Trajectories to reconcile sharing and commercialization in the Maker movement

Which is more important for makers? Having a sharing, open attitude aimed at achieving social impact, or a commercial mindset aimed at profit? In fact, many Maker initiatives try to balance these two ways of working because making money can offer the financial stability needed to be able to scale-up and really make a difference.

In this paper for the Business Horizons journal, based on case studies from the MAKE-IT project, we describe the trajectories that maker initiatives go through in order to reconcile the two apparently conflicting objectives of sharing and commercialization.

Paper

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Case study: Dezentrale – a Maker initiative offering a variety of digital fabrication technologies

Dezentrale inner courtyard (Photo: Julia Krayer)

Based in Dortmund (Germany), Dezentrale is a Maker initiative, which, since July 2013, offers a variety of digital fabrication technologies (3D printers, a laser cutter, and electronic equipment), respective knowledge, space and the required equipment for mushroom growing. It is a project funded and run by the research institute Fraunhofer UMSICHT that has a strong focus on sustainable energy and resource use and the transfer of scientific results into companies, society and politics.

Dezentrale is open to the public on two afternoons a week, whereby the focus is on digital fabrication during the first afternoon and on mushroom growing during the second. In addition, Dezentrale offers a variety of workshops. These cover various themes ranging from introduction to 3D printing over crypto parties to mushroom growing. At the moment, Dezentrale is also involved in research projects that address how collaborative economies emerge from production processes, different possibilities for sustainable energy solutions within the citizens’ district, creation of personalized products and equipment for children suffering from rheumatic diseases.

Aiming for an increased participation of the public in research, Dezentrale is supporting the annual festival for more democratic science Innovative Citizen for the third time this year. Dezentrale’s goal to open up research and innovation processes for society via its different projects and is also co-organizing the citizen festival Innovative Citizen, an annual festival for more democratic science.
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Case study: Arduino – participating in a world of creation in digital space

“If you aren’t able to participate in the world of creation in the digital space, you’re left out.”  (Severance 2014).

There are many different options to create and craft digital artefacts and products. One of them is Arduino. Arduino itself is a microcontroller on a developer board which can be easily ordered and programmed to do a variety of things. The ever-growing Arduino community is made up of everyone from hobbyists and students to designers and engineers all across the world.

Arduino started as a teaching tool, and one of the conditions shaping the emergence of Arduino were the requirements of studying interaction design. These students had only about 30 days to study electronics applied to design. So apart from many other things, the Arduino technology had to be very accessible in a relatively short time.

Arduino is, in fact, many boards. Boards are different in terms of memory (Uno versus Mega) or in terms of processing power (Uno versus Due). This aspect actually relates to an on-going discussion of closed hardware products being inspired by Arduino but offering better functionalities at a lower price to maker enthusiasts. Now that the idea of programmable microcontrollers has taken off, different business models are experimented with. In the end, Arduino is not only a technology but also a company that had to grow and stabilize. Even though Arduino is one of the success stories in open source hardware, it’s still a relatively small company with few full-time employees.
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Do we need more collaboration for a truly disruptive Maker movement? First insights from the instructables.com community

Authors: Sebastian Mair & Christian Voigt

A central question to the MAKE-IT project is the Maker movements’ near and long-term potential to actually disrupt current production and consumption patterns. Of course, that is a multidimensional question whose complexity can’t be comprehensively reflected in a single sentence. Disruption is better understood as a process rather than an event, if it is to happen at a societal level. The process of disruption starts with becoming aware of a situation which is not satisfying anymore. However, this realisation will depend on persons’ position within the economical ecosystem. Incumbents of lucrative positions within the current system will likely oppose emerging solutions pointing at their shortcomings, often related to a lack of mature and robust implementations of otherwise progressive, forward-looking ideas such as fabricating and assembling products on-site and thereby avoiding shipping and related burdens for the environment. Similarly, there is an argument that making enables people to become more entrepreneurial and therefore create their own jobs, quasi employing themselves.

In both situations, we rely – among other things – on the idea of networks as empowering distribution mechanisms of either product knowledge (e.g. 3D models, materials and related parameters for desktop production) or ‘how-to’ knowledge (e.g. instructions, shared experiences and evaluations of alternative solutions). Hence, one of the ‘signs of disruptions’ is the emergence of large-scale networks empowering makers to share and comment their knowledge. In this posting, we want to more closely study the relationship between network dynamics, as reflected by their increasing membership and related network characteristics such as various centrality measures, the degree of members (often referred to as ‘connectivity’) or the largest sub-networks within a community.

