Open Fabrication Communities

Over the next decade, open fabrication will develop within a new network of collaborative production. We will see a more diverse manufacturing ecosystem that depends as much on social factors as it does on technological ones. In a world where objects become digital, the single most critical factor shaping this future may be our ability to develop a new framework for regulating information ownership and knowledge sharing.  Here we explore two of the most important open fabrication communities: the leading-edge makers, fabricators, and designers who are experimenting with 3D technologies, and the Chinese shanzhai, or “bandit,” manufacturers who are changing the game for global entrepreneurship.  Understanding how these groups approach the idea of intellectual property reveals clues about the challenges and disruptions to come.

The MakerBot Thingiverse

An emergent community of hackers, designers, and fabbers are applying the principles of DIY, open source, and cooperative collaboration around two new platforms—the MakerBot Thing-o-Matic desktop printer and the Thingiverse object repository. This community is setting the stage for wide-scale combinatorial innovation in fabrication, and pioneering new business models around open standards, open platforms, and open IP.

China’s Manufacturing Innovators

China is currently home to the most robust and diverse manufacturing ecosystem on the planet, including legitimate businesses and the shanzai (pronounced shahn-jai) or “bandit” manufacturers. Cutting regulatory corners by operating outside the law is, perhaps not surprisingly, a great way to make a profit. But it turns out that it also creates new kinds of knowledge sharing and sparks bottom-up process innovation. This community is setting the stage for a disruptive product development and manufacturing network that will enable fabricator entrepreneurs around the world to realize their products at a pace and scale that will rival traditional manufacturers and, possibly, transform the retail landscape.

Next: Open Fab Community 1: The Makerbot Thingiverse