Tag Archives: fablab

Making as a Communal Process vs Individual Act

I want to redefine my working definition of ‘Making’ and ‘Makers’. To me, seeing making as literally making an object by myself, misses the more fundamental shift of what is going on with ‘making’. It’s time to look at ‘Making’ as a communal process, instead of an individual act to create a solitary object.

My grand-dad made stuff in his shed all the time. For him making was an individual act. He made something. It was also focussed on a singular object, often a simple hack for a task at hand. He made something.

If you take that as a definition of making, the ‘maker movement‘ is just about having access to cheaper and better machinery, DIY gone digital. Cool machines for milling, laser cutting and 3d printing, that replace or augment a range of hand tools.
These machines thanks to digitization and open source hardware are on a path of becoming exponentially cheaper as well as better. But cheap tools do not a movement make.

As with most things digital, the key new thing is the global high speed connectedness that internet and mobile communications give us. It’s not just having the machines, but having them while being part of a global pool of knowledge, and a global network of people.
That immensely expands the context of making in several dimensions, away from the solitary objects my grand-dad made.

This global knowledge pool and network adds three dimensions enormously increasing the potential of ‘making':

  • The first dimension is that of having access to all knowledge about everything you could make with your machines as well as how to make them (including ‘just-hit-print’ designs). This is still centered around the object, but expands your creativity and hacking skills with those of everyone else. This is what is most commonly understood as maker culture.
  • Second it provides insight and knowledge on how making is so much more than just creating an object. Ideation, experimenting and probing various options, creating it, and then utilizing it in the intended context, all become part of Making. For all those aspects our connectedness can provide input. Understanding this dimension is hugely important, both disruptive innovation theory and start-ups testify.
  • Thirdly it widens the range for which we can make something. Bigger awareness of global issues and how they play out in our local community and context, allows us to come up with different things to make, that help address it. [Think hydro/aquaponics projects in derelict US inner cities]
  • When you put all of those together, ‘making’ is the local expression of global knowledge and awareness, that in turn can serve as a trigger for interaction and change locally.

    Viewed this way, making is a communal process. Communal both in its source of knowledge and inspiration, as well as in the context and rationale of where the stuff you made is put to use. Process, as in the full cycle from awareness of issues, ideation, and creation, all the way to application, impact, and sharing the resulting insights again.

    Seeing making as an individual act towards a solitary object obscures the layered richness making in the digital age is an expression of. A maker is not doing DIY, but a maker becomes a bridge or boundary spanner between his own local community and other wider global communities, as well as becomes a community hacker.

    At ThingsCon in Berlin and 3D Camp in Limerick next month, as well as at our own MidSummer Unconference ‘Make Stuff That Matters’ in June, I will take this perspective of ‘Making as communal process’ as starting point.

    The Thing With Maker Spaces

    The thing with maker spaces I think is

    that they too easily become nerd-collectives, and fail to attract the non-makers with occasional projects, or even appear unwelcoming and off-putting to them without being aware of that.

    Whereas,

    the success of maker spaces ultimately does not lie in attracting those that would be makers anyway, now just with cooler machines, but in turning occasional making and creative tinkering into the new normal for a much broader group.

    It was apparent to me in visiting the Cambridge MakerSpace this week, as it is apparent in all FabLabs, Hackspaces and other varieties of maker space I have visited across Europe.

    MakeSpace Untitled
    The Cambridge MakeSpace, excellent facilities.

    First Step To MiniFabLab

    Yesterday I took a first step in a new experiment: I bought a desk top milling machine (Roland MX-15, see pic). At 750 Euro (compared to 3000 new), this second hand machine is price competitive with anything else currently on the (DIY) market. I bought the machine from Hanne van Essen, one of the founders of the Dutch FabLab Foundation (and on which board I currently serve).

    Hopefully it is a first step to creating a ‘mini FabLab’ at home. An idea inspired by Bart Bakker who showed you can set-up a FabLab at home for under 3500 Euro, the great guys at FabLab Amersfoort who bootstrapped themselves into existence for 5000 Euro, as well as my own notions of a ‘Maker Household‘ and turning the home more into a productive unit (in terms of both energy as well as actual production), and creating more resilience in the context of our networks and our connected world.

    Other elements that in time will be added to this miniFabLab:

    • a laser cutter (the true work horse of any ‘making’ set-up. There’s a wonderful open source project LaOS. Cost will be 1500 Euro or so)
    • a vinyl cutter (about 300 Euro)
    • a micro electronics workbench (the next thing to do probably, some stuff I already have)
    • a 3D printer (but they’ve got a ¬†way to go before they are truly useful at household level, currently last on my wish list)

    The biggest challenge will be finding a space for all this in our home. The utility room would be possible but also needs to fit other things such as the washing machine and dryer, so it’s a challenge space wise. The shed might work space wise, but probably the big variations of temperature over the year in that space (it is not insulated from the outside) are probably detrimental to any equipment.

    The experiment has started at least. Next up: planning time in my schedule to figure out how to work with the machine.

    FabLab Opens In My Home Town

    FabLab Cakes!It took over two years, but this week a FabLab opened right in my own home town, to both my and Elmine’s considerable joy.
    FabLab Enschede has been a long time in the making, with the lead of the project changing hands several times (also between different institutions), but with the consistent and persistent support of civil servant(s) of the city, guiding the project through the various administrative hoops to secure funding. I wasn’t involved directly but on behalf of the FabLab Foundation added our experience with starting other labs, and helped the plan evolve.
    In the end, the FabLab has ended up under the umbrella of Saxion Hogescholen (the local university for applied sciences), and has a focus on smart materials and textiles. It is housed directly adjacent to Saxion’s materials lab and product testing lab.
    The formal opening was a great and festive event, with a lot of interest from the business community, and also a lot of people showed up who were eager to start making things. That however is not quite possible yet. Machines are still to be delivered (for the opening they borrowed some machines from elsewhere), and there is also still a job opening for the FabLab’s coordinator. So I am curious to see when it really opens, and how quickly it will gain traction in the local community here.
    For now I am just extremely pleased that I as a board member of the FabLab Foundation BeNeLux could sign the license for FabLab Enschede, and that there is now a FabLab in my own city.
    opening puzzle completed Official Opening