Localizing and distributing production

An annotated (and very select) bibliography

There is much interest in changing production and consumption patterns today, whether you want to call it the New Industrial Revolution, the Third Industrial Revolution, Industrie 4.0, the Sharing Economy, the Maker Economy, Mass Innovation – whatever. Of course the interest is related to money and (usually elites) making it, but there are a few of us who also see there could be social and environmental benefits to these phenomena – making a better world.

So there are a lot of ifs, cans and shoulds in the literature, even in the academic stuff. There just isn’t enough empirical research done, in my view, in the rush to produce conceptual frameworks, and the empirical research that is done faces the common problem of generalizability. In some of the empirical studies I’ve seen, there aren’t enough case studies to be able to report patterns or reliably report barriers, or in other studies a few case studies are presented that aren’t analysed (or conveyed) deeply and richly enough for their small number, or the case studies rely on only one channel for data, e.g. interviews or, even worse, websites. But to be fair, it’s not an easy thing to study as an emerging and changing phenomenon: what is the baseline case? What are we comparing against? Are we making improvements or just romantic gestures? And it’s not an easy thing to foster: the whole point (for some of us) is to aim for radical innovation, not only make incremental improvements that serve business-as-usual.

In the LeNSin project, we are examining these phenomena from the point of view of design-for-sustainability education. LeNSin (international Learning Network on Sustainability) is an Erasmus+ funded project that focuses on capacity building for design teachers in South Africa, China, Mexico, India and Brazil. As a learning network, we have been examining how to design and teach sustainable Product-Service Systems (S.PSS) for about 10 years. Now we are also looking at the concept of Distributed Economies (DE) and how DE may connect to S.PSS, especially in these varied non-European contexts. For example, many of our partners’ cities already have collaborative and/or eco-efficient services where certain things are localized and distributed (bringing home local value according to DE principles), and certain things are shared and optimized (encouraging dematerialization of well-being according to S.PSS principles). How can we encourage these positive examples in our home regions, and how can we design and implement them with stakeholders in regions where they don’t exist but have potential to thrive?

As a teaching community, however, this noble ideal means we need to establish some conceptual, theoretical and empirical ground that does not yet exist or is extremely nascent and fragmented. Before we can understand the relationships between DE and S.PSS, we need to understand what DE can be for our project.

(I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores of S.PSS here – we have written extensively on studying, teaching, learning and implementing S.PSS here and here.)

As a starting point in the project we have divided Distributed Economies activities into categories such as Distributed Software (e.g. Linux), Distributed Information (e.g. Wikipedia), Distributed Design (e.g. crowd-design, design challenges), Distributed Renewable Energy and Distributed Production or Distributed Manufacturing of products. This last one is where my research interest lies and this is what we will talk about here.

Distributed Production in general

Distributed Production is a nebulous term; many are trying to create definitions and taxonomies in order to corral it into something researchable. I’ll try to review some of the definitions and taxonomies here, as well as start to list out what sustainability benefits are proposed – in direct contrast to our existing system of global Mass Production, particularly the socio-environmental implications. This will not be a complete review by any means, so I will call this a “select” bibliography of sorts. First – the seminal references.

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Johansson, Allan, Peter Kisch, and Murat Mirata. 2005. ‘Distributed Economies – A New Engine for Innovation’. Journal of Cleaner Production 13 (10–11):971–79.

ABSTRACT

This article introduces the concept of distributed economies (DE) as a fresh strategy to guide industrial development towards becoming more sustainable. The concept calls for a transformation in the industrial system towards DE departing from the socio-economically and environmentally unsustainable dynamics associated with large-scale, centralised production units that are favoured by neoclassical economic drivers. With DE, a selective share of production is distributed to regions where a diverse range of activities are organised in the form of small-scale, flexible units that are synergistically connected with each other and prioritise quality in their production. However, rather than the total abolishment of large-scale production, our argument concentrates on finding a renewed balance between large- and small-scale and between resource flows that take place within and across regional boundaries. Other desirable characteristics of production units compatible with DE are elaborated. The paper concludes by calling for the deployment of the vast amount of globally and regionally available knowledge for the formation of regionally adapted strategies to create dynamically ‘‘self-organizing’’ business environments.

This is the article that explains the concept of Distributed Economies, at least from a European standpoint. Some fundamental concerns of the article (and the research group behind it) are:

  • “Wealth creation for a larger number of people”
  • “Reinventing quality and prioritising it before production efficiency”
  • “Heterarchies and open innovations instead of hierarchies and closed innovation”
  • “Flexible, small-scale production systems”
  • “Diversification of needs and wants – new consumers, new behaviours”
  • “Symbiotic relationships – higher performance needed for future challenges come from self-organising non-competitive processes”
  • “Social, economic and ecological diversity are prerequisites for efficient production systems”
  • “Life quality as an integrated component for development and innovation”
  • “New producer—consumer relationships”
  • “Integrated design and innovation”
  • “Social and ecological capital as an advantage”
  • “A renewed balance and symbiosis of small and large-scale production systems”
  • “Collaboration and collective spirit”
  • “A new balance between intra-regional and inter-regional exchanges of resources”.

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Mirata, Murat, Helen Nilsson, and Jaakko Kuisma. 2005. ‘Production Systems Aligned with Distributed Economies: Examples from Energy and Biomass Sectors’. Journal of Cleaner Production 13 (10–11):981–91.

This is the next article from the same folks and it goes a little more into case study analysis (on energy production and biomass products). The authors repeat the evils of mass production that we want to avoid:

  • “Increasing throughput of non-renewable material and energy resources to the economy and increasing waste generation;
  • Increasing the movement of raw materials and products over larger distances, mainly relying on decreasing transportation costs;
  • Distancing production from consumers and thereby hiding the environmental and social costs;
  • Weakening the local actors’ possibilities to have ownership and control over their immediate economic environment;
  • Distorting or destroying cultural identities; and
  • Limiting the diversity in regional economic activities”.

In order to identify a good case study for DE, they examined “locally and regionally focused small-scale production systems that satisfy any combination of the following:

  • Increasing the share of renewable resources in economic activities;
  • Increasing wealth creation for a larger number of people;
  • Decreasing pollutant emissions and waste generation at the local/regional level;
  • Increasing the sustainable use of local resources in economic activities;
  • Increasing the value addition to local resources;
  • Increasing the share of added value benefits retained in the regions;
  • Increasing the share of non-material (e.g. information, know-how) and higher added value material resources in the cross-boundary resource flows;
  • Increasing the diversity and flexibility of economic activities;
  • Increasing the diversity and intensity of communication and collaboration among regional activities”.

So that’s a start.

IIIEE (Lund University) then produces a couple of good reports…

International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE). 2009. ‘The Future Is Distributed: A Vision of Sustainable Economies’. Lund: IIIEE.

International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE). 2009. ‘Distributed Treasure – Island Economies’. Lund: IIIEE.

…and then the research stops. I see this less as the DE concept falling off a cliff and more that researchers at IIIEE (and elsewhere) started to look at other inter-related things and call them other names.

Meanwhile, halfway through writing this text, this post on Medium by Paul B. Hartzog was making the rounds on social media: Make. Less. More.Why Adaptive Production Can Save The Planet.

It is a concise summary of the hype behind distributed production, as well as the realities: the things we don’t want but have great potential to realize and the elements we want to nurture – in order to co-create a new economic paradigm. So recommended reading. But back to the task at hand.

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Manzini, Ezio, and Mugendi K. M’Rithaa. 2016. ‘Distributed Systems And Cosmopolitan Localism: An Emerging Design Scenario For Resilient Societies’. Sustainable Development 24 (5):275–280.

Ezio started to talk about SLOC already back in 2010, presenting his ideas on Slow, Local, Open and Connected to us in his keynote at the first LeNS conference in Bangalore.

(See Proceedings: volume 1 and volume 2.) (careful – they’re big files)

In this article written with Mugendi from CPUT in Cape Town, ‘distributed’ is means to the end of ‘resilience’, as was originally proposed by Baran in 1964. In Baran’s case, resilience was related to computer networks, hence the famous diagram that has been used ever after. Now we want to encourage networks of people and resources in order to make our societies more resilient, able to quickly react to change, but also pro-actively act according to socio-environmentally conscious principles. Centralized systems (such as the centralized systems connected to fossil fuel energy) can remove power of decision-making, access, resources and money from the very people dependent on these systems. Distributed energy production or production of goods (including agricultural products) in “new forms of networked mini-factories”, in contrast, delivers products to people when they want them and where they want them, using local, renewable resources.

Distributed production for community resilience in this article means

  • light and flexible, just-in-time, customizable, point-of-use fabrication;
  • optimization of local, renewable resources;
  • self-sufficiency, strengthening against external threats;
  • inseparable interlinking of the social and the technological;
  • global interconnectivity, fostering a new conception of cosmopolitan localism (citing Sachs, 1992*);
  • small scale as an important quality;
  • well-being as enhanced by relational goods, such as a healthy environment (citing e.g. Cipolla, 2009**).

*Sachs W (Ed) 1992. The Development Dictionary: a Guide to Knowledge as Power, Zed: London.
See also Planet Dialectics.

Note that the P2P Foundation (Michel Bauwens, José Ramos and many others) is using the construct of ‘cosmo-localism’ as a key imaginary. I suggest reading through this article: Cosmo-localism and the futures of material production.

**Cipolla C 2009. Relational services: service design fostering sustainability and new welfare models. In: Silva, Jofre; Moura, Mônica; Santos, Aguinaldo (edited by). Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on Sustainable Design (II ISSD). ISSN 2176-2384, Brazil Network on Sustainable Design (RBDS): São Paulo 1–6.

This is the seminal diagram for 'distributed'. Source: Baran, Paul. 1964. ‘On Distributed Communications: I. Introduction to Distributed Communications Networks’. Rand Memorandum RM-3420-PR. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, p. 2.

This is the seminal diagram for ‘distributed’. Source: Baran, Paul. 1964. ‘On Distributed Communications: I. Introduction to Distributed Communications Networks’. Rand Memorandum RM-3420-PR. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, p. 2.

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Kohtala, Cindy. 2015. ‘Addressing Sustainability in Research on Distributed Production: An Integrated Literature Review’. Journal of Cleaner Production 106:654–68.

This is my literature review that some of you know. I embarked on this during my doctoral research, as I wanted to both grasp the variegated literature on ‘distributed production’ (called by many names, in many fields) and the environmental implications as researchers understood them. I began collecting sources in 2012 and submitted the article first in 2013; back then there were very few studies, especially discussing anything other than cost-benefit (money and profit). Now happily there are more studies, driven especially by large research projects funded by the European Commission or other bodies. Let’s review the main findings in my lit review as the situation was then.

Figure 4 on page 661 in the article.

Figure 4 on page 661 in the article.

In my sense of distributed production, production is not only geographically distributed but marked by more significant engagement of people/users/consumers. I therefore included research in mass customization and related fields of study, as well as research on personal fabrication – what happens in Fab Labs and makerspaces – and everything in between. In this taxonomy, I proposed there will also be activities at the small manufacturing scale, which I called ‘bespoke fabrication’, and increasing activity at a larger scale of peer production, which I called ‘mass fabrication’. Bespoke fabrication could be, for instance, 3D printed dental products personalized for one client but manufactured by a company. An example of mass fabrication could be 3D Hubs, where individuals are networked together and design and produce for each other: I have a 3D design but I don’t have a 3D printer, so I find someone in my town who has a 3D printer and send the file to her. She then prints it out for me for a fee – and may even do design improvements on the file for an extra fee.

So this is one way to look at Industrie 4.0 that includes peer-to-peer networks, which much management literature ignores because it is not necessarily market oriented. But what about the sustainability angle? The diagram below sums up what the studies reviewed proposed.

Figure 5 on page 661 in the article.

Figure 5 on page 661 in the article.

Most of these studies were conceptual; the empirical studies were mainly engineering studies doing environmental impact assessments on additive manufacturing processes. We learned that environmental impacts related to e.g. energy will be higher for every one thing produced this way, but the principles of DE want us to produce *less* overall: production on demand. Another common proposal is that environmental impacts from transport will go down, since things are produced close to the user/consumer. But as we will see, in the big picture, transport emissions aren’t always the biggest impact we should be worrying about. What does become quite compelling, but not studied at all yet, to my knowledge, is how retail supply chains and intermediaries are being affected. Distributed Production acolytes keep using the word ‘disruptive’: the whole world of mass production and consumption is going to be transformed. Brick-and-mortar retail spaces, warehouses, huge factories will disappear, taking their negative environmental impacts and embodied energy with them. Mini-factories will produce things near people, in cities, or people will increasingly make their own things or get them commissioned by local designers. (What a lovely image, reminiscent of Clifford Harper’s illustrations in Radical Technology.)

What is happening, in my view, is that creative workshops, Fab Labs and makerspaces and co-working spaces often appear to be moving into old factories and industrial areas of cities (again, I speak mainly of Europe). However, so are expensive retail districts (comprising international chains, not local, home-grown businesses) and flat/loft conversions, gentrifying districts and making these very post-industrial spaces too expensive for designer and artist studios and community workshops, because city decision-makers are short-sighted, weak-willed or have their heads too far up the arses and hands in the pockets of private construction companies and developers. ‘Dead mall’ has become a thing, a catch-phrase and a hashtag, but because of online ordering, not because over-consumption and rampant consumerism such as ‘fast fashion’ is declining. I suspect there is ever increasing material flow in consumer goods, not less, despite claims of ‘disruption’. But I have not yet come across a study that discusses these issues, describes the transformations or offers indicators that could help flag that such transformation is happening. There are probably geographers studying this. But I digress – I do not discuss these particular urban property issues in the article except in the very brief, oblique and non-empirical way researchers refer to them.

