On Friday, May 16th, Prime’s Open Innovation Club (OIC) organized a workshop on the FabLab & Makers’ culture at the Marriott Hotel in San Mateo. It was an unique opportunity for OIC members from large corporations to meet with makers, founders of FabLabs and people fostering the Maker movement. (The full list of participants is available here.)
A very diverse movement
The beginning of the Maker Movement can be situated in 2001 in Boston, when the MIT launched the first FabLab. After a few other Fab Labs, the movement started to accelerate in 2007-2009 as open hardware and software became more popular and technology cheaper.
Today, there are about 200 FabLabs around the world and the number doubles every two years. In Germany for example, even though it is still quite small, the movement is growing, and Hannover held the first German Maker Faire last year. Guido Burger, an ex-engineer at HP created the first FabLab there with its own model: open to everyone, you just need a monthly subscription and can attend classes in 3D printing, CAD, 3D design, etc. If the FabLab was defined by the MIT with a precise list of machines and tools, lots of various makerspaces have now emerged with their own features.
The panel of makers present at the workshop gave us a good illustration of the diversity of the movement. Taylor Furtado, a student in biotechnology at UC Santa Cruz, just entered the Maker Movement. On the other side, Ryo Chijiiwa, after several years spent at Google, Yahoo! and in a startup, has finally found his way thanks to the Maker Movement. John Rogers, ex-Marine in Irak with degrees in International Policies and Mechanical Engineering and Meredith Scheff-King, a craftswoman and designer completed the picture.
Above all, the Maker Movement gathers different organizations that serve different purposes.
For companies, the makerspaces & hackerspaces are great places to foster innovation from ideation to prototyping. It also enables startups & small businesses to adjust the production to their needs and budget as makerspaces provide small-scale production.
For academic institutions, the maker movement and, particularly, the FabLabs have opened the doors to new ways to educate kids. Paulo Blinkstein, inspired by the work of Seymour Papert and its Logo programming language, has launched FabLab@School. FabLab@School is a program implemented in several schools in California aiming at teaching kids how to solve problems through concrete and mechanical applications. As Blinkstein explained, not every kid is a hacker, but FabLab@School gives the opportunity to reach any kid and to accompany him all along the thinking & design process. The program is now implemented all over the world with FabLabs in Thailand and Denmark among others.
Initiatives are also launched by local governmental institutions. For instance, the county of Seine-et-Marne in France is launching several Fablab projects in partnership with universities and corporations. Indeed, the maker movement leads to value creation, but also jobs creation. Governmental institutions cannot ignore this economic fallout.
Some common values
Despite this diversity, the coherence of the movement stems from common values shared by the makers’ community.
The first one is openness: there is no such thing as intellectual property in the Makers’ Movement. The belief is that openness, made possible by open source software / hardware, open knowledge & open data, will benefit to everybody, including yourself. You can tap into others’ inventions to create your own product, or to improve somebody else’s product. Reciprocally, everybody will freely access your work with the only duty to mention you as the author.
Openness is also linked with generosity and sharing. Makers are ready to dedicate some of their time to teach others and share their knowledge. The passion for innovation and creativity is often more important for them than profit-making.
Another shared characteristic of the makers is their ability to learn by themselves, obviously boosted by open knowledge. To design its own solar panel, the software engineer Ryo Chijiiwa learnt everything on the Internet (from YouTube tutorials to instructive articles to AliBaba.com). Meredith Scheff-King, with a background in Hardware and Mechanical, learnt gradually about electronics in order to make wearables.
New product lifecycles and business models
According to the sociologist Ariane Zambiras, the makers’ culture is disrupting the product lifecycle, from its creation to its production to its sale (see here her article in French on the subject). Instead of designing a product by experts in Silicon Valley, manufacturing it in China and selling it in Walmart, it can be done all in your backyard (and in hackerspaces). One of the main results is that the makers’ culture is making us aware of how the things are produced, and thus it changes our consumption.
New business models are also emerging accompanying this new way of production. For example, the company Local Motors relies on co-creation and micro manufacturing. They create innovative vehicles (and soon other products) thanks to a worldwide online community of designers who get direct retribution on each car sold. The vehicles are prototyped, produced and sold in micro factories. They also make auto parts and partner with large car manufacturers, such as Renault. Each of their labs is open to the public: as they are paying people to come up with ideas, they can’t charge them for using the tools.
The Future of the Maker Movement
Above all, the makers’ culture is affecting the future of manufacturing. According to John Rogers, Co-founder and CEO of Local Motors, manufacturing will be more local; borders will be thinner, meaning that people will connect regardless of where they are from; and manufacturing processes will be faster.
As for Jonathan Reichental, CIO of the City of Palo Alto, the Makers’ movement is still ‘in its incubation phase’ that will eventually get more unified and organized.
If Makers and large companies were radically opposite at the beginning, these two worlds come across progressively. The makers’ movement essentially nurtures the startups & projects during their inception. When projects and profits get bigger, the Makers set their minds on commercialization and can then take a cue from corporations. Some already have very professional marketing campaigns on kickstarter and call on organized supply chains in China. On the other side, companies foster more and more open innovation and are thus interested to meet with the makers.