How disruptive is the Maker movement?

Many commentators highlight the Maker movement’s great promise of bringing about a new and fairer economy. They contend that the dominant neo-liberal economic model is reliant on the over-exploitation of natural resources and low wage regions. It leads to the centralization of industrial power, the marginalization of the majority into the role of consumer, and a reduction in the true quality of life for most.

The Maker movement offers a genuine alternative whereby grassroots initiatives gain access to high quality digital fabrication facilities, can share knowledge through online platforms and open source technologies, and they can finance their innovations through mutual crowdfunding campaigns. Futurologist, Jeremy Rifkin, in his 2014 book “The zero marginal cost society”, goes so far as to say that once maker infrastructure is fully developed, it will bring the price of products and services close to zero thereby completely destroying the capitalist stranglehold on the economy.

However, other commentators are less impressed by the Maker movement. The critical analyst, Evgeny Morozov, in his Jan 2014 New Yorker column, draws a parallel with the arts and crafts movement during the industrial revolution. That too held great promise to democratize production technologies at a time when workers suffered exploitation in new textile factories. But access to tools on its own is not enough to bring about political and social change; makers need to change corporate laws and governmental policies too. Otherwise they are doomed to be side-lined as irrelevant hobbyists, like their industrial age counterparts.

So, is there now evidence of the disruptive nature of the Maker movement? Are we about to enter the collaborative commons era, as Rifkin suggests, where everyone is a maker and the peer-to-peer economy becomes dominant? Or, as Morozov implies, are makers too busy with their cool gadgets to realize that they are simply pawns stuck in a corporation-controlled game?

My answer to these questions is built by looking at a number of indicators that provide an indication of future change. Through participating in the MAKE-IT project, I have had the opportunity to learn about many Maker initiatives and understand the makers’ experiences and challenges. Clearly, at the present time most makers remain small-time hobbyists, and there is no major disruptive effect being exerted on the economy. Indeed, a major driving force of many makers is their moral compass guiding them in the direction of the sharing economy, open source principles and a rejection of financial value in favour of social value. This focus in itself is not conducive to developing a competitive drive to scale-up and disrupt existing markets.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that all makers remain economically insignificant or, importantly, that the effect of the whole movement will not be felt on a wider scale. Disruption may take time. The question we can ask ourselves now is: Can we see the first signs of change?

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FabLabNet: Connect – Exchange – Inspire

Let’s build a network of central European Fab Labs!

For two days in June, eight Fab Labs from central Europe gathered in Happylab Vienna for an exciting workshop on Fab Lab management best practices and different education formats. The exchange was particularly interesting due to the differences in terms of size, equipment and user base between the participating labs. On one hand, the smallest participating lab – Roglab in Ljubljana – operates in only 30 square metres; while on the other hand, Maker Space Munich is one of the biggest labs in Germany, with 1500 square metres.

All the participating labs are part of the FabLabNet project. The project, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund, aims to connect Fab Labs in a Central European network. The project partners share experiences and develop activities to boost their knowledge and capacity. FabLabNet’s main objective is to bring the Fab Lab concept to new, existing and future innovators across Central Europe and connect them on a transnational level.

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FabLab Zagreb at Faust Vrancic Creative Days

FabLab in Zagreb is the only one official FabLab listed on from Croatia. This citizen association is run under motto “FabLab with maker’s heart”. As such, FabLab is using not only digital fabrication, but different technologies to show them to wide population in practical way. With activities run under three missions: education related “Create@School”, local community related “Give-a-Hand”, and entrepreneurship related “Solve Local Go Global” it is active on various events: conferences, fairs and workshops. Just in this not finished year, Fablab was participate on more then 30 events in Croatia and region, with more then 30.000 visitors. From Maker Fairs to Science Picnics, from STE[A]M week to European Makers Week, from Design District to Designathon FabLab members share information and disseminate knowledge about digital technology to engage wide population to improve STE[A]M skills targeting both students and teachers.

Obviously most impact, have events with most visitors and media attraction in large cities, but here we would like to mention one event without large public, like those on Island of Prvic, small local community in Adriatic Sea. This small island without cars, near Šibenik, and famous because that was place where Faust Vrancic (lat. Faustus Verantius), late Renaissance man spent summers and work on Machinae Novae. This island almost without kids, but active small community, invited FabLab for second year to participate on Faust Vrancic Creative Days. This year, few classes from Šibenik school’s arrived on workshops, including kids from Center for education persons with development issues. 

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Case study: Smart Bending Factory – The customizing products plug-in company

Can metal shields be ordered on-demand and on time? Probably no one would think that this is very likely. However, one company can do this. The plug-in company Smart Bending Factory (SBF), situated in the Netherlands, developed and implemented a web-based portal through which customers can order their metal sheets and tubes on-demand through the Internet. It allows to offer one dedicated product almost at the production cost of a product from a series of 500 products. The three guiding principles for the SBF are community thinking and working, joint exploration of physical processes in a physical SBF and last but not least, applying the web-based SOPHIA technology.