One main theme in the reviewed studies was person-product attachment and product longevity: people’s engagement in production will (theoretically) mean they will be more attached to the things they are involved in producing, they will use them longer, they will repair them and they will not readily replace them with new products made of virgin raw materials. This is a challenging thing to study, but it is a topic of interest to more and more design researchers. In my lit review, there was a lack of empirics and again statements about how this should be the case, so I look forward to more studies coming out on this.

There was also one insight that I thought was worth emphasizing: the stronger direct relationship between producer and consumer in distributed production compared to mass production. Most studies brushed over this by just vaguely saying that there will be more mutual “learning” and stronger “communication”, but one study specifically mentioned the opportunity to build in eco-oriented information in what a producer offers – so the consumer can make an informed choice. Mass customizers use ‘configurators’ that serve as the interface between what a consumer can personalize, and to what extent, and what remains fixed or modular on the production side. Configurators can thus integrate ‘eco-guides’ for consumers. This may indeed just mean a solution that is ‘less bad’ rather than truly moving towards ‘sustainability’, but one could hope that it means less material volume overall, especially virgin raw material, more ecologically-oriented production processes and more aware consumers.

As you can already see, all these cans and shoulds meant there were many issues that were being conveniently ignored for the sake of creating conceptual frameworks and espousing disruption. What about real barriers? Unintended consequences? I therefore created one more diagram to make visible issues we need to keep in mind in our romantic love for 3D printing, localizing production and the maker movement.

Figure 6 on page 665 in the article.

Figure 6 on page 665 in the article.

The main problem is if distributed production ends up being just another form of consumerism and over-consumption – and we don’t actually reduce resource extraction and exploitation. Considering all the issues related to global inequality and social justice, where e.g. rare earths are mined, the social implications are also clear and, as expected, intractably embedded in the environmental issues. And if we are co-producing products that are meant to last long, they need to be of high quality. Will that mean more intensive production methods? Will this balance out the fact that we are, in theory, producing fewer items? How does customization and personalization fit in with the sharing economy and resource intensity? Should we be sharing material products more? Can personalized products still be re-introduced into a re-manufacturing scheme? Which – by the way, in case you haven’t noticed – is not common practice today! Consumers need infra by which to return products into a system whereby manufacturers are incentivized to remanufacture and refurbish. And what about transport emissions? Local production would bring all kinds of benefits to a region, employment, skills, independence and resilience and so on – would these outweigh the apparent minor benefits from reducing transport emissions? Each product, material and production process has different impacts in different regions, making LCA studies challenging.

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Russell, S.N., and J.M. Allwood. 2008. ‘Environmental Evaluation of Localising Production as a Strategy for Sustainable Development: A Case Study of Two Consumer Goods in Jamaica’. Journal of Cleaner Production 16 (13):1327–38.

This article is not about distributed production (i.e. consumer/user engagement) per se, but rather local production. I’m including it here because it seems to be a rare example of really studying the advantages and disadvantages of localizing production in terms of LCA.

To greatly abstract and summarize, some key things.

Transport impacts are not so important in the big picture in this study (using two products in analysis), whether considering primary energy use or global warming emissions. In both cases the biggest impacts come from the production of the raw materials. In other words, transporting things isn’t necessarily the biggest thing we should worry about, even if all the distributed production literature tells us that reducing transport of goods or materials is a giant benefit. And production of the raw materials is a greater consideration than production of the goods themselves (in this study, plastic bags and beds).

This means that if localizing production, one needs to look at the raw materials, not just the product production process. What is the electricity source where the raw materials are produced? What is the electricity source where the product is produced? In this study, domestic electricity was from fossil oil, which meant that localizing production would result in more global warming emissions and greater acidification. The biggest environmental benefits would come from reducing overall production and use of virgin raw materials. Is it viable to introduced recycled material? In this study the environmental burden of the product would be so much improved by using recycled material that it would balance even the emissions and impacts from recycling processes and transport. And is it possible to substitute current raw materials with (possibly local) alternative versions that have less negative environmental impact, e.g. not petroleum based?

“The country in which production activities are located is only important in terms of the technology used in production and the electricity system. If energy use in production of final goods is not significant compared to energy use in the production of raw materials, then changing the location of production to a country with a less polluting source of electricity will result in small environmental changes, if the production technology is similar” (p. 1337).

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Hang, Melissa Yuling Leung Pah, Elias Martinez-Hernandez, Matthew Leach, and Aidong Yang. 2016. ‘Designing Integrated Local Production Systems: A Study on the Food-Energy-Water Nexus‘. Journal of Cleaner Production 135: 1065–84.

This article offers us a definition of sustainable local production.

“A local production system will comprise a non-linear structure with waste and by-products looped back into the system and synergies exploited and will require the design of the system and its components to be highly tuned to the local settings.”

“The design of local production systems considers the production of multiple products and services to satisfy local demands within the capabilities of the local environment and ecosystems (e.g. groundwater abstraction limit).”

“The problem of designing local production systems can be generally stated as:

Given a set of demands by the population in a locality and the availability of local and external resources, determine the combination of a set of processes and activities which can meet such demands so that the total cumulative exergy consumption is minimised while observing all necessary constraints.” (p. 1068)

So we need to have a good understanding of the situated, local constraints and capabilities in terms of environment and ecosystem, not only institutional issues such as existing production, resources and skills. This study focuses on food, energy and water, but production of other goods needs to consider local environmental resources and ecosystem capacities as well.

Sustainability benefits and barriers in Distributed Manufacturing

This leads us to a part of distributed production of interest to perhaps most researchers, Distributed Manufacturing. (Some prefer to call it re-distributed manufacturing, to differentiate it from a scenario where a conventional large mass producer simply distributes conventional factories round the globe. In the latter, the rich remain rich and the poor work in the factories in neo-feudalism, where all value leaves the country and returns to the corporate owner and anonymous shareholders who make money only by sitting on their comfortable asses, shifting virtual money around in funds and investments with no ethical grounds. Owners, management and shareholders are thus clean, pure and distant, not needing to dip their clean, pure, externalized profits and hands into acid, e-waste disassembly, sewing machine needles, toxic water, degraded soil, endocrine disruptors, sewage, unclean air, fatigue, under-nutrition and depression.)

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Moreno, Mariale, and Fiona Charnley. 2016. ‘Can Re-Distributed Manufacturing and Digital Intelligence Enable a Regenerative Economy? An Integrative Literature Review’. In Sustainable Design and Manufacturing 2016, edited by Rossi Setchi, Robert J. Howlett, Ying Liu, and Peter Theobald, 52: 563–75. Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies. Switzerland: Springer.

This is a book chapter based on a conference paper by people in my extended research network. I was intrigued by their attempt to systematically put down criteria or principles for Distributed Manufacturing, which they then compared to criteria or principles for a Circular Economy. Laying out principles or criteria based on case studies, literature and theory is a good plan of action, even if these lists can be (and regularly should be) interrogated. This project particularly includes consideration of the role of information and ‘big data’ in the transition to redistributed, circular manufacturing.

ReDistributed Manufacturing criteria:

  • Localization
    • Regional considerations
    • Urban considerations
    • On-shoring
    • Off-shoring
    • Geographically distributed production system
  • Customization
    • Mass customization
    • Bespoke fabrication and information [as in my lit review]
    • Mass/personal fabrication [as in my lit review]
    • Tailored promotion
    • Well-being and fitness
  • Distributed ownership
    • PSS (Product-Service System) Product Oriented
    • PSS Use Oriented [note that result-oriented PSS is not included here as, the authors argue, the production system is replaced by a service]
  • Distributed knowledge
    • Open source, Open innovation
    • Connected manufacture
    • Modular manufacture process
    • Craft manufacture process
    • High skills development
  • Distributed structure
    • Supply chain integration
    • Distributed retailing

Circular Innovation criteria

  • Value optimization
    • Human labour, skills and experience
    • Health and healthcare
    • Education and knowledge
    • Culture and cultural heritage
    • Natural capital
  • Resource efficiency and sufficiency
    • Water
    • Energy
    • Embodied energy
    • CO2 emissions
    • End-of-life recovery and recycling
    • Reduction of transport
    • Virgin materials
  • Continued ownership
    • Product life extension
    • Longer or intensive use
  • Economic viability
    • Internalize the cost and risk of waste
    • Regional job creation, intelligent use of human labour
    • Development of a value network

When they examined their case studies, most of them belonged to a category they called ‘Distributed Products and Services’. At the other extreme would be a category of DM they called ‘Localized Products and Services’ where everything is local and highly connected. In between is a category they called ‘Connected Products and Services’ where there is a mix of on-shore and off-shore manufacturing but closer proximity to the end user than the first category. The paper concludes by emphasizing the role of ‘digital intelligence’ while recommending further research on the opportunities and challenges to DM and circular innovation, particularly (in my view) in their combination.

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Rauch, Erwin, Patrick Dallasega, and Dominik T. Matt. 2016. ‘Sustainable Production in Emerging Markets through Distributed Manufacturing Systems (DMS)’. Journal of Cleaner Production 135:127–38.

Now we turn to the context of emerging markets and the perceived potential of sustainable, distributed manufacturing. Again we have a conceptual framework aiming to encourage further research.

Figure 3 on page 132 in the article, on drivers: reasons for the distributed manufacturing trend.

Figure 3 on page 132 in the article, on drivers: reasons for the distributed manufacturing trend.

Figure 4 on page 134 in the article, on sustainability issues and related challenges in DM with regard to 'developing' countries / emerging economies.

Figure 4 on page 134 in the article, on sustainability issues and related challenges in DM with regard to ‘developing’ countries / emerging economies.

Note the fourth dimension of sustainability they included: the institutional.

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Fox, Stephen. 2015. ‘Moveable Factories: How to Enable Sustainable Widespread Manufacturing by Local People in Regions without Manufacturing Skills and Infrastructure’. Technology in Society 42:49–60.

Let’s stick to the region of emerging economies for a bit. Fox has a few papers out on this topic – and some factory and model types you may find useful – which we will get to later.

Key points here:

  • characteristics of centralized industrial production (versus re-shoring, on-shoring, right-shoring, best-shoring):
    • fosters disease in agricultural production
    • generally involves extensive transportation that does not add value
    • can only bring employment to some large countries with thinly distributed populations
  • more characteristics of centralized industrial production (versus sustainable manufacturing):
    • large capital investments, encouraging planned obsolescence, encouraging throwaway consumption
    • “technological advanced manufacturing cannot in itself bring about the effects of meeting the needs of people and enabling people to express their potential” (i.e. social sustainability) (p. 57)
    • “high barriers to people expressing their potential as production work has relied on ever higher investment (RBT) and higher education (KBV)” (p. 57)
  • characteristics of moveable factories (versus centralized industrial production/advanced manufacturing):
    • reduce non-value added transportation, reduce ecological impacts of throwaway consumption because investment costs are lower (no need for planned obsolescence strategies)
    • “Moveable factories with established technologies bring high performance manufacturing to diverse locations including those with challenging temperatures, rough terrain, and little infrastructure. This is done without any need for new materials, intelligent robotics, or any other technologies that erect higher barriers to widespread local production by local people.” (p. 57)
  • characteristics of moveable factories and distributed manufacturing versus centralized industrial production:
    • lower set-up costs
    • quick set-up time
    • land-use benefits
    • lower need/costs for storage, supply, sales, distribution facilities
    • location flexibility.

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Basmer, S, S Buxbaum-Conradi, P Krenz, T Redlich, JP Wulfsberg, and F-L Bruhns. 2015. ‘Open Production: Chances for Social Sustainability in Manufacturing’. Procedia CIRP (12th Global Conference on Sustainable Manufacturing) 26:46–51.

ABSTRACT
The participation of spatially distributed individuals in the whole production cycle is feasible through the transnational possibilities of information, communication, and production technologies. To a much greater extent than ever before value creation is generated through the use of knowledge. Open Production is a concept which enables companies to apply the criterion of openness to the whole value creation process. These new patterns of value creation (bottom-up-economics) enable the realization of small firms, which combine the three production factors – labor, ground and capital – in one stakeholder. This article addresses the social aspect of sustainability and gives an overview on the chances of micro-factories to foster social sustainability in manufacturing and redirect development efforts towards a collaboration-oriented rather than a growth-oriented approach.

This article departs from the herd somewhat, by focusing on social sustainability and mentioning the elephant in the room, growth. (gasp!) Wow. Maybe these new models of networked, distributed working-together on community activities do not need economic growth as the definition of success. D’ya think? These authors’ term for distributed production, and people’s engagement in it, is Open Production.

See the diagram below on the Value Creation Process and the access points for customers to engage in production.

Figure 1 in the article on page 47, citing as original source: Redlich T, Bruhns F-L. Open Production – a new broker-based approach to interactive value creation and user manufacturing. Proceedings of the ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition (IMECE) Vol. 4, Design and Manufacturing, 2008;181-189.

Figure 1 in the article on page 47, citing as original source: Redlich T, Bruhns F-L. Open Production – a new broker-based approach to interactive value creation and user manufacturing. Proceedings of the ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition (IMECE) Vol. 4, Design and Manufacturing, 2008;181-189.

For these authors, bottom-up economics means taking advantage of ICT and manufacturing technologies to achieve Open Production, collaborating with customers and producers and using open source licences to increase net value creation – leading to “empowered consumers and enabled prosumers” fostering social sustainability. Thus collaboration-oriented industrialization.

Figure 2 in the article on page 48, citing as original source: Grames PP, Redlich T, Wulfsberg JP. Open Source Hardware - Wie interaktive Wertschöpfung traditionelle Produktionssysteme revolutioniert. Zeitschrift für wirtschaftlichen Fabrikbetrieb ZWF, 5/2011;314–320.

