This post was written by Alec Miller, Manager of Measured Innovation, at TechAlliance
“The past decade was about finding new social and innovation models on the web. The next decade will be about applying them to the real world.” – Chris Anderson
“In the age of democratized industry, every garage is a potential micro-factory, every citizen a potential micro-entrepreneur.” – Chris Anderson
In previous posts, I’ve written about 3D printing and some of the developments that have been going on in that space. What I didn’t mention was that 3D printing is just one pillar among a platform of technologies and innovation models that some believe are going to revolutionize the manufacturing sector and society more generally. Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author of a number of popular books calls this socioeconomic trend “the Maker Movement”, and is one of its leading proponents. In this post, I’ll take a quick look at some basic details about the phenomenon, the implications that it may have, as well as some of the questions that it raises.
The Maker Movement consists of a community of entrepreneurs, hackers, inventors, tinkerers, and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) enthusiasts who are experimenting with open-source software and hardware, to build products using tools and techniques very different from existing commercialization methods. The traditional innovation model has been criticized as being slow, proprietary, capital-intensive, and often disadvantageous to the inventor.
By contrast, the Maker Movement is based upon rapid development, openness, lean business philosophy and democratization of design.
Whereas the traditional approach to innovation has often involved asking permission, writing formal funding proposals, high legal costs, and investing large sums of time and money to build a product from scratch, the Maker Movement is flipping many of these established practices on their head.
Today, an inventor can rapidly design and build a prototype using a CAD-software program such as SolidWorks, upload it to a 3D printing service company, like Shapeways, and have custom order parts manufactured for them using a site such as Alibaba. These services can drastically reduce the time needed to go from an idea to a beta demonstration unit, which really begins to add up when one considers that many products require multiple iterations before they are ready.
Once a prototype is developed, it can be funded and introduced to the market directly through sites such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Given that the best source of business financing is customer revenues, funding portals that facilitate the pre-order of goods are increasingly being used by entrepreneurs as an alternative to the more traditional Angel and Venture Capital investors. For example, in 2012, the Pebble watch campaign raised over $10 million on Kickstarter without giving up any equity in return.
But, despite the many high hopes for the Maker Movement, it might be premature to call it a revolution. There are still many unanswered questions about the overall impact that open hardware, crowdsourcing, 3d-printing and lean logistics will have.
For example, will it transform all aspects of manufacturing, or just the design and prototyping stages? Will the tools and techniques of the Maker Movement apply to all industries or only particular niches? Are these tools and techniques scalable, and does that even matter? What are the social, legal, and economic hurdles that Makers will face when they try to bring their products to market?
In future posts, I hope to look at some of these questions, as well as looking at some of the actual hardware and projects that exemplify the Maker Movement.
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