The SOPHIA technology calculates how many parts are required, analyses all the characteristics of the parts, and how it can be manufactured. SOPHIA analyses the product design drawing to indicate for example whether the design is feasible and gives feedback. Thus engineers’ work can be focused on designing the product in an optimal way in line with the latest production machines. SOPHIA provides the customer with feedback about the design. It therefore often uses animated movies to indicate any problems or inefficiencies in the design. This enables the customer to make smart choices. Also, draft designs are uploaded in a very early stage, which makes the process increasingly efficient.

It implies that SBF allows for maximum flexibility and customer orientation, first-time-right mentality, while keeping the costs of the development to a bare minimum.

The ambition of the SBF in the region is that a large number of non-competing OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in the metal processing industry are put together in a community environment for sharing knowledge, experiences, resources, and information, while exploiting metal product manufacturing process steps together. The broad goal is to stabilize, if possible increase the competitive position of the region and its companies.

Key reasoning is that it does not make sense that it is possible for consumers to order a product at home online at a web shop and receive the product the next day, while that is not possible for business customers for their metal products. Those business customers generally have to wait weeks. The SBF vision is to allow for on-demand 3D metal manufacturing.

SOPHIA software
Get real-time indication and choice
Manufactured in an SBF

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Case Study: Fablab TI, Denmark

Fablab TI is one of the cases of the MAKE-IT project where the lab’s internal features and relations and interactions with makers and their initiatives were explored to determine how these maker communities are organized and governed. What Makers do in the labs and their interactions with their peers and third parties, and the various ways this impacts on and adds value to society.

Fablab TI team

Fablab is funded and hosted by the Danish Technological Institute (DTI)—a non-profit self-owned organization of over 1000 specialists and 10 business units aimed at improving the exploitation of new technologies of SMEs via an interdisciplinary approach and advanced technical facilities. Fablab TI however, is fairly autonomous of DTI and is based on the work of the Inventor Advisory Service started in 1972, and where Danish citizens are offered free of charge support, advice and counselling of their ideas and products.

Lab management and personnel consists of:

  1. a core team of three persons
    1. the Head of the Inventor Advisory Service
    2. a Fablab Manager, and
    3. a Tangibility Manager
  2. 6 Inventor Advisors
  3. 1 student lab assistant
  4. 1 graphics student
  5. 1 journalist and storyteller

Within Fablab TI there is a strong focus on training the lab’s future core team from among its student body.







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MAKE-IT at the 18th ERSCP-conference in Greece, 2017

The ERSCP conference in Greece is one of the most remarkable conferences worldwide, which focuses on environmental key issues like sustainable consumption and production. The conference supports the exchange of thoughts, knowledge and experiences within the community and has over the years established a worldwide dialogue between researchers from different countries and disciplines. Scientists from all over the world share their research and practices about consumption and production and discuss new possibilities and solutions in thematic workshops during the conference. Main themes of the conference are for instance Circular Economy, Zero waste management, Advances in Sustainable Consumption & Lifestyles, Sustainability in Production & Design and Eco-Efficiency, Sustainable/Smart Cities.

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Case study: Show, exchange and inspire – the Tartu Mini Maker Faire

Tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, citizens and entrepreneurs – they all come together at the Mini Maker Faire in Tartu to show their projects, to talk about what they have learned, exchange and inspire visitors to become a maker. The idea is to gather all the people that can be defined as makers to trigger an awareness and emergence of the Maker movement in Estonia and in other Baltic countries. Since its beginning the Tartu Mini Maker Faire has constantly grown: the number of makers has doubled from 2014, where 58 maker teams were present, to 2015, with an average of 1000 visitors yearly. This year Tartu the mini maker fair was fully independent from the science festival which served the recent years as the organisational frame.

One could state that ‘Making’ and the Maker movement in general is associated to historical roots in Estonia. The deprivations during the Soviet Era encouraged people to re-use materials and be creative with scarce resources. “We really did not have many things around” (interview partner AHHAA). Still the progress of ‘consumerism’ has jeopardized this link – and the Maker movement is supposed to bring it back.

Tartu Mini Maker Faire is mostly focused on creating awareness about the Maker movement in Tartu when the term “maker” was not well-known prior the arrangement of the Mini Maker Faire. As such, it may also have the potential of getting a broader public involved with making and to promoting STEM and creativity among a broad public.

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Case Study: Create It REAL, Aalborg (Denmark)

Create It REAL is based in Aalborg, Denmark and was founded in 2009 by Jeremie Gay. Building 3D printers started as a hobby until Jeremie decided to quit his job to live out of this activity.

As of today, Create it REAL counts twelve international employees, which are mostly composed of men in their mid-20, with an engineering background. Create it REAL operates as a R&D centre, specialising in developing and adapting the technology behind 3D printing and creating platform solutions to reveal the full potential of 3D printers. They focus on 3D printing technology development, with key products being their software platform (REALvision) and the worldwide first real-time processor dedicated to 3D printing. This technology allows a printing speed 5 times faster than standard 3D printers. It also allows the encryption of 3D files which could solve Intellectual property issues in the future.