Figure 2 in the article on page 48, citing as original source: Grames PP, Redlich T, Wulfsberg JP. Open Source Hardware – Wie interaktive Wertschöpfung traditionelle Produktionssysteme revolutioniert. Zeitschrift für wirtschaftlichen Fabrikbetrieb ZWF, 5/2011;314–320.

Yes, another can and should article, citing a few examples such as Local Motors and some Fab Lab collaborations. But it could provide some footholds for someone wanting to establish some ethical and sustainability principles for open, distributed, collaborative production. Participation? Empowerment? Democratizing production? Knowledge exchange? Hm. Let’s put those DARPA Fab Labs up to that checklist, shall we? Or how about all those Chevron Fab Labs in schools in the U.S.? Are they really teaching openness and collaboration or just how to be a lackey engineer in a neo-feudal multinational in the 2020s? And did you know that Fab Foundation board members are from the DARPA labs? Do you really think they have an interest in ‘democratizing technology’ and creating a socially just, collaborative, bottom-up economy? So… we all can see where that network is going….

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Hankammer, Stephan, and Robin Kleer. 2017 [in press]. ‘Degrowth and Collaborative Value Creation: Reflections on Concepts and Technologies’. Journal of Cleaner Production, March.

To keep us from getting too depressed and curling up in the corner in a fetal position, let’s stick with the topic of alternatives-to-growth for a moment. This article is in a forthcoming special volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production on degrowth. By the way: spot quiz. How many special issues on degrowth have there been in the key design journals (specifically Design Issues, Design Studies, International Journal of Design)? How many articles? None. Variations on alternative design and designing, or design and alternative economies, but not specifically the construct of degrowth. I find that a bit surprising.

ABSTRACT

The concept of degrowth aims fundamentally at reducing material and energy throughput equitably, while questioning the desirability of further economic growth. In order to achieve this reduction of society’s throughput, radical changes in the ways goods and services are produced, distributed and used are required. In this think piece, concepts of consumer integration into the value creation process and (new) enabling technologies are discussed as possible constituting elements of alternative organizational models in a degrowth society. To date, collaborative value creation concepts, such as crowdsourcing and mass customization, have been discussed almost exclusively as business model patterns for companies in economies that are set to grow. The same applies to the assessment of (new) technologies, such as additive manufacturing, web-based user interfaces for co-creation, and other flexible production technologies that allow for collaborative and individualized production. Potential positive and negative effects of these concepts and technologies with regard to the objectives of degrowth are discussed in order to initiate a debate about the inclusion of CVC for the design of alternative organizational models that are in line with degrowth thinking. This think piece illustrates that several elements of collaborative value creation and its enabling technologies coincide with degrowth objectives but do not lead per se to their attainment. Thereby, a starting point for future (empirical) work in this area is generated.

Yes, another can-and-should piece, this one trying to connect degrowth literature with management literature. And more acryonyms. Collaborative Value Creation for these authors is similar to the previous article: use enabling tech to create value networks where people and groups collaborate on production (e.g. commons-based peer production, mass customization, innovation toolkits, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding). With regard to degrowth and its objectives or requirements, the authors pinpoint these 5 things as connecting the collaborative value thing with the degrowth thing:

  1. Reduction of overproduction and obsolete production capacity
  2. Extending the meaningful lifespan of products
  3. Sufficient consumption
  4. Resilient and self-sufficient local economies
  5. Collective and democratized downscaling.

The first two “serve as two indicators for the potential to contribute to the reduction of energy and material throughput demanded by degrowth” (p. 3) and the third complements this. The final “two objectives concern desirable social changes” (p. 4).

With regard to number 1, the article states the common trope that “crowdfunding prevents products with no interest of the community to be financed” (p. 4). But that means we should look at what is being crowdfunded, given that Kickstarter etc. appears to launch largely gadget-y projects. (I haven’t looked at Kickstarter or Indiegogo studies yet, even though by now there must be plenty.) One wonders if these crowdfunded projects just add to the commercialism of the maker movement and therefore don’t dematerialize our wealthy lifestyles – just as many projects in Fab Labs and makerspaces are gadget-y and hobbyist. Our home-grown version of crowdfunding and –sourcing in Finland, Mesenaatti, has an explicitly cultural framing and therefore attracts more interesting projects in which to get involved, often of a bigger scale or timeframe than just another techy product. The Innonatives platform also explicitly links sustainability with open innovation. Several studies are being conducted now on this platform and on crowd-design for sustainability. I look forward to those studies. (I think we need to look at these new types of design activities in another post, from designing crowd-design initiatives to designing for degrowth.)

***

Srai, Jagjit Singh, Mukesh Kumar, Gary Graham, Wendy Phillips, James Tooze, Simon Ford, Paul Beecher, et al. 2016. ‘Distributed Manufacturing: Scope, Challenges and Opportunities’. International Journal of Production Research 54 (23):6917–35.

An article with empirical case studies, an expert panel as well as some orientation to sustainability (including ‘resilience’). The article argues that Distributed Manufacturing as a concept is wider than Industrie 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing because of greater participation in the value chain and end-user engagement. It also differs from pre-industrial artisanal models because “multiple people including end users can come together and do things in a codified way, making things through quantified processes” (p. 6919, my emphasis). This is an important point. “This paradigm has a locational element, a value element and a technology element” (p. 6919).

The authors sum up:

“The emerging characteristics of DM include:

  • Digitalisation of product design, production control, and demand and supply integration that enable effective quality control at multiple and remote locations
  • Localisation of products, point of manufacture, material use enabling quick response and just-in-time production
  • Personalisation of products tailored for individual users to support mass product customisation and user-friendly enhanced product functionality
  • New production technologies that enable product variety at multiple scales of production, and as they mature, promise resource efficiency and improved environmental sustainability
  • Enhanced designer/producer/end user participation, unlike the world of the artisan, enabling democratisation across the manufacturing value chain” (p. 6922).

Some specific sustainability opportunities mentioned:

  • Re-capturing valuable materials
  • Utilise any spare capacity
  • Manufacturing will no longer be informed by a particular organisation or group context
  • Improved quality but more informed QA practices based on advanced understanding of kinetics, processing
  • Reduced solvents in manufacturing will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Perhaps it would be a useful exercise as a next step to go through each of these characteristics and pin them to specific sustainability indicators. How exactly does digitalisation drive ‘sustainability’? Localisation? Personalisation? New production technologies? More participation? What is the low-hanging fruit and where are the biggest potential impacts?

Typologies of (Re)Distributed Manufacturing

Let’s now turn to types and models of Distributed Production. I mentioned my proposed constructs earlier, which I based on axes of large to small scale, for one, and on the agency of the consumer in design and production, for the other: from producer-controlled design and production to peer-to-peer production. In the LeNSin project, we are playing with different axes or considerations (e.g. if a DE model or case study is decentralized or distributed, if it is a B2B offer or a B2C offer). In the previous LeNSes project, which dealt specifically with Distributed Renewable Energy solutions as sustainable Product-Service Systems in southern Africa, solutions were also seen as stand-alone or grid/network. Moreover, in a recent article by Massimo Menichinelli examining Open Design and Distributed Design, a further model of diffused is proposed.*

*See Menichinelli, Massimo. 2016. ‘A Framework for Understanding the Possible Intersections of Design with Open, P2P, Diffuse, Distributed and Decentralized Systems’. Disegno: Journal of Design Culture 1–2:44–71.

***

Emili, Silvia, Fabrizio Ceschin, and David Harrison. 2016. ‘Product–Service System Applied to Distributed Renewable Energy: A Classification System, 15 Archetypal Models and a Strategic Design Tool’. Energy for Sustainable Development 32:71–98.

This is a key article that came out of the LeNSes project. The study aims to understand the relationship between sustainable Product-Service System models and Distributed Economies models in renewable energy, in order to foster more solutions, and more democratic access to energy, in emerging economies.

Their axes consider the following characteristics:

  • the energy system (e.g. stand-alone, kit, grid connected);
  • the value proposition and payment structure (from sales model to service model);
  • the value proposition and payment structure in terms of PSS (product-oriented, use-oriented or result-oriented);
  • the mode of capital financing (fully subsidized to commercial based);
  • the ownership of the energy system and that of the product, from user to producer;
  • the organizational form, e.g. public sector, NGO or private sector;
  • the operation of the energy system and the product, from user to provider;
  • the target customer (from individual to community);
  • the provider-customer relationship (from transaction-based to relationship-based); and
  • the environmental sustainability potential (from low to high).

This very detailed analysis allows for the complexity of energy solutions, as well as being able to capture what are new and innovative models. First the authors designed the depiction of the axes in building a classification system.

Figure 3 in the article on page 79, placing the axes.

Figure 3 in the article on page 79, placing the axes.

A well-designed and –visualized classification system then incorporates many characteristics without becoming confusing.

Figure 4 in the article, on page 80.

Figure 4 in the article, on page 80.

The researchers were then able to classify their case studies and came up with 15 archetypal models. The classification system can be used with e.g. managers to consider and position their own offerings, and to identify new business opportunities (and this was tested in the field with practitioners).

***

Waldman-Brown, Anna. 2016. ‘Exploring the Maker-Industrial Revolution: Will the Future of Production Be Local?’ BRIE Working Paper 2016-7. University of California Berkeley: Berkeley Round Table on the International Economy.

This Working Paper discusses different concepts in the ‘new industrial revolution’.

1. Distributed Production

A. Who owns what?

The paper suggests three possible ownership models in large volume, small batch production:

  1. Fab Cities: small-batch, locally-created and locally-controlled production at a citywide level;
  2. Vertically-integrated SMMs (Small and Medium Manufacturers): local production capabilities integrated into large, networked systems;
  3. Business as usual: large factories dominant, SMMs and artisanal workshops as niche.

B. What’s the scale of production?

The paper argues that small does not necessarily mean local, small factories may also produce large amounts, and of course manufacturers’ profit models might favour large-scale production.

C. Where does manufacturing happen?

Economically, what makes sense to produce at large volume and what locally in small batch production? What aspects of production could and should be localized? What about the role of policy – import taxes and protectionist policies? Will global warming and material scarcity actually affect supply chains, as ‘idealists’ claim?

D. How do SMMs interact?

A platform or networked economy of ‘smart’ SMMs enabled by all sorts of technologies might nevertheless cause concerns for e.g. quality control.

2. Personalized Production

One-off, artisanal products indicate wealthy consumers. Moreover this kind of engagement in production, prosumption, as indicated in DIY maker activities, is time consuming and skill intensive. Personalized production appears suitable for products as ‘experiences’, personalized medical devices and products needed in disaster zones.

3. After market repair and customization

“Although repair is quite different from customization in practice, we combine the two aspects here in order to discuss local after-market servicing and product modularity” (p. 16). This concept is particularly attached to the maker movement. Again, the paper expresses scepticism about the ideal espoused regarding diffusion of repair and customization, activities that are common in emerging countries but not highly industrialized ones, pointing rather to examples of lease models where the product ownership is retained by the manufacturer (which of course is a result-oriented PSS in the language we use in S.PSS study). The manufacturer is incentivized to maintain the product but the design may not be open. Nor are repairable products the norm in complex products. And none of this means that things need to be or will inevitably become localized.

In all, the paper brings up many crucial realities and critical points that us sustainability romantics purposefully avoid. Money still talks and business-as-usual is a huge ship that is challenging to turn. Anna has gone on to create a typology matrix of her own that is in progress – I’ll include it when it makes its way into a Working Paper or article I can cite.

My main concern with the paper is the grounding assumptions, and here we have the assumption clash. On the one hand, the mainstream argument is that large-scale production will continue when it is the most economically viable choice. The assumption is that what is being produced now must continue to be produced in some form. But the whole point of Distributed Economies is to stimulate re-awareness of what is being produced and why. Just because you have set up a zillion zillion-square-metre factories everywhere doesn’t mean humanity needs what you are producing. You are actually pushing this production onto humanity through marketing gimmicks, psychological warfare and planned obsolescence in order to recoup the costs of the factory tooling, inventory and so on. By the same token, those of us who romanticize local and distributed production claim that only what is needed will be produced. The assumption is that production-on-demand fosters both environmental and social sustainability. But again, when we look at the global North version of the DIY maker movement, only a tiny fraction addresses issues and solutions that are not some geek, hobbyist, adult-toy crapject. And that leads us nicely into the moral swamp of things that are fun, creative, explorative and without clear function – and the swamp of needs, wants and desires. Suffice to say at this point, question all assumptions and allow critical reflection and dialogue. We have no idea where we are, but we are building the future together and there are no defaults we must resort to.

***

Fox, Stephen, and Päivi Vahala. 2016. ‘Strategic Design of Innovative Production Systems: Strategic Design Symbol System v.1’. VTT Technology 270. VTT Technology. Espoo, Finland: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

This report pulls together more useful considerations in the form of a game one can play with stakeholders or students to discuss Special Production. Please respect the authors’ copyright on the icons.

The game or workshop has recommended steps.

First, identify the geographical area of interest, whether a region, city, town or village. Where – in this area in question – should innovative manufacturing be located?

Then discuss what value should be added.

Game pieces in the system for 'Value Added': Demographically Distributed Economy; Geographically Distributed Economy; Disintermediation; On-shoring; Localization, Ecological renewal; Creates New Markets; Up-cycling; Down-cycling; Re-cycling.

Game pieces in the system for ‘Value Added’:
Demographically Distributed Economy; Geographically Distributed Economy; Disintermediation; On-shoring; Localization, Ecological renewal; Creates New Markets; Up-cycling; Down-cycling; Re-cycling.

