKEA designers and other trailblazers from around the world to participate in the Made Again Challenge.
We connected Fab Labs, workspaces and workshops in the same neighbourhood. Digital fabrication tools such as CNC milling machines, 3D printers and laser cutters were made available, together with plastic-recycling stations, woodworking and metalworking tools, a biohacking laboratory, and textile and electronics stations.
We collected rubbish, discarded materials and broken furniture from the streets of Barcelona. We gathered inspiring materials — like bioplastics, local wool and bio-resins, and recycled plastic sheets from Smile Plastics — and unique textiles such as Ecoalf, made from plastic found along the Spanish coast, and Piñatex, a leather-like material made from discarded pineapple leaves.
“If you have the capacity, skills and infrastructure to make things locally, then you don’t need to have cargo ships delivering materials around the world,” says Tomas Diez.
Over the course of five days, the teams worked together, within the boundaries of Poblenou, to give another chance to products and materials that were on their way to the landfill. Much more than an exercise in recycling or upcycling, it turned out to be an exercise in system thinking.
During the five days, the participants in the Made Again Challenge operated the first Fab City prototype to demonstrate how productive a neighbourhood can become when its inhabitants are empowered by the knowledge, tools and infrastructure necessary to make and remake products locally and sustainably.
IMAGINE: Exploring the brave new world of design and manufacturing,
is a SPACE10 publication investigating manufacturing in the digital age, materials of tomorrow and circular economies.
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Expert view: Making Good with Ravi Naidoo
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