emergence of open design and manufacturing


Open source works for atoms too!

Our friend Michel Bauwens fabs it up at Reality Sandwich by breaking down the rising activity in open design and manufacturing.

The article outlines the barriers to creating truly open materials non-commercially. Michel, perhaps wisely,  does not suggest we’ll have a non-commercial environment, however.

[T]o produce physical goods, there are inevitable costs of getting the capital together, and there needs at least to be cost recovery. Indeed such goods are by definition rivals, i.e., if they are in possession of one individual, they are more difficult to share, and also, once used up, they have to be replenished.

Property rights in the form of capital enable financial transactions, but they also create artificial barriers to entry.  At present, we must work within these restraints.

First of all, there are much more serious feedback loops necessary between design and production, as real products need to be tested in the physical world. Also, the tools are different, and require that 3D-based design tools such as CAD/Cam be available, that video should be used to show the practicalities of usage, and much more distant real-time collaboration needs to take place. But difficult does not mean impossible!

Michel continues.

For this major transformation to take place however, it is also necessary to conceive of physical production in a much more modular way.

Modularity reduces this complexity, consequently converting capital into commons. This transformation is happening already in many ways.

Mail-order machining means that you can design your own product, and a company will then deliver the item at your doorstep (spreadshirt, threadless). Desktop manufacturing means that you can design your own product, but also basicially produce it yourself. This is already possible because of developments in 3D printing, whereby plastic designs can be produced with cheaper and cheaper machines. Industry itself is increasingly using rapid and flexible manu- facturing techniques, which require a fundamentally new philosophy concerning machines: not so much hyperspecialized, hyper-expensive and needing centralization, but rather conceiving as production through a universal machine that can be adapted quickly and inexpensively to new needs and processes. As such machines become smaller, more distributed and cheaper, then their available for more local production will increase dramatically. Personal fabrication, as being developed through the FabLab communities and the RepRap, is the culmination of such a process.

The global financial breakdown can accelerate this change. We might also contend that breakdown is a consequence of this sort of change.

So the new picture becomes clearer: cheaper production tools, coupled with peer-to-peer financing and peer-to-peer money, allows us to conceive of physical production as occurring much closer to the point of need.

In conclusion,

We think that nature is infinite, which is false, and so we practice a pseudo-abundance which destroys the planet. We think that intellectual and cultural goods should be made artificially scarce, thereby crippling the sharing of innovations. If we can overturn both, i.e. combining a recognition of the real scarcity of physical goods with the real abundance of immaterial goods, we have a new and sustainable civilization, based on peer to peer principles.

We may also realize our materials are more abundant as we continue sharing knowledge and materials more effectively.

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