Next, value chain. What type of value chain will your innovative factories contribute to?

Game pieces in the system for 'Value Chain': Engineering-to-Order Business, Mass Production, Retail, Agricultural, Business to Business, Business to Consumer, Peer to Peer, Healthcare, Information & Communications Technology, Space, Construction, Creative.

Game pieces in the system for ‘Value Chain’:
Engineering-to-Order Business, Mass Production, Retail, Agricultural, Business to Business, Business to Consumer, Peer to Peer, Healthcare, Information & Communications Technology, Space, Construction, Creative.

Then talk about materials and resources. What resource inputs are needed? What raw materials? Is there capacity for recycled materials? Open source hardware? Components – and so on?

Next, infrastructure inputs. Computer skills? Manual skills? Digital infrastructure, water infra, etc.?

Then discuss what kinds of factories could be used in this region. What factory types would benefit the region and are best suited there?

Game pieces in the system for 'Types of Factory': Carry-able Factory; Mobile Factory; Moveable Factory; Home / Club Factory; Independent Local Factory; Networked Local Factory; Factory Kits for Export; Fixed Factory.

Game pieces in the system for ‘Types of Factory’:
Carry-able Factory; Mobile Factory; Moveable Factory; Home / Club Factory; Independent Local Factory; Networked Local Factory; Factory Kits for Export; Fixed Factory.

Finally, discuss how many new jobs should be created in your innovative production system. One to five? Up to 50? More than 50? More than 250? And what time scale should you consider? Can you implement your production system in less than a year? In 3 years? More than 5 years?

The pieces can be linked together to be able to visualize the different elements – as well as interlinking systems.

Linking the game pieces in dialogue and exploration.

Linking the game pieces in dialogue and exploration.

The report gives examples of how the game system has been used. Some of us have used the game in workshops with students; I used it with students in Mexico City in 2016 and adapted it somewhat to incorporate Design-for-Sustainability principles and sustainable Product-Service Systems elements. It was helpful for both me and the students to think about what now exists in their local context – for them to describe some case studies on Distributed Economies to me – and to identify some innovative solutions to existing problems, by playing around with various value-added and value-chain models.

Summary

There are still several references I could have added, but I think this well represents some of the work on Distributed Production and its sustainability implications. We still are doing too much could-be-should-be, and we need to start looking at empirics and identifying indicators that tell us where we’re going. There is general agreement that (a) the production we are interested in examining involves people and organizations in new ways, new networks and new agencies; (b) it exploits current technological solutions but also develops them (including new p2p practices); and (c) it has socio-environmental potential – that is, it has potential to dematerialize well-being, change values related to consumerism and reduce the negative impacts of mass production and overconsumption. On paper there would seem to be so many benefits to making production more local, in reaction to the negative impacts of globalization, particularly on marginalized regions. But from a purely environmental assessment viewpoint, the benefits are not so clear and more research on material flows would be welcome.

This also applies to what kind of production we are discussing: in Europe, at least, food and housing (e.g. heating in Finland) embodies huge impacts that overshadow negative impacts from consumer goods. In this context, the DIY maker movement is a drop in the ocean, unless we imagine a pathway that includes more knowledge building and more agency for everyday citizens – from goods-and-gadgets production to energy production, food production, involvement in urban development and place-making, impact on transport and mobility and so forth.

DIY making is already being seriously co-opted and enclosed by private interests, even while it spreads to other domains and communities such as urban agriculture. We want new and better prosumption patterns, but we also want new ways to value success – new economic models that make hypercapitalism and the current rise in neo-feudalism obsolete. We want to ‘democratize technology’, but that requires a constant conversation on what that really means in practice. Not every space for distributed production (e.g. a makerspace, a mini-factory) needs to strive for universal access or every citizen as a user, but instead they can be more strategic in their aims and in their means. As participants asked in a workshop held on ‘sustainable making’ in London in October 2015, if a makerspace is the answer, what is the question?*

*For more on this workshop, see Smith, Adrian, and Ann Light. 2017. ‘Cultivating Sustainable Developments with Makerspaces’. Liinc Em Revista 13 (1):162–74.

There is still a gap between people interested in p2p dynamics and the ‘open’ paradigm (open hardware, open design, etc.), and people interested in distributed manufacturing, the sharing economy and so on, where incumbent business still has a key role. Or to be more exact, it is not clear what the relationship is, particularly if taking socio-environmental sustainability and resilience into account. Some research ignores p2p communities, activities and practices that may be playing a significant role in how ‘distributed production’ or the ‘new industrial revolution’ plays out, particularly as sociotechnical configurations that are embedded in communities. There is a lot of ‘social movement’ type messiness and mobilizing according to ideology in these grassroots activities that make some uncomfortable. In contrast, other research ignores the current marginality of distributed production (in relation to mass production and the trajectory of industrialization), which means that actual activities, by enterprises, organizations or individuals in distributed production – with real barriers to longevity, vulnerabilities to co-optation, shifting allegiances, even (gasp) politics – are not spelled out, in favour of conceptual frameworks or examinations with a tiny unit of observation.

I don’t think we know yet what contributes to a makerspace’s longevity, how maker communities navigate from commercial to civic duties and back again, what factors contribute to a space’s or community’s downfall, what varied roles the spaces play in their wider (urban or rural) neighbourhoods, and even what knowledge we can derive from such stories – and how to act on it.

Neither do we have much of a sense of what we are losing or gaining with changing manufacturing activities and locations. Who is actually engaging more with end-users in design and production, beyond the always-used, exemplar case studies, and are there wider social and environmental impacts detected? How are materials moving around? What role does gentrification and land-use planning play – how can a city support its creative sectors and particularly those oriented to sustainability?*

*See Ferm, Jessica, and Edward Jones. 2016. ‘Beyond the Post-Industrial City: Valuing and Planning for Industry in London’. Urban Studies 54 (14):3380–98.

How can we zoom in and out in scale and over time in order to understand the relationship among ‘resilience’, new production modes and citizen engagement? Will bringing production into cities only engage the already privileged, who have the technological skills needed as employees, who can afford high rents as owners and who can afford bespoke products as customers? How do we truly foster new ways to value exchanges, to corrode the current neoliberal dominance of market value as the ruler for everything? We have a lot of work to do.

***

Do you want a pdf of this text? Localizing_distributing_production_Kohtala2017.

On Mundanity

Yesterday I went to one of the Worldcon75 panels, one called ‘Mundane SF – Where is it Today?’ I found out about it because of my interest in (read: obsession with) Ian McDonald’s science fiction novels, nearly at the last minute. Still somewhat jetlagged and confused by the warmth of a Finnish summer day, tripping over semi-unpacked luggage, bottles of Chilean pisco and dirty laundry, I finally managed to find my bike key in time to cycle madly to Pasila and get to the panel on time. It was moderated by
Cylia Amendolara with panelists Bob Angell, Ian McDonald and Mark Halmagiu.

So first some thoughts on the panel and the genre of Mundane SF – and then some thoughts beyond science fiction to design, social fictions and design fictions inspired by the discussion.

Bob informed the less SF- and Mundane- literate in the audience (=me) that the genre or concept of Mundane SF stems from 2004 and the creation of The Mundane Manifesto at a Clarion West workshop (see here). “And we all had to sign it,” said Bob. The point was to deliberately exercise constraint as a creative strategy – to curb what the participants saw as the excesses of space operas and the implausibilities of interstellar travel. To temporarily unite in putting on “a tight girdle of discipline to restrain our sf imaginative silhouettes”. Why can’t our own Earth and near-Earth provide a compelling setting for exploring speculative tech futures?

I silently applauded, as it is precisely the mundane in both science fiction literature and SF cinema that has the brightest appeal for me – the gritty street life in Blade Runner, the seemingly mundane barriers to travel and migration in Code 46. It is the dirt, the unpolished, the unshiny and the habitual that bring home what is ‘real’ and human in stories about the future. Ian McDonald’s worlds are fascinating in how he weaves new (for us in the present) technologies into the social fabric of living people with their living bodies – into the social fabric of a city that seems both familiar and strange at the same time. The tech itself is also both strange and familiar – a trajectory of something we already know but projected forward – landing in a character’s life and everyday routines. A hair-raising drone race across the roofs and through the alleys of a not-quite-familiar Istanbul. The sociotechnical assemblage of ragpickers working in and on the margins of ‘tech-trash’ landfills – scavengers, sorters, dismantlers, reassemblers, vendors – as familiar to us as the scenes and horror stories we have already seen in cities from Shenzhen to Abidjan, but in McDonald’s telling, at a much larger scale, in geographic terms, in terms of poisoning and poverty, in material terms. In direct, feel-able impacts on human bodies and the land.

In the panel, Ian referred to his Luna stories about colonizing the moon: the constraints of physics on human beings and how to build a story around it. Constraints therefore form the core of Mundane aesthetics. The panel mentioned that the Mundane Manifesto was also informed by the Dogme movement in film: “Today a technological storm is raging of which the result is the elevation of cosmetics to God. By using new technology anyone at any time can wash the last grains of truth away in the deadly embrace of sensation.”

It can be a horrid word, but there is some ethos here of authenticity – of remaining true to the human experience rather than succumbing to clean, polished, shiny, novel, fantastical illusions. There is an ethos of celebrating our own Earth, protecting it and ourselves, rejoicing in diversity and richness while cautioning against exploitation and destruction. We’re close to destroying our own planet – now we want to conquer the moon, Mars, the universe for our own ends (i.e. rare earth metals). Ian reminded us that we are best suited to life on this planet; “the universe does not owe us a living”. (For my part, I would like to print that on a T-shirt and send it to that guy from NASA who presented at FAB12 Shenzhen last year: the one who thought that moon and asteroid mining would be the key to a better future on Earth. That we would be able to achieve a green, clean, pristine planet if we moved mining operations off it – that ta-da! we would achieve the [illusion of a] happy Earth whose various populations everywhere would be all empowered, prosperous and peaceful.)

An audience member asked about the relationship between Mundane SF and the climate change extension. (And there was a climate change fiction panel at Worldcon75, as well as an academic track session called ‘Environmental Anxieties’, both of which I missed.) Mark answered that he didn’t see that so much as science fiction than “as incoming horror”.

There is an easy marriage between science fiction and design research. As many of you undoubtedly know, tech developers, designers and analysts actually use science fiction narrative as a tool – to design technologies as well as to discuss their implications. (See my colleague Tiina Kylmäläinen’s dissertation on Science Fiction Prototyping here; pdf here.) Design researchers oriented to futures studies build scenarios, often science-fiction-y, to identify potential socio-environmental consequences and opportunities. Design researchers oriented to Science and Technology Studies (STS) may also examine science fiction as popular culture – that reveals how we human-and-tech ensembles make worlds, integrate the digital and physical, embed the new and novel into our existing lives. (See for example Laura Forlano’s paper on ‘cyber-urbanity’ in Digital Culture and Society.)

Science fiction stories contribute to building narratives as imaginaries: visions that we aspire to and therefore mobilize to co-create and co-produce. For some in the FabLab network, most importantly Gershenfeld himself, the narrative of the Star Trek replicator continues to be the imaginary of the future that anchors what should be done in the present. For others, there are alternative visions of a distributed, material peer production future that inspire and activate – visions about communities working together for their own betterment, using governance and economic models that are clear alternatives to the destructive hyper-capitalism, hyper-individualism and neoliberalism of today.

Koppelting Festival of the Commons, FabLab Amersfoort, August 2016. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Koppelting Festival of the Commons, FabLab Amersfoort, August 2016. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

And the mundane? The Mundane SF panel joked that using the very word mundane was a dodgy marketing strategy: who would buy into – and buy – something about mundanity? The original signees wished to acknowledge the “relief of focusing on what science tells us is likely rather than what is almost impossible such as warp drives. The relief will come from a sense of being honest.” There is a related ethos in some design circles, who want to promote everyday design over superstar, elite design. The one that pops first to mind is the ‘Super Normal’ exhibition and book by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison. The second is the design philosophy in Finland, where I happily live and work, greatly influenced by designer and design educator Kaj Franck. Finnish tableware, for example, is good design for everyone and for everyday. It is also exceedingly collectible – and steal-able. In recent years the long-standing tableware design firm Arabia has exploited the very mundanity (appearing in every Finnish home – and I do not exaggerate), collectibility and longevity of their products in their slogan Against Throwaway Design (although now we seem to be focusing more on Finland’s 100th Anniversary year in Arabia marketing). So: Mundane=Good.

Researchers in academia (usually) use a different way of exploring our world and where we are going compared to science fiction authors, but there are many who argue that focusing on the mundane does indeed foster awareness of what is likely and possible rather than what is utopian and unrealistic. For example in practice theory, particularly Elizabeth Shove’s take on it, not enough attention is paid in sustainability-oriented research to exactly the mundane: the everyday habits, behaviours and routines that accumulate into large-scale social, environmental and economic impacts. We are not even aware of our changing hygiene standards, for instance. We shower more often and for longer; we clean our houses more, using more toxic chemicals. Mundanity from this perspective thereby takes on ontological importance.

For those of us examining designer-user relations, focusing on the mundane is also an ontological and empirical strategy, because, in STS terms, it helps us better understand how things-and-activities – materials and technologies combined with our practices, actions and interactions – become stabiliized. How new ways of doing things, and how old ways of doing things but with new objects, start off as novel, but over time become normalized, domesticated, routine – mundane. The once new and exciting 3D printer becomes invisible infrastructure. New ways of designing and producing things become established ways.

