Towards A New Era of Production

A host of new and affordable technologies mean that the promise of home object manufacturing could be just around the corner. What will it mean for the material economy?

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A shoemaker's workshop

A shoemaker’s workshop (Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca] / Wikimedia Commons)

HOW IT USED TO BE

As a child I loved to hang out at my grandmother’s farm, because I could find a lot of ‘ancient’ tools behind locked up workshop doors. My grandmother told me that her husband used to run the farm, but was also trained as the shoe maker of the village – he had special tools for treating leather for all kinds of purposes. I learned that most farmers in the village were specialised in another field of work, and helped each other on a daily basis. This meant that most fathers taught their sons the necessary technical skills to continue on the tradition. Sometimes they taught their grandkids because their children’s talents aimed into a different direction. As a matter of fact, my great-grandfather was a carpenter.

Public Chair

Public Chair – manufactured in your living room (Tom Tjon A Loi / www.tomtjonaloi.nl)

My granny told me that all products they used rarely came from a factory, things were produced on location, with durable local material and repaired by one of the specialists, if necessary. Food was produced locally as well. The village was a system, a self-contained economy.

Later on, my grandmother started to work in a new nearby factory, as it became too difficult to keep the farm. Factories became more common. The goods produced were ‘designed’ by someone far away. This was the Designer era: the juxtaposition of the amateur and the professional became conspicuous.

What I would like to introduce here is a reversal of this – a trend unfolding right now: the Maker Revolution. Have a read during the next weeks on what exactly is happening, where this comes from, and what scenarios this might lead us to.

AND NOW: A MERE TREND?

We are all aware of something called ‘Open Source’ software. Most of us use free software on a daily basis. This is a typical element of the digital production era. There will be learning more on the new laws of Intellectual Property in the next episode.

We are swamped by information on the scarcity of resources, yet excess of supply on many levels.

A new trend is emerging, which feels pretty natural to most of us:

Sharing information, knowledge and content but also tangible products or even space with someone in need. The internet facilitates this on a much wider, even global level, with web services and platforms such as Wikipedia, Couchsurfing, CCMixter, MeetUp, Thingiverse, Flickr and many more). It seems almost like a long missing essential element of human nature to share and collectively achieve something.

3D Printer

High-end technology becomes available (By Deezmaker [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons)

These developments are enabled by new, affordable technology:

  • The internet
  • 3D printing & scanning –  production and replication.
  • Open Source software to create CAD models.
  • New materials – the time of printing only plastics is over.

As a consequence we start to notice a change in the traditional distribution of roles:

  • Designer (idea)
  • Client  (manufacturing)
  • User (buying and using the product)
The roles (…) are being shaken up in the industrial practices that have until now, been oriented mainly towards mass production.

P.J. Stappers and his colleagues outline how co-creation encourages multi-leveled communication and intensifies creative processes.

Looking closer, we notice these changes in the relationship between the three main characters of production:

  • User <–> Client: User experience, Usability testing in various stages of the design process
  • Designer <–> User: Meta-Design (design of basic sets, to be customised by the end user), Open Movement (sharing design ideas)
  • Designer <–> Client: New ways to handle a particular client brief: several concepts to choose from, offering design coaching, DIY work of the client guided by the designer (the expert). Or no client brief at all: self-initiated projects, research development and creative online marketing lies with the designer, until an eager manufacturer gets the idea.

The potential of these changes are very simple :

“Cutting out the middle man by having end users fabricate the products they need.”

3D Printing and Scanning

3D Printing and Scanning – easy reproduction (By ALoopingIcon / Wikimedia Commons)

Here are examples of these new powerful elements of production:

  1. RapMan 3d printer: For a mere  £795 everyone can buy a starter set, and build a working 3D printer at home. Best thing is, the printer is able to ‘reproduce itself’, meaning that with one printer and a few simple parts from the DIY store, one can build a new one, or print spare parts (in case something breaks).
  2. Blender: An Open Source 3D software tool
  3. Ikea Hacks: customization of existing but basic Ikea products.
  4. Public Chair: With the digital blueprints available on the sharing website Thingiverse (‘digital designs for physical objects’) and a 3D printer like the RapMan at home, everyone could print their own furniture. There are restrictions, as the RapMan for examples prints objects of max 270x205x210mm, which in the case of this chair means that the final objects consists of 3 different parts, each mirrored and printed 2x. The designer, Tom Tjon A Loi told me that it takes 16hours on his RapMan  printer to print one piece in 1:1 scale.

It seems like the beginning of a new, Ikea free era…

If we fully embraced this new system of production, what would the future hold in store?

  • One-man-factories?
  • Specialisation just like in the days of my grandfather? Production at home, making and repairing goods, according to skills, knowledge, talent? Trading produced goods for things one can’t make themselves?
  • Substantial changes in education, as general knowledge combining science, creativity and social skills will be required for in-house production and online communication > a modern version of the Renaissance Man?

We will have a closer look at what is already happening in the coming weeks…

Quotes taken from OpenDesignNow.org