The role of online platforms

By analysing existing online platforms such as thingyverse.com or instructables.com, we aim to contribute to a better understanding of collaboration and connectedness within the Maker community. Eventually, this will be of help when pursuing the realization of the movement’s real potential due to the identification of missing features or incentives that stop platforms from supporting desirable behaviours. Or, alternatively, we might realize that the existing platforms serve a distinctly different purpose and are therefore less suitable to support the larger picture of digital, social innovation as envisioned within large parts of the Maker movement.
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Exploring Maker technologies: the TechRadar

MAKE-IT is a Horizon 2020 European research project focused on how the role of Collective Awareness Platforms (CAPS) enables the growth and governance of the Maker movement, particularly in relation to Information Technology, using and creating social innovations and achieving sustainability. MAKE-IT tackles these issues through different research methods and with the development of technological innovations, such as the interactive Technology Radar (or TechRadar) , which provides an overview of all relevant technologies for makers:

http://techradar.make-it.io/

We hereby invite you to test the TechRadar and provide the MAKE-IT project with very valuable feedback. The TechRadar was developed for the purpose of research, but have added features that we hope can make it useful for a maker, especially for the maker beginners and as an educational tool within fab labs. When exploring the TechRadar, we would like to draw your attention to

  • The possibilities of exploring across the platforms: Specific examples are linked with general types of technology categories (where more inspiration can be found) and further linked with technology trends and vice versa.
  • A feature letting the user contribute to the database of platforms/technologies.

After exploring the TechRadar, we will appreciate all the feedback we can get. Please use this link to enter the online survey:
http://make-it.io/surveys/index.php/888114?lang=en

There’s time until December 9th 2017.
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Case study: How to Make (Almost) Anything – HRW Lab, Bottrop (DE)

The HRW FabLab is located at the “Hochschule Ruhr West University for Applied Sciences” (HRW) in Bottrop, Germany. Bottrop is located in the Ruhr district, the densest populated area in Germany which has undergone significant degradation after the loss of its industrial base.

Due to the explicit orientation on education and empowerment, the HRW FabLab is helping to raise the human capital of the area by teaching practical skills for innovation. Psychological barriers to higher education are consciously broken down by inviting pupils to the FabLab who could usually not imagine following an academic career. The research and development services benefit especially local SMEs who might otherwise not have the budget for tailor-made R&D services.

The HRW FabLab is primarily a laboratory for students at the technical University of Applied Sciences “Hochschule Ruhr West” (HRW) and has also open hours for non-students from the wider community. The HRW is a technical University of Applied Sciences with focus on computer science, engineering, mathematics, natural sciences and business administration.

According to the motto “How to Make (Almost) Anything”, the HRW FabLab encourages its students to experiment with rapid prototyping in a wide area of fields like robotics, electronics, 3D-design, -printing and –scanning, film-making, clothes-making, drone-making, and the pursuit of various individual projects. The HRW FabLab offers furthermore a wide variety of hands-on workshops and learning experiences in the above-mentioned fields for primary and secondary schools as well as other interested groups like refugees and youth from disadvantaged areas.

The FabLab does not have a formalised membership structure, but the facility manager estimates that it has a user base of approximately 200 people who regularly use the facilities, plus a larger number of one-time users who come to workshops and courses.

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Developing sustainable and fair business model for Maker spaces is key

During the MAKE-IT project, we had the chance to visit many Maker Faires and exhibitions to meet makers, 3D printing enthusiasts and FabLabs teams. Putting aside the passion for technology and sharing experiences and knowledge with others, we realized the difficult financial situations many (if not most) of these people or organizations could be. If you do not have a job on the side, it might be difficult to find the right balance to maintain or develop your makerspace because of the lack of funds. This is probably the true spirit, where people focus on giving their time to others to help them learn rather than trying to make money out of it. But if you cannot find quickly the right financial balance sometimes you need to close your space and stop sharing once and for all.

This leads us to define sources of revenue and we could see people are really creative beside relying on donations and standard members subscriptions. Trainings, 3D design for companies, consulting are often good revenue resources, but not always stable. Potential solutions like the secure print developed at Create it REAL could help 3D file designers to sell their 3D files online and get some revenue out of it in order to support the makerspace or FabLab (people can print but do not get the STL file, so you keep your intellectual property). The solution allows to define the price you want, so if you prefer to share your objects for free as you manage to get enough funds to maintain your team, so be it. But if you need to put a little price to contribute to your efforts, then that could be the right solution.

We believe people need to find the right balance between the full open source, everything free approach and a fair price to pay to help to make sure your project is sustainable. We have seen so many places closing because the smiles, the energy and enthusiasm at the beginning of the project turned quickly into worries and stress to fund it. We hope all makers around the world could find this important balance even between starting their project so we see more and more makerspaces in all cities.

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