Helsinki Hacklab, May 2015. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Helsinki Hacklab, May 2015. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

In sustainability-oriented research, we normatively want to encourage less destructive practices. We want the mundane to have less negative environmental impact. If material peer production in digital fabrication communities can have socio-environmental benefits compared to our current mass production system, let’s foster these new practices into becoming mundane routines and habits. If we aspire to models of ‘sufficiency’ or ‘degrowth’, what is the mundanity within these models that we can achieve today? In other words, what novel sociotechnical elements today, such as new and unfamiliar p2p governance models being experimented with, hold promise as a component that can have a trajectory into our vision of the future? How can we turn the novel into the mundane? Science fiction writers surely do this – project what they find compelling in the present and project it into their future world-making – for better and for worse.

In my dissertation, however, I also argued that mundanity is a double-edged sword. (See here and the pdf is available here.) Sustainable world-making is not just about wanting to stabilize and domesticate desired sociomaterial ensembles into mundanity. Mundanity is also about the routine practices and incumbent institutions that we need to combat, as Shove argues, in order to foster change to a ‘better’ present. So also: Mundanity=Barrier to positive change.

In my studies, I examined how new making and fabbing practices compete with incumbent institutional structures. FabLab managers are so busy with everyday tasks that vision-making and vision-enacting become really hard work. They take shortcuts and make compromises, which freeze into infrastructure and routine that future practitioners will not question. Already now we are failing to acknowledge the technical antecedents of maker/fabber culture (I argue this also in a paper that is forthcoming, hopefully). We don’t question enough current routines in FabLabs or why things are done a certain way in Fab Academy.

The mundanity of the outside world is eclipsed by the fantastical ideology of the FabLab and Maker Movement: democratization of production technologies and empowerment of all people to make what they want, where they want and how they want. Outside the FabLab walls, there are issues around supply chains, component origins, the provenance of rare earths, working conditions, mountains of e-waste, growing gaps between rich and poor, corporate exploitation and co-option of ideals, and so on – that are rarely discussed inside FabLabs or in FabLab events and meetings. This mundanity is the reality of mass production and capitalist ills that is so easily ignored by a blissful, naïve, well-meaning but under-strategic fabber community.

What would Von Trier and Winterberg say? “By using new technology anyone at any time can wash the last grains of truth away in the deadly embrace of sensation.” Star Trek replicators as an aspiration? I think this oversimplifies the visions actually espoused by the maker/fabber movement, including the replicator fans themselves, and it renders invisible dirty, gritty current realities. In turn, what is deemed desirable and achievable for humanity and our planet is not tuned to these dirty, mundane realities. Maker/fabber ideologies float in air like utopian castles, unmoored from our sociomaterial present, rapturously ignorant of politics and power dynamics. A little injection of Mundane aesthetics, the ethos of mundanity, might serve us a little better in building strategies for future world-making – to help us build the transparency and ongoing dialogue we need in co-creating new governance models that are resistant to enclosure and co-option. That is – if that is what we want.

My week at Vigyan Ashram FabLab

As we drive from the city of Pune to Pabal, a village about 70 kilometres away, the road becomes increasingly narrow; the traffic increasingly agrarian; the landscape increasingly dry. The vehicle climbs a small knoll and turns into a drive, signposted Vigyan Ashram – and I can hardly imagine I’m actually here at this legendary FabLab, one of the first established in the global FabLab network about 15 years ago. For the next week, I will live here among the students, eating with them, talking with them, following their work on projects done for the benefit of the local community.

Signpost for Vigyan Ashram, Pabal, India, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Signpost for Vigyan Ashram, Pabal, India, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

I have visited and worked in India before, but this is my first time in a rural area. It is a necessary reminder that many in India work in agriculture and that rural technology development is both vibrant and vital. Young people here do not want to move to the big cities; they want challenges and opportunities in their own regions. Moreover, this part of Maharashtra is drought prone, where solutions related to water and soil conservation are clearly needed. The ethos of FabLabs and maker culture, that knowledge is public commons and solutions should be shared, hacked, forked, modified and shared and shared again, is therefore so important here: this is not proprietary innovation aimed at profit-making for a few, it is grassroots innovation by citizens for citizens, for community betterment. That Vigyan Ashram caught the attention of MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld because of their internet connectivity back in the late 90s, should be no surprise: this village and community needs knowledge from the outside to foster resilience. Now, in the late 2010s, this village, community and FabLab build and share knowledge on rural technology solutions with the world.

I am well accustomed to FabLabs and citizen innovation, so having a technology lab here in the middle of this large, rural traditional metalsmith workshop, is no particular surprise – the solutions needed here benefit from having sensors and communication devices connected to them. One of the first people I meet is a day visitor with an Australian accent, one of a group that has arrived here by bus to see this innovative learning centre. (Over the next week, there will be many such people and many such buses driving in for a day, an afternoon, an hour.) She seems somewhat gobsmacked that here, in the apparent middle-of-nowhere, young people are making microcontroller boards and printing objects with 3D printers. I, on the other hand, am somewhat gobsmacked that I can stroll out of the FabLab to the outbuildings and visit with chickens, goats and dairy cows.

Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Back then, when Gershenfeld first visited in the early 2000s, Vigyan Ashram was a place of learning, where marginalized young people, school drop-outs, the unemployed, came and were immersed in what we now call project-based learning. This function still exists, students come from all over India and learn animal husbandry and horticulture, but now also to learn product development: Vigyan Ashram offers a Diploma in Basic Rural Technology (DBRT, recognized by the National Institute of Open Schooling, the government’s programme for facilitating open learning) and a newer certificate known as Design Innovation Centre (DIC, recognized by Saitribai Phule Pune University). DIC students who complete a six-month project in Vigyan Ashram earn university credits equivalent to one semester. Among the projects I saw were a biogas digester, an injection moulding device for recycling plastic and a vegetable cooler made of readily available materials.

Komal's vegetable cooler with circulating water, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Komal’s vegetable cooler with circulating water, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Vigyan Ashram also offers Fab Academy, the international distributed education programme for digital fabrication offered by the FabLab network. Each week the students learn a new aspect of digital fabrication, via online lectures broadcast from MIT, local instruction and by completing a weekly assignment. All the skills accumulated over four months are to be applied in a final project, and Director Yogesh Kulkarni discusses these final projects with the students, to ensure they will indeed benefit Vigyan Ashram and/or the local surrounding community. (This is unusual; in all other FabLabs I have visited, students are free to choose their own final project, which does not need to prove local relevance, social impact or environmental benefit – even if such projects do tend to garner special praise by evaluators.) The projects this year will include a solar tracker for solar cookers and a greywater treatment solution for the Ashram.

solar cooker at Vigyan Ashram, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

solar cooker at Vigyan Ashram, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

The projects I heard about are already in use or are soon to be implemented and do not sit idle on the shelf. Several projects for Fab Academy, DIC and DBRT are commissioned by clients, such as local farmers or small business owners seeking a low cost but effective solution. Working for clients enhances students’ entrepreneurial and consultancy skills. But particularly, what I heard again and again, during my week at Vigyan Ashram, but also at other Indian FabLabs, was how such direct, material, hands-on learning boosted confidence. For students with previous engineering education, the work in the FabLab allowed them to put into embodied practice what they had learned in the abstract. For all students, completing a project gave them the confidence that yes, they can do and they can make.

Technology Development Park at Vigyan Ashram, displaying grassroots innovations such as a vegetable dryer and rice planters, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Technology Development Park at Vigyan Ashram, displaying grassroots innovations such as a vegetable dryer and rice planters, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

They can identify a problem, they can search for information and solutions online, they can prototype, and they can physically produce whatever solution they have designed and adapted for this particular problem, given existing local material, technical and cultural constraints. It is this confidence that allows them to imagine a future of their own creation, where they can dream, but also develop the needed skills to complete projects and deal with clients. It is a conception of entrepreneurship related to resilience, aspiration and practicality, more than the tech-driven startup language seen elsewhere, of innovation for innovation’s sake. This is the FabLab network’s mission enacted: do not bring technology to the people, bring them the means to make their own technology.

rural machinery prototyped and developed for specific local conditions at Vigyan Ashram, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

rural machinery prototyped and developed for specific local conditions at Vigyan Ashram, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

On my favourite day in the FabLab that week, all the elements came together – peer learning, entrepreneurship, skill development. FabLab Manager Suhas began the day with instruction on electronics design, and the students soon paired off naturally to begin learning more from each other and from tutorials online. Recent DIC graduate Prachi was working on a prosthetic robot arm for a client in the FabLab, and she began to coach the others on the electronics knowledge she had picked up along the way. Fab Academy students Arundhati and Abhijeet put their heads together to start learning the software. DIC student Komal watched, as she will benefit from this information later. Fab Academy tutor Suyog arrived and also began to coach the students when they ran into trouble. The other local Fab Academy tutor Supriya was away for the day. Based on her knowledge and experience building a ‘rangoli’ machine for last year’s Fab Academy (rangolis are those exquisite powder pattern drawings people make on the ground outside their front doors in India, for good luck), she was asked to put together and deliver a small laser engraver to a client. This day was delivery day.

Meanwhile, behind the electronics group, DBRT student Sandeep was learning how to use the laser cutter. Sandeep wanted to make a measurement device, like callipers, that could be held up to an object (such as a shelf edge) to determine its width. Suhas gave him basic instruction on how to send the design to the laser cutter while a small group of DBRT students watched. Soon after the measurement device was cut and was on the table, Fab Academy student Mahavir came into the FabLab and picked it up, curious. What’s this? He picked up callipers to measure the accuracy of the device and noticed it was off. He showed Sandeep. Do you know about kerf? Sandeep shook his head. Mahavir grabbed his tablet and began explaining kerf by drawing. This had been a Fab Academy exercise a few weeks’ previously: how to know the cutting width of your laser cutter and account for it in your design to be able to achieve accurate final dimensions. A crowd began to gather around the table, as other students wanted to learn this important lesson too.

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huddles of peer learning at Vigyan Ashram FabLab, March, 2017. Photos: Cindy Kohtala

No matter the region, many students have reported to me that completing the Fab Academy was a strategic decision for their career: to learn software and understand the hardware in our shift to an ever more digitalized society. It is a substantial time commitment and financial investment that is seen as necessary, an investment in their future. Fab Academy is also the path by which people become inducted into the FabLab world: they learn to become Fab Academy tutors and regional instructors, and many go on to be FabLab managers or to found their own FabLab. They embed themselves in their localities, where their FabLabs serve local needs, but they also find information and inspiration from their global colleagues in FabLabs around the world. Supriya received valuable help on her laser engraver from a colleague in Japan, for instance. The annual FABx meeting brings all the Fab Academy cohort together, as well as managers, directors, technicians, teachers, researchers – a chance to meet face to face and form the lasting bonds that truly create community.

In Vigyan Ashram, students had a variety of motivations for attending Fab Academy. Some had completed DIC and were hungry for more. Some had received scholarships from universities, an alternative learning track to the conventional academia of classrooms, lectures and clean laboratories. Two students had come from up north, from Chandigarh: they were planning to open their own FabLab and had carefully considered the best Lab for their Fab Academy experience – a five- to six-month long immersion. Vigyan Ashram FabLab was chosen because its rural location and especially its approach to invention, innovation and education: “They are teaching everything,” the students told me. “They are actually doing what I plan to do.”

working with sensors to measure air quality, at Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

working with sensors to measure air quality, at Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Given its longevity, Vigyan Ashram and its FabLab appear to offer a needed alternative, an alternative model of education, production and regional development. All too soon my week came to an end, but I returned to Helsinki full of ideas and hope.

*

READ MORE:
Gupta, Anil K. 2016. Grassroots Innovation: Minds on the Margin are not Marginal Minds. Gurugram, India: Random House India.
Kalbag, S.S. 2010. Selected Essays of Dr. S.S. Kalbag on Education, Technology & Rural Development. Edited by Sangram Gaikwad. Pune: Vigyan Ashram, Pabal.
Kulkarni, Yogesh. 2016. ‘Fab Lab 0 to Fab Lab 0.4: Learnings from Running a Lab in an Indian Village’. In Proceedings of the Fab 12 Research Stream. Shenzhen, China: International FabLab Association. https://archive.org/details/Fab12Kulkarni.

Doctoral dissertations and Master’s theses

Here is a list of dissertations and theses on (a) Open Design and (b) Making, digital fabrication, makerspaces. Buy me a cocktail sometime to thank me.

