Open Manufacturing and Makerspaces: Collaborative Production for a Sustainable Future

Open Manufacturing describes the production of physical objects that are developed and produced in an open and collaborative way based on the Open Design and Open Source principles. In contrast to Open Source Software, Open Manufacturing aims at the development of physical products rather than software.

Open Manufacturing summarizes the following elements of a production process:

  • open production tools and methods such as 3D printers,
  • value-based movements such as the Maker movement,
  • new institutions and networks for manufacturing and production such as FabLabs.
Independent production in international cooperation through Open Manufacturing

With Open Manufacturing, products can be produced locally and relatively independently of any supply chains. The resulting socio-economic benefits are manifold. For example, production (and the means of production) can be democratized, production decentralized, and the boundaries between producer and consumer dissolved.

While, in theory, Open Manufacturing is equivalent to a revolution in production; practical application, especially in international cooperation, still faces some context-related challenges. In emerging markets challenges can manifest due to a lack of manufacturing expertise and informality of current small and medium enterprises. Another obstacle to making sustainable use of Open Manufacturing methods could be that universities and vocational training programs are not equipped with sufficient resources to provide necessary knowledge and qualifications.

If you look at 3D printing, for example, you can see that the quality of non-industrial printers can sometimes severely limit the use of printed products. Infrastructure hurdles (access to electricity, the Internet, materials, etc.) often present challenges in addition to initial acquisition costs.

Nevertheless, Open Manufacturing and other alternative production methods are used in development cooperation projects today, as they enable the independent and local production of goods. At the same time, the hurdles that still exist in this respect will continue to lose relevance with the ongoing technological development.

Tolocar project in Ukraine: Mobile Makerspaces for humanitarian solutions

Mobile Makerspaces like the Tolocar are vehicles equipped with special IT equipment, 3D printing, wood and metal processing. They are used as demand-oriented, flexible and temporary open workshops. With its wide range of uses from equipment for shelter and sanitation, 3D printing for prostheses and medical material to the construction of measurement technology such as Geiger counters, mobile makerspaces offer solutions to acute humanitarian problems in Ukraine. They can also bridge gaps in supply chains (e.g. spare parts for water pumps).

Makerspaces also promote innovation by making tools accessible to individuals. These tools are, for example, 3D printers, laser cutters for a variety of materials, computer-controlled milling machines or machines for the production of textiles or electronics. In an industrial context, these machines and devices are usually large, heavy, expensive and can only be operated by professionals and are not suitable for mobile use. In recent years, small, affordable and less complex open source variants of these production machines have emerged in the open tech community. They are perfectly suited for use in a mobile makerspace.

A team of engineers and tinkerers is supporting the development of the structures in Ukraine and the inclusion of local hubs (e.g. FabLabs). The mobile makerspaces can draw on the global community of the maker movement: for example, a broken component can be photographed and sent to the connected worldwide communities, which in turn advise on the solution, e.g. by making open source construction plans available. This global networking with makers, hobbyists, IT enthusiasts and innovators is the prerequisite for a digital airlift that strengthens the local innovation ecosystem in developing and testing solutions for sustainable reconstruction. The Tolocar thus contributes to the improvement of the humanitarian situation and the sustainable reconstruction of Ukraine.