Create It REAL offer their platform to 3D printer manufacturers for integration into their own 3D printers and can also assist companies in building their prototypes to enter the 3D printing market. Create It REAL also participates in local and European projects with schools, working in partnership with Aalborg Municipality and teachers. They try to help students to develop their creativity and discover new technologies they may have to use every day in the future.

Create it REAL also spend a lot of time in working in different areas of 3D printing to tackle the industry issue and accelerate its development: food printing, Bio printing, new slicing algorithm (software used to prepare a 3D print) are key areas where R&D is important to move forward.

Counter-intuitively for an R&D centre, they nurture openness and publish their results to the wider public and showcase their work in exhibitions to address makers and 3D printing community. Create it REAL balances between openness and the competing market. “One of the reasons why I left open source projects was because I knew the architecture would be a problem for long-term development.” (Jeremie Gay). Still, some openness is yet needed to allow compatibility and flexibility. To navigate the uncertainty surrounding Open Source, Create It REAL made the choice of an “in-between”, where the option to open is left for future decisions. In parallel, Create It REAL is very open about the activities they are working on. Not being open source fosters innovation but by staying close to open source, it enables compatibility, flexibility and acceptance from makers.

Thus, Created It REAL seeks to find a middle-ground, the right balance between commercial activities and openness.

For more detailed information please have a look at our report and the Create it REAL website.

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Robot Battle’s Smashing Success

On 28 September, as one of the main events of the 2017 edition of the national Researchers’ Night Festival in Estonia, Science Centre AHHAA organized the second robot battle for engineering enthusiasts all over the country.

The robots held their matches in 2 categories, 10 in the lightweight category of 0-25 kg and 4 in the mid-weight category of 25 to 50 kg. Due to the popularity of the event, the fight time in each round of the battle was shortened from 3 minutes to 2 minutes and took place on a 6 x 6 m arena.

The battle proved to be spectacularly popular among festival-goers with more than 800  ticketed visitors squeezing themselves into the event location and another 100 being sent back from the doors due to cramped conditions in the room. Despite the low levels of oxygen and high levels of battle-related smoke, the crowd cheered on while the robots skillfully crashed into each other, trying to eliminate their opponents.

The audience’s favourite robot (according to the poll) was C!F!T!, a machine built by a group of engineers with the help of sponsors that managed to captivate the audience’s attention due to its lift-and-throw pneumatic weapon that proved to be unbeatable. For the same reason, C!F!T! also became the winner in the mid-weight class, being granted a 700 € prize.

In the lightweight class, most robots were equally durable but the triangular veneer- and metal sheet construction of a robot called Rüütel (’The Knight’) built by a father-son team showed its perseverence in every round and was crowned the winner of the class, happily taking home 500 € of prize money.

A robot that got the attention of the youngest audience members and did a brave comeback was built by an all-female team and called Malibu Barbie v 2.0. Fittinlgy painted bright pink and decorared with a Barbie doll, the robot did suffer some weapon triggering issues but finished all of its rounds with hardly any damages. Rumour has it, the version 3.0 is already in the making.
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Case study: Fab lab Barcelona – Southern Europe’s most advanced digital production laboratory

Fab Lab Barcelona is one of the cases that we have explored to understand how maker initiatives are organized, how makers improve their skills and how they interact with each other and finally, which values are created by making.

Fab Lab Barcelona is part of IAAC, an international centre for education, fabrication and research dedicated on developing architecture capable of meeting global challenges in constructing 21st century habitability. Besides the Fab Lab in the city of Barcelona, IAAC also provides research opportunities with its Valldaura Labs, a self-sufficient research centre, with a series of labs created to produce and test energy, food and things locally by using close by and available resources to develop technologies and knowledge for services and/or products in the future. The labs include:

  • Green Lab: digital fabrication lab making use of natural resources,
  • Energy Lab: lab for testing the Energrid project, which aims to meet the needs of the Valldaura Labs’ self-sustainable environment
  • Food Lab: food production is handled by researchers and students and makes use of organic gardens, orchards, edible forests products and farm animals.

Fab Lab Barcelona is the head office for the global coordination of Fab Academy programme together with the Fab Foundation and MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms. The Fab Academy is a distributed platform of education and research where fab labs around the world operate as classrooms, with students learning the principles, applications and implications of digital manufacturing technology.

The Fablab’s income derives from three main sources: educational activities (Masters Programme, Fab Academy, workshops); grants (particularly from the EU) and research grants; and from Fab Pro Services (provides access to professionals outside of IAAC).

Fablab Barcelona is led by its director, Tomas Diaz. It follows a horizontal management structure, where group leaders have the final responsibility for their respective working group.

Fablab Barcelona is embedded in a network with neighbouring Fablabs, thus the lab shares expertise and services with smaller labs supporting access to digital fabrication for citizens.

The value and impact of Fablab Barcelona is seen in multiple ways: in changing opinions and behaviours in the sense of not only empowerment through making something of your own, but also being in touch with a community of people who are just like you; and education and human capital.

For more detailed information please have a look at our report and the Fablab Barcelona website.

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