Doctoral Dissertations: Open Design

Sawhney, Nitin, 2003. Cooperative innovation in the commons: Rethinking distributed collaboration and intellectual property for sustainable design innovation. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Architecture, Program in Media Arts and Sciences. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/61861

Zheng, Jing, 2009. Open Collaborative Mechanical/Product Design: User as Developer. A New Design Methodology for Internet Era Business Innovations and Entrepreneurship. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Structural Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science. Washington University, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. http://openscholarship.wustl.edu/etd/401/

Silver, Matthew Robin, 2010. Open Collaborative System Design: A Strategic Framework with Application to Synthetic Biology. Doctoral dissertation. Engineering Systems Division. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/63012

Balka, Kerstin, 2011. Open Source Product Development: The Meaning and Relevance of Openness. Doctoral dissertation. Hamburg University of Technology Hamburg-Harburg, Germany. Published by Gabler, Springer. http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-8349-6949-1

Sinclair, Matthew, 2012. The specification of a consumer design toolkit to support personalised production via additive manufacturing. Doctoral dissertation. Design School. Loughborough University, UK. https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/11051

Dexter, Matt, 2014. Open Design and Medical Products. Doctoral dissertation. Sheffield Hallam University, UK. http://shura.shu.ac.uk/12190/

Philips, Robert Daniel, 2015. The Bee Lab kit: Activities engaging motivated lay users in the use of open technologies for citizen science activities. Doctoral dissertation. School of Design. Royal College of Art, London, UK. http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/1694/

Hermans, Guido, 2015. Opening Up Design: Engaging the Layperson in the Design of Everyday Products. Doctoral dissertation. Industrial Design. Umeå Institute of Design, Faculty of Science and Technology. Umeå Institute of Design Research Publications, No. 002. Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden. http://umu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A852481&dswid=7729

Kyriakou, Harris, 2016. Collective Innovation: Novelty, Reuse and their Interplay. Doctoral dissertation. Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/pqdtopen/doc/1855131347.html?FMT=ABS

Master’s theses: Open Design

Menichinelli, Massimo, 2006. Reti collaborative : Il design por una auto-organizzazione Open Peer-to-Peer. Master’s thesis (Italian). Industrial Design, Faculty of Design. Politecnico di Milano, Italy. https://issuu.com/openp2pdesign/docs/reti-collaborative

de Bruijn, Erik, 2010. On the viability of the open source development model for the design of physical objects: Lessons learned from the RepRap project. Master’s thesis. Department of Information Management, Faculty of Economics and Business. University of Tilburg, the Netherlands. http://thesis.erikdebruijn.nl/master/Latex/MscScr-EdB.pdf

Turner, Robin, 2010. Open Source as a Tool for Communal Technology Development: Using Appropriate Technology Criteria to Determine the Impact of Open Source Technologies on Communities as Delivered Through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Fab Lab Projects. Master’s thesis. Digital Arts. Wits School of Arts, Faculty of the Arts. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/handle/10539/8615

Wong, Garry Chun Yang, 2011. Open Source Hardware: The history, issues, and impact on digital humanities. Humanities Computing. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. https://era.library.ualberta.ca/files/4m90dw364#.WIZrbz9MZE4

Paiva, Juliana, 2012. Towards Openness: A Study about Open Design and its Translation from Theory into Practice. Master’s thesis. New Media & Digital Culture. University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. http://scriptiesonline.uba.uva.nl/en/scriptie/426987

Suarez Carmona, Mariana, 2012. The Value of Design as a Holistic Approach in Enhancing a Global Brand: The Case Study of Heineken Open Design Explorations. Master’s thesis. Strategic Product Design. Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. http://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid:024f30d8-bd02-4689-aca4-acb0c4de294b?collection=education

Gardner, Alec J., 2013. The Architecture of Mass Collaboration: How Open Source Commoning Will Change Everything. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Cincinnati, USA. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/pg_10?0::NO:10:P10_ETD_SUBID:4686

Bagiński, Jan, 2014. Budynek wielorodzinny otwartego kodu [Open Source Housing]. Master’s thesis (Polish). Architecture and Urban Planning. Warsaw University of Technology, Poland. https://apd.usos.pw.edu.pl/diplomas/488/

Muhur, Melike, 2014. Evaluation of a Proposal for a Production Center “Fab Lab” as a means of Realization Open Design. Master’s thesis (Turkish). Graduate School of Science, Engineering and Technology. Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey.

Rodriguez, Edison, 2014. Open Design no cenário contemporâneo. [Open design in the contemporary context.] Master’s thesis (Portuguese). UNESP (Universidade Estadual Paulista), Brazil. http://repositorio.unesp.br/bitstream/handle/11449/126304/000838099.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Doctoral Dissertations: Making and makerspaces, digital fabrication, 3D printing…

Aldoy, Noor N., 2011. An investigation into a digital strategy for industrial design education. Doctoral dissertation. Design School. Loughborough University, UK. https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/8767

Rajan, Prashant, 2012. Organizing Grassroots Innovations: Examining Knowledge Creation and Sharing Practices for Technological Innovation at the Grassroots. Doctoral dissertation. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI3556573/

Bianchini, Massimo, 2014. Industrious design : Design e cambiamento dei modelli di (micro)produzione nell’ibridazione tra individuo e organizzazione [Industrious design: The role of design in the evolution of (micro)production models enabled by the hybridization of individuals and organizations]. Doctoral dissertation (Italian). Industrial Design, Department of Design. Politecnico di Milano, Italy. http://hdl.handle.net/10589/97942

Leduc-Mills, Benjamin A., 2014. Embodied Fabrication: Body-Centric Devices for Novice Designers. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Computer Science. University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. http://benatwork.cc/wp-content/uploads/thesis.pdf

Neves, Heloisa, 2014. Maker innovation. Do open design e fab labs… às estratégias inspiradas no movimento maker. Doctoral dissertation. Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo (FAU). Universidade de São Paulo (USP), São Paulo, Brazil. http://www.bv.fapesp.br/pt/bolsas/132076/maker-innovation-do-open-design-e-fab-labs-as-estrategias-inspiradas-no-movimento-maker/

Seravalli, Anna, 2014. Making Commons: Attempts at composing prospects in the opening of production. Doctoral dissertation. Interaction Design. Dissertation series: New Media, Public Sphere and Forms of Expression. Faculty: Culture and Society. Department: School of Arts and Communication. Mälmö University, Mälmö, Sweden. https://dspace.mah.se/handle/2043/17232

Dias, Pedro João Jacinto da Silva, 2015.  Design e auto-produção : novos paradigmas para o design de artefactos na sociedade pós-industrial : a contribuição das tecnologias digitais. Doctoral dissertation. Faculdade de Belas Artes. Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. http://repositorio.ul.pt/handle/10451/17815

Justice, Sean Bradley, 2015. Learning to teach in the digital age: Digital materiality and maker paradigms in schools. Doctoral dissertation. Teachers College. Columbia University, New York, USA. NOTE: now a book (2016), published by Peter Lang: https://www.peterlang.com/view/product/31836

Mota, Sofia Catarina, 2015. Bits, Atoms, and Information Sharing: new opportunities for participation. Doctoral dissertation. Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Departamento de Ciências da Comunicação. Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal. http://hdl.handle.net/10362/14505

Bosqué, Camille, 2016. La fabrication numérique personnelle, pratiques et discours d’un design diffus : enquête au coeur des FabLabs, hackerspaces et makerspaces de 2012 à 2015 [Personal digital fabrication, discourses and practices of diffuse design: A survey into FabLabs, hackerspaces and makerspaces between 2012 and 2015]. Doctoral dissertation (French). Esthétique et sciences de l’art, Spécialité design, École doctorale Arts, lettres, langues. Université Rennes 2, France. http://www.theses.fr/2016REN20009

Doubrovsky, E.L., 2016. Design Methodology for Additive Manufacturing: Supporting Designers in the Exploitation of Additive Manufacturing Affordances. Doctoral dissertation. Mechatronic design. Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. http://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid:d4214bb0-5bfd-43fe-af42-01247762b661?collection=research

Kohtala, Cindy, 2016. Making Sustainability: How Fab Labs Address Environmental Issues. Doctoral dissertation. School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Department of Design. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://shop.aalto.fi/media/attachments/f8dd3/Kohtala.pdf

Lacy, Jennifer E., 2016. A Case Study of a High School Fab Lab. Doctoral dissertation. Curriculum & Instruction. University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Lyles, Dan Allen, 2016. Generative Contexts. Science and Technology Studies. Doctoral dissertation. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, USA. http://www3.hass.rpi.edu/eglash/pdi/fall2016/readings/Lyles%20-%20Generative%20Contexts%20%28Final%29.pdf

Niaros, Vasileios, 2016. Making (in) the Smart City: Urban Makerspaces for Commons-Based Peer Production in Innovation, Education and Community-Building. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Social Sciences, Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance. Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia. https://digi.lib.ttu.ee/i/?5405

Searle, Kristin A., 2016. Culturally responsive computing for American Indian youth: Making activities with electronic textiles in the native studies classroom. Doctoral dissertation. Education and Anthropology. University of Pennsylvania, USA. http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI10124633/

Shin, Myunghwan, 2016. A makerspace for all: Youth learning, identity, and design in a community-based makerspace. Doctoral dissertation. Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education. Michigan State University, USA.

Somerville, Rachel E., 2016. Making In Education: A Study Of Teachers Decisions To Participate In Professional Development, Their Emerging Understandings Of Making, And Teacher Plans For Implementation. Doctoral dissertation. Education, Educational Leadership. University of California, Davis, USA.

Toombs, Austin Lewis, 2016. Care and the Construction of Hacker Identities, Communities and Society. Doctoral dissertation. School of Informatics and Computing. Indiana University, USA. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20880

Weichel, Christian, 2016. Mixed physical and virtual design environments for digital fabrication. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Science and Technology, School of Computing & Communications. Lancaster University, UK. http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/77782/

Master’s theses: Making and makerspaces, digital fabrication, 3D printing…

Nunez, Joseph Gabriel, 2010. Prefab the FabLab: Rethinking the habitability of a fabrication lab by including fixture-based components. Master’s thesis. Architecture Studies, Department of Architecture. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/59201

Heltzel-Drake, Ryan, 2012. Technocraft: Community Fabrication in Rainier Beach. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Washington, USA. https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/21893

Lumans, Christine Zinta, 2014. Printable products: Investigating three-dimensional printing in the design process of interior products. Master’s thesis. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA. https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/listing.aspx?id=16191

Patokorpi, Lassi, 2014. The Art and Craft of the Machine: 3D Printing, the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Democratization of Art. Master’s thesis, English Philology. School of Language, Translation and Literary Studies. University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland. https://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/95658/GRADU-1402572504.pdf

Sherrill, John T., 2014. Makers: Technical Communication in Post-Industrial Participatory Communities. Master’s thesis. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/open_access_theses/378/

Torretta, Nicholas, 2014. A journey through alternative ways of living. Master’s thesis. Department of Design, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/14003

Weinmann, Julian, 2014. Makerspaces in the university community. Master’s thesis. Institute of Product Development. Technische Universität München, Germany. https://web.stanford.edu/group/design_education/wikiupload/0/0a/Weinmann_Masters_Thesis.pdf

Dickerson, Kathryn, 2015. The Innovation Makerspace: Geographies of Digital Fabrication Innovation in Greater New York City. Master’s thesis. Geography, School of Arts and Sciences, Hunter College. The City University of New York, US. http://academicworks.cuny.edu/hc_sas_etds/8/

Faller, Nicholas L., 2015. Networks of Making. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Washington, USA. http://hdl.handle.net/1773/35068

Jobse, Koert, 2015. Catching trains of thought: UX guidelines for facilitating knowledge exchange between makers. Master’s thesis. Department of Design, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/19027

Morimoto, Taro, 2015. Pelori – Designing a digital service for maker projects through research. Master’s thesis. Department of Media, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/18095

Oates, Amy, 2015. Evidences of Learning in an Art Museum Makerspace. Master’s thesis. Museology. University of Washington, USA. https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/33432

Schnedeker, Marya, 2015. An Exploration of Introductory Training Experiences in 3D Design and 3D Printing. Master’s thesis. Human Factors. Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA.

Durant, Kathryn M., 2016. The maker movement and 3D printing: A critique. Master’s thesis. Sociology. San Diego State University, USA.

Fornasini, Giacomo, 2016. Investigation into the influence of build parameters on failure of 3D printed parts. Master’s thesis. Mechanical Engineering Department. University of Maryland, USA. http://drum.lib.umd.edu/handle/1903/18836

Hector, Philip, 2016. Trojan Horse: Re-framing sustainable practices as “design support” to attract new practitioners. Master’s thesis. Department of Design, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/23580

Trashlab (repair café)

Hooray! Trashlab is back! This time in Vallila.

What is Trashlab? Trashlab is…

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… helping others to fix their broken things …

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…getting your hands dirty…

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…breaking broken things to fix them…

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…needing tape, needing glue…

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…needing more light…

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…needing fuel…

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…giving up with some things…

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…succeeding with others.

Trashlab began in 2012 as an initiative by people from Pixelache and several departments in Aalto University in Helsinki: an art-design-recycling-trash collaborative, peer-learning experiment, combined with a more philosophical, critical, towards-the-academic look at waste and material culture (i.e. the Talking Trashlab lecture series hosted in Media Factory).
In 2013 Trashlab became a regular monthly repair event in different locations around the city, and in 2014, it found a home every month in Helsinki city centre’s municipal library makerspace Kaupunkiverstas (then in Lasipalatsi). In 2015 the group began to alternate the repair events with the original artistic and critical explorations – again in different locations but often in Sankariliiga makerspace in Hermanni. I especially enjoyed the casting workshop using reclaimed aluminium.

Today was the first event in 2016, and the first repair event for a few months. Two bikes, a child’s toy, a golf putt device-thing, a chair seat needing new fabric, a computer adaptor, a jacket zip, a dish, clothes with holes. I didn’t bring anything to fix, but I like to go just to socialize.

And I like taking pictures of people’s hands making and doing. They’re so beautiful.

Call for participation: papers and presentations for Urban Studies Days 2016

Calling all urban studies researchers, urban activists, grassroots organizers, researcher-activists, activist-organizers!

We invite you to contribute to a workshop we will be holding as part of the Urban Studies Days 2016 in Helsinki 28-29.4.2016.

Contributions from people involved in grassroots initiatives are particularly welcome. To join the conversation, please send a few lines (no more than 350 words ideally) to us about what you are or have been doing and how your experiences relate to the problems of producing knowledge as part of DIY (do-it-yourself) work. We do not expect presentations to be polished academic papers – though they can be – the important thing is to share ideas and experiences. The deadline is 1.3.2016 (but this may be extended as the process has been a little delayed).

Is this a revolution? Problems in doing research on grassroots change-making

This workshop explores how activist contributions to the collective good are framed and presented, and what political implications this has. Does the way urban change-makers frame what they are doing make a difference to how they are received? And what about those doing research: how could we best engage in these delicate yet potentially consequential processes? And are these distinctions even valid?

The session is inspired by design researcher Ezio Manzini who writes that we may be living in a period not only of transition but of epistemological and socio-technical revolution (Design, When Everybody Designs 2015). He sees the dynamics of DIY-inspired urban change-making as a fundamental element of this ongoing but uncertain process. In this spirit, the workshop considers grassroots activism as a collective effort to combine theoretical and practical knowledge and address both local and global troubles simultaneously, that is, as an attempt to design better futures.

We invite both empirical and conceptual papers that engage with the problems of producing knowledge within and about urban activism. Almost everything about it is experimental in some way – or claims to be – which makes conveying its political implications very hard to do without falling into either wishful romanticism or incurious dismissal.

We welcome papers in any fields and any domains that tackle the problems of reporting on grassroots urbanism and the new knowledge it creates, whether scholars struggling to demonstrate the value of activist knowledge or activists who fear their contribution does not add up to policy ‘evidence’.

Convenors,
Eeva Berglund, docent environmental policy and urban studies, University of Helsinki
Cindy Kohtala, PhD candidate, Aalto University, Sustainable Design. Contact cindy [dot] kohtala [at] aalto [dot] fi

Helsinki’s future, and my Cunning Plan

It appears increasingly inevitable that Helsinki will get a Guggenheim. This will indubitably cannibalize visitors from Kiasma and Ateneum.

However! In using my skills in foresight, exhibiting some Positive Thinking, I have developed a Cunning Plan: how to Turn Threats Into Opportunities. I welcome your own fine suggestions!

1. When Kiasma becomes bereft of art consumers, it could be turned into an H&M flagship store.
This in turn will divert traffic away from Forum and Aleksi, but this too is an Opportunity, as this traffic is mainly young people with no money. The empty retail footprint in Forum can house the surely-by-then-nearly-defunct Stockmann’s. The spaces along Aleksi can be turned into luxury mini-hotels for the Guggenheim visitors, who will more easily be able to Segue from their hotels to the charming little Stockmann boutique and the Louis Vuitton shop.
The current Stockmann building, in turn, can be converted into premium co-working space for the creative and high tech industries. The high rents will push micro-entrepreneurs and local creatives further into the suburbs and drafty abandoned factories, where they belong. This will provide a more stable and sustainable platform for Helsinki’s Creative Capital (i.e. Google).

2. Ateneum would make a fine home for non-indigenous fast food chains: Starbucks on the main floor, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut (and more!) on the top level.
The current gift shop could be a special Helsinki area, where the burgers purveyed are named after the queens of Helsinki dining and lingering, which of course will have died long ago: Elite, Lehtovaara, Savoy, Sea Horse, Kolme Kruunua, Ekberg’s.
This will obviously divert all business from the existing restaurants and bars along Mikonkatu and Kaisaniemenkatu. This too is an Opportunity, as it will help rid the city centre of those pesky local resident pedestrians – not to mention the over-supply of hairdressers, who tend to under-report their taxable earnings rather than moving it offshore to the Caymans as is normal. The summer terrace activity will move to the cruise ships, where it belongs. The resulting empty space can be converted into luxury flats for the well-heeled international student body, who will be attending the private educational institutes run by foreign corporations – institutes that will reside in the buildings formerly housing the now-extinct University of Helsinki.

In this, it is important to note that we must strike our own path! We do not wish to imitate others! Especially not southern European capitals, with their charming streets full of locally owned and operating bakers, butchers, green-grocers and flower shops – city squares full of laughing, playing children – but rather set our own standards (i.e. that of globalization). In this, we see there are no alternatives.

For happier stories, please see our book Changing Helsinki? Eleven Views on a City Unfolding (Nemo, 2015). Eds. Eeva Berglund and Cindy Kohtala, in Finnish, Swedish and English.

The male gaze is alive and well in 3D printing

Can someone please enlighten me?

How are these things different?

This:

sexist car ad lexus

[source: http://autoshite.com/topic/18285-chodvertising-show-me-the-good-stuff/page-2]

or this:

sexist mercedessllow

[source: http://autoshite.com/topic/18285-chodvertising-show-me-the-good-stuff/page-2]

or this:

sexist car ad

[source: http://jalopnik.com/the-ten-most-sexist-car-ads-of-all-time-510255179]

different from this:

3Dprinting girl March2015

or this:

3Dprinting figure March 2015

or this:

colorfabb

or this:

2015.03.17 AdultFilmStar 3D print

Am I being oversensitive? (!!?)

I definitely do not see gender stereotyping or sexism problems on the ground, in the field, in Fab Labs or makerspaces (in northern Europe), thankfully.

But it seems that 3D printer developers are little boys who need to grow up fast and join the 21st century. At least market your tech and materials in a more mature and sensitive manner, please. There is far too much misogyny and violence against women in the world already.

If Fab Labs really are ungendered places, let’s keep them that way – a place where women don’t have to feel they are placed in a certain type of role. Thank you.

 

environmental studies on Additive Manufacturing III

I’ve been away from the blog for a while (too long) while I’ve been writing and revising journal papers. But as this is such a useful way to compile thoughts, references and discourses, here I am again with another review of additive manufacturing studies.

(Previous compilations are here and here.)

I revisited this 2009 report on AM:

Roadmap for Additive Manufacturing: Identifying the Future of Freeform Processing

3d-printing-review.com/roadmap-for-additive-manufacturing-identifying-the-future-of-freeform-processing/

It’s certainly geared to distributed manufacturing rather than personal fabrication, but in this ‘New Industrial Revolution’ we seem bent upon achieving, a lot of these impacts and benefits apply to both scales.

Chapter 8 in the report is called Energy and Sustainability:

“There are a number of clear, potential benefits to the adoption of AM for part production, which could be driven by the sustainability agenda. These include:

  1. More efficient use of raw materials in powder/liquid form by displacing machining which uses solid billets
  2. Displacing of energy-inefficient manufacturing processes such as casting and CNC machining with eradication of cutting fluids and chips
  3. Ability to eliminate fixed asset tooling, allowing for manufacture at any geographic location such as next to the customer, reducing transportation costs within the supply chain and associated carbon emissions
  4. Lighter weight parts, which when used in transport products such as aircraft increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions
  5. Ability to manufacture optimally designed components that are in themselves more efficient than conventionally manufactured components by incorporating conformal cooling and heating channels, gas flow paths, etc.” (page 28)

They also write:

“In principle, some AM processes (such as DMLS, SLM and possibly EBM) use less energy per unit volume of material in the final part than alternative manufacturing processes such as die casting or CNC machining. This appears to have a number of economical and environmental (coupled) benefits. However, very little is known about the waste streams associated with different AM processes. It is known that some polymeric AM processes have very high waste streams (e.g., SLS – powder refresh, FDM/OBJET/SLA – support structure materials). We also know that many metallic processes require significant levels of post-process heat treatment to reduce residual stresses, in addition to considerable energy loss from highly inefficient laser systems and optical tracks. These are waste streams, as they add nothing to the part. Moreover, AM machines are not designed to be efficient. Thermal management is often poor and energy loss is considerable.” (page 29)

A critical issue that “AM can greatly contribute to addressing is the reuse or remanufacturing of parts or products. (page 30)

But – as has been said here again and again – these authors say there needs to be more research and better models for analysis, development of sustainable materials, development of science-based sustainable product design principles.

“Next-generation AM processes must fully demonstrate their incorporation of sustainability principles including energy efficiency and the following major sustainability targets/goals:

  • Reduced manufacturing costs, material and energy use, industrial waste, toxic and hazardous materials and adverse environmental effects;
  • Improved personnel health, safety and security in AM processes and use of products made by AM; and
  • Demonstrated reparability, reusability, recoverability, recyclability and disposability of products produced from AM.” (page 30)

I sense the third one will experience the most roadbumps in this roadmap.

(As an aside, this report was produced at the University of Texas at Austin, who hosts the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium, whose Proceedings in turn are much cited.)

°°°

Faludi, J., Bayley, C., Bhogal, S., Iribarne, M., 2015. Comparing environmental impacts of additive manufacturing vs traditional machining via life-cycle assessment. Rapid Prototyping Journal 21 (1), 14–33.

www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/RPJ-07-2013-0067

This brand-spanking new study came to my attention because the first author is a buddy in the o2 global network. In this paper, the team was studying “the environmental impacts of two additive manufacturing machines to a traditional computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine to determine which method is the most sustainable”.

I like how they word the target and target audience of the paper:

“The goal of this research was to conduct a comprehensive comparison across all major sources of ecological impacts (energy use, waste, manufacturing of the tools themselves, etc.) and all major types of impacts (climate change, toxicity, land use, etc.) so that prototypers and job shop owners can make an informed decision about which technology to purchase or use, and so the makers of 3D printers can understand their priorities for improving environmental impacts.” (By 3D printers here we are talking about FDM and inkjet machines printing in plastic.)

Here the utilization of the machines stood out as most important: if the printers were used constantly or used only occasionally and sitting around on stand-by for long periods of time. “Higher utilization both reduces idling energy use and amortizes the embodied impacts of each machine.” The authors suggest that “the best strategy for sustainable prototyping is to share tools, to have the fewest number of machines running the most jobs each.”

The FDM printers that sit in most Fab Labs seem relatively benign according to this study, especially if they are TURNED OFF when not in use. We’ll see below that the materials they use also seem relatively good, especially in comparison to other AM materials for other processes. But then we see the quote above about material efficiency, where a key objective in the AM roadmap would be “more efficient use of raw materials in powder/liquid form by displacing machining which uses solid billets”. This seems to be the trend – more desktop 3D printers being developed are more about powders than filaments. But keep in mind what Faludi et al. report in this study, that the claims about waste reduction and material efficiency when comparing AM to conventional manufacturing are often overblown because the gains are outweighed by the impacts related to energy (including embodied energy). In short, grab those environmental benefits where you can, but really put your efforts to where the real impacts are. Here, don’t get a printer in-house until you have enough work to keep it running efficiently.

°°°

Short, D.B., Sirinterlikci, A., Badger, P., Artieri, B., 2015. Environmental, health, and safety issues in rapid prototyping. Rapid Prototyping Journal 21 (1), 105–110.

www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/RPJ-11-2012-0111

This article is in the same journal issue as the one above; it focuses especially on health and safety issues in rapid prototyping. One gets the picture that a rapid prototyping facility in an industrial context would probably have a lot of these issues in hand, such as the ventilation called for, but even this is not certain. In Fab Labs and makerspaces this is rare.

According to the authors,

“The modeling materials for the FDM systems are all inert, nontoxic materials developed from a range of commercially available thermoplastics and waxes. However, it is important not to exceed melting temperature recommendations to avoid the fumes produced during processing. They may cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. Moreover post-processing operations such as grinding, sanding or sawing can produce dust, which may present an explosion or respiratory hazard.” So not a giant worry, but SLA machines and other technologies are beginning to enter Fab Labs at a rapid pace and that is another potential can of worms.

And then there are the waste management problems – especially through to the end of the life cycle when the product / material is downstream. What happens then? Seems it’s time these kinds of issues were taken up in the maker community. It wouldn’t take much to start compiling and distributing Health, Safety and Environment watchlists for these small-scale prototyping environments. Put a few posters up. Distribute the MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets). Open a window. That kind of thing.

°°°

Kellens, K., Renaldi, R., Dewulf, W., Kruth, J., Duflou, J.R., 2014. Environmental impact modeling of selective laser sintering processes. Rapid Prototyping Journal 20 (6), 459–470.

www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/RPJ-02-2013-0018

In this paper, based on LCI data, “parametric process models are developed allowing to estimate the environmental impact of the manufacturing stage of SLS parts”. The hope is that such work can improve future design-for-SLS processes, especially with regards to reducing the environmental impacts of waste materials and electricity consumption – but not just the design of 3D printed products, also the design of the equipment itself.

°°°

The importance of considering environmental impact in the design stage is also considered in this article:

Le Bourhis, F., Kerbrat, O., Dembinski, L., Hascoet, J., Mognol, P., 2014. Predictive model for environmental assessment in additive manufacturing process. Procedia CIRP 15, 26–31.

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212827114004545

These authors emphasize how Design for Additive Manufacturing can optimize for the specifics of AM processes (such as the ability to produce complex shapes), and – at least in their analysis and system boundaries – electricity consumption is not always the most impactful factor compared to other flows (powders and fluids, in the metal deposition process they studied).

Yes, on the surface that might seem to conflict with what Faludi et al. conclude above, but in these studies the system boundaries are much smaller and they are concentrating only on the manufacturing stage in order to inform part and process design.

°

Most of the same authors above also published this article:

Le Bourhis, F., Kerbrat, O., Hascoet, J., Mognol, P., 2013. Sustainable manufacturing: evaluation and modeling of environmental impacts in additive manufacturing. The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology 69 (9-12), 1927–1939.

link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00170-013-5151-2

Here they tried out a couple of different ways to produce a part while doing the environmental evaluation (also considering energy consumption and material flows).

°°°

Let’s also put this article in the ‘optimizing design’ section:

Ratnadeep, P., Anand, S., 2012. Process energy analysis and optimization in selective laser sintering. Journal of Manufacturing Systems 31 (4), 429-437.

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278612512000453

If you are interested in “a methodology to calculate the laser energy of a part manufactured in the SLS process and to correlate the energy to the part geometry, slice thickness and part orientation”, then check out this article. The lit review section also has heaps more citations to energy studies in additive manufacturing.

°°°

And another well-cited energy study here:

Sreenivasan, R., Goel, A., Bourell, D.A., 2010. Sustainability issues in laser-based additive manufacturing. Physics Procedia 5, 8190.

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187538921000550X

Let’s let the authors tell us what they were doing:

“The goal is to reduce energy consumption in SLS of non-polymeric materials. The approach was to mix a transient binder with the material, to create an SLS green part, to convert the binder, and then to remove the open, connected porosity and to densify the part by chemical deposition at room temperature within the pore network.”

I’m just going to skip over that level of detail. Suffice to say that – given how many researchers use the Eco-indicators – let’s be happy that so much work is *also* done developing these evaluation tools and metrics.

°°°

ADDED Feb 2015:

Almost forgot this. Must be because it was sitting right in front of me on my desk.

Baumers, M., Tuck, C., Wildman, R., Ashcroft, I., Rosamond, E., Hague, R., 2013. Transparency Built-In. Journal of Industrial Ecology 17, 418–431.

onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00512.x/abstract

This nicely dramatic title for an academic paper comes from the authors’ description of AM as inherently transparent: it’s a “one-stop” manufacturing process, so even for a complex design there’s no need for additional steps like making moulds or dies or other tooling. Sometimes just some finishing steps. This makes measuring the energy flows in production a lot easier, and in fact, it seems considering cost efficiency when planning AM builds and production processes “is likely to lead to the secondary effect of minimizing process energy consumption”. This doesn’t necessarily happen in conventional manufacturing, so immediately we see sustainability opportunities. In this study the authors present a methodology for “design for energy minimization”: a tool to estimate process energy flows as well as costs, using Direct Metal Laser Sintering experiments to test it.

°°°

Then there is the JM Pearce gang, who are quite prolific. Here are four articles, but there are more out there.

Krieger, M.A., Mulder, M.L., Glover, A.G., Pearce, J.M., 2014. Life cycle analysis of distributed recycling of post-consumer high density polyethylene for 3-D printing filament. Journal of Cleaner Production 70, 90–96.

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652614001504

This study promotes not only distributed production but distributed recycling: the authors claim that there are benefits to actors producing their own printer filaments from post-consumer plastics with their own low-cost (and open source, of course) shredding-extruding systems compared to a centralized recycling system. This is especially in areas where the population is not so dense, since recycling collecting and transport is impactful. I’m not going to dig into their LCA procedures to find holes at this point; someone else can do that. I’m more interested in what these researchers want to promote.

Last year I was talking to a Fab Lab manager who also works with an industrial filament manufacturer, and she was sceptical about these homegrown ‘recycle-bots’. She said it’s challenging enough to make consistent-quality filament that works without glitch in your printer at the commercial scale – how is that possible with these grassroots systems? Seems to me it would take a level of expertise that is itself not widely distributed.

Anyway, the paper presents some interesting scenarios and is quite a new take on this New Industrial Revolution the maker movement is supposed to represent – where a cottage industry could develop around the collection and reprocessing of plastic waste into, for example, spare parts and other Useful Things. I seem to remember a scene like that in Ian McDonald’s Brasyl, and these authors do mention some initiatives in the global South, but they also intend it to develop and benefit regions in the North.

°

Baechler, C., DeVuono, J., Pearce, J.M., 2013. Distributed recycling of waste polymer into RepRap feedstock. Rapid Prototyping Journal 19 (2), 118-125.

www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/13552541311302978

In this earlier paper, a Pearce crew report on the filament quality they made in the RecycleBot: “Filament was successfully extruded at an average rate of 90 mm/min and used to print parts. The filament averaged 2.805 mm diameter with 87 per cent of samples between 2.540 mm and 3.081 mm.” The problems are quite well documented too, as well as the design of the device itself. You could get your hands on a windshield wiper motor and the other components and make your own.

°

Kreiger, M., Pearce, J.M., 2013. Environmental Life Cycle Analysis of Distributed Three-Dimensional Printing and Conventional Manufacturing of Polymer Products. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 1, 1511–1519.

pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/sc400093k

“This study evaluates the potential of using a distributed network of 3D printers to produce three types of plastic components and products. A preliminary life cycle analysis (LCA) of energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is performed for distributed manufacturing using low-cost open-source 3D printers and compared to conventional manufacturing overseas with shipping.” The researchers used a RepRap printer, calculations for both PLA and ABS, as well as for conventional electricity and power from a solar photovoltaic source. The objects were a toy (a polymer block fabbed locally vs a wooden block made in and shipped from Switzerland); a water spout (a locally fabbed spout that is intended to fit onto an existed, reused, 2L bottle vs an entire watering can made in China); and a citrus juicer.

The authors have a number of ‘tips’ for making distributed manufacturing of this type even more sustainable, such as using solar PV systems, controlling temperatures during printing to enhance energy efficiency and taking recycled filaments more prominently into use. PLA is seen to have benefits over ABS, being a bio-based polymer and needing lower temperatures in printing, hence affecting energy consumption. And using a local 3D printer means you can control the design (and fill) of the product, optimizing the use of material.

Nevertheless, some of us have discussed the article and agree that the choice of objects is a bit odd and we wonder about the comparability of the mass manufactured choice vs the fabbed object.

Anyway here again we have the clear promotion of open hardware, which is not so common as a meta-level agenda in AM studies.

°

Wittbrodt, B. T., Glover, A. G., Laureto, J., Anzalone, G. C., Oppliger, D., Irwin, J. L., Pearce, J. M., 2013. Life-cycle economic analysis of distributed manufacturing with open-source 3-D printers. Mechatronics 23 (6), 713−726.

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0957415813001153 

And there we have it right in the title: open source 3D printers. This is published as a Technical Note in this journal and is described as a “life-cycle economic analysis (LCEA) of RepRap technology for an average US household”. They took 20 designs from Thingiverse and after some numerical wizardry concluded that the household in question could save hundreds to thousands of dollars a year if they printed this stuff (a razor, a spoon rest, a phone dock, a phone case, shower curtain rings etc etc) instead of buying it. Again it is interesting to read for the plethora of positive scenarios they spin about distributed open source 3D printers, if not the results of the study itself.

°°°

Tabone, M. D., Cregg, J. J., Beckman, E. J., Landis, A. E., 2010. Sustainability metrics: life cycle assessment and green design in polymers. Environmental Science & Technology 44 (21), 8264−8269.

pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es101640n

This is not about Additive Manufacturing per se, rather polymers, but it’s worth a check to see a summary of 12 polymers and the authors’ summaries of them – regarding their environmental impact (via LCA) and compliance with “green design principles” (12 Principles of Green Chemistry and 12 Principles of Green Engineering).

For instance, for the biopolymers they studied, the materials’ production resulted “in the highest impact in 5 of the 10 categories: ozone depletion, acidification, eutrophication, carcinogens, and ecotoxicity”. The biopolymers also “adhere well to several green design principles: the use of renewable and regional resources, low emissions of carcinogens, and low emissions of particulates”. However some of the fossil-fuel-feedstock polymers fared surprisingly well compared to the bio-based materials: “Polyolefins (PP, LDPE, HDPE) rank 1, 2, and 3 in the LCA rankings. Complex polymers, such as PET, PVC, and PC place at the bottom of both ranking systems.” It is therefore not a foregone conclusion that using PLA in your printer is clearly the environmental choice, due to the problems with how it’s produced.

As we saw above with the study on “distributed recycling”, maybe makers should also get involved in the sustainable ‘growing’ and production of their own biobased plastics, avoiding petroleum fertilizers. Could give whole new meaning to being “off-grid”. We could set up a village network. I’ll grow the potatoes for people food and use the waste to make PLA, and I’ll trade you a bundle of filaments for some cloth that someone has woven from linen – derived from the flax field next door. I guess these fields will be on the roofs of our blocks of flats / apartment buildings. And, depending on how much the sea level has risen by then, it’s possible that I have to transport that filament to you by boat. Luckily I live on the third floor of my building.

°°°°°

Facets of the Maker Movement: repair, fix and hack

When I tell people I’m researching environmental issues in Fab Labs, there is often a mysterious response: “are you being ironic?” Um, no… why?

I’m not sure I understand this reaction. Is it because people see Fab Labs as just obsessed with gadgets, technology driven, focused only on pumping out plastic Yodas and weird electronic contrivances? Well, that is certainly a visible part of makerspaces, and we’d be right to start examining what we are doing in Fab Labs and why. I know I’m not the only one who’d like to see a way to pop that plastic blob that didn’t work back into an extruder, make a new filament out of it, and feed it back into the printer. If I were a coder I’d come up with a solution that could scan a piece of ply or acrylic that has bits laser cut out of it – already while it is sitting in the laser cutter – and then help me plan a new cut so any small pieces I need can come from the parts that will otherwise go to waste. Maybe this already exists somewhere.

But back to my question: what are you comparing, exactly, if it becomes “ironic” to talk about environmentally-conscious making, especially considering the extreme low volumes of material flow in and out of makerspaces? So desktop 3D printers tend to produce a lot of plastic waste, but does focusing on that allow us to ignore the amount of crap that gathers dust on shelves in discount stores, “dollar stores”, or “pound-saver” or “euro-saver” shops? Or consumer products that end up in landfill – whether it is post-consumer waste or pre-consumer waste that never even gets to the shops? What if the comparison is rather the choice between experimenting with fabrication in a makerspace and spending all day in a shopping mall / shopping centre (to which you drove in your private car, of course)? Or doing a workshop in a Fab Lab where you learn to make your own mobile phone, maybe instead of buying a new one? These comparisons are not entirely fair either, but sometimes I get the impression that some believe makerspaces will take people away from making things with their hands. 3D printing is wasteful because people will just go crazy and print out all kinds of plastic rubbish in some experimental frenzy, just because they can – instead of what – their usual routine of sitting by the fire and carving their own cutlery? Yeah, right. I do still contend that the enemy of DIY and handcraft is not digital fabrication but rather the anonymity and cheap prices of mass produced products – and that has been the case for more than one hundred years. Know thine enemy.

So isn’t the route to happiness for all our camps to support handcraft and DIY via makerspaces as an alternative to consumerism and shopping? And to promote craft and artisan skills in the makerspace alongside the digital fabrication skills? This is already happening, partly via the repair movement, which I will get to in a minute. But before I do, let’s get back to this question of irony, attitudes to environmental sustainability, and makers’ and designers’ motivations.

A rather similar topic is “Sustainable Fashion”, which a lot of my colleagues are active in. They also have to always justify this expression and nod their heads: “Oh, yes, yes, what an oxymoron, ‘sustainable’ and ‘fashion’ just don’t go together, yes, yes.” Meanwhile, they have a more accurate and profound understanding of the term ‘fashion’ and its role as a cultural and social phenomenon – which differs from our understanding of ‘fad’. And they know their enemy is “fast fashion” in particular and not the entirety of the thousands of years of human history related to how we chose to clothe ourselves, represent our identities, our cultures, our social class in apparel.

Let’s continue and imagine that our knee-jerk reaction is still to assume that ‘fashion’ just means trendy, faddish, short-term clothes buying and disposal. Clearly unsustainable, right? Well – doesn’t that make it even more important that we figure out how to make it more sustainable? If it is an oxymoron, or an ironic statement, why does it mean something not worth doing?

If Fab Labs are just techy playgrounds and a breeding ground for 3D printers and their reckless offspring, and considering how fast makerspaces are spreading, the DIY and maker movement getting more media attention, and how quickly digital fabrication technologies are developing, shouldn’t we study the environmental issues in making sooner rather than later?

I follow quite a few of the usual maker suspects on Twitter, and particularly the commercial entities’ tweets tend to confirm that tech driven image of the maker movement. The incessant focus on 3D printing in the mass media doesn’t help. What is easily forgotten, though, is why people get into making in the first place: it is often because they are seeking an alternative to mass production and consumerism – and often this is intertwined with environmental consciousness. Click on this link and see how the P2P Foundation defines the Maker Movement. See? Did that surprise you? Did you know that it is “about reusing and repairing objects, rather than discarding them to buy more”? And now do you understand why I find it puzzling that “environment” and “Fab Lab” should be seen as an oxymoron? A Fab Lab might not precisely be “a philosophical idea about what ownership really is”, but it is definitely about giving people the means of developing – and understanding – their own tech rather than just giving them tech. (See Gershenfeld’s book Fab.)

This ethos of the maker movement seems easily lost in the hullabaloo around additive manufacturing, so some writers do feel the need to remind us:

We Need a Fixer (Not Just a Maker) Movement, in Wired

Design for repair: empowering consumers to fix the future, in The Guardian

When recycling is the second-best option, on BBC.

Repair events are spreading from space to space and city to city, and they are notable because they attract a much wider audience than just the hardcore makers and hackers. Protospace in Calgary offered repair events after the city’s big floods last year so people could salvage their electronics. (I’m looking forward to visiting Protospace next month.)

Helsinki’s Trashlab offers a repair event every month in collaboration with the city library, and this is also attracting larger and larger crowds and a lot of media attention. Today, in fact it will be on a consumer programme on TV (they were filming last week) – later available on Areena (in Finnish, viewable only in Finland). So far I have only had clothes to fix, something I could also do at home, but I bring them to Trashlab because it’s much more fun to darn socks when you can chat to friends. Such activity does not always need digital fabrication equipment but sometimes it might come in handy if one needs to make a spare part or component that is trickier to do by hand or has tolerances best met with digital help.

In Fixing therefore I argue we see all kinds of benefits and issues in the maker movement come together: the problems with consumer products and their planned obsolescence, the value of a shared makerspace where people can come together to socialize while learning something, and the advantages of combining digital fabrication capability with electronics knowledge with hand skills. Most importantly, this is how these heroes choose to spend their time. So what if it is quicker to just buy another replacement product? It is so much more rewarding for the fixer to help someone with their broken product, and test their own skills, and for the fixee to learn how something can be repaired and be able to keep what may be a treasured object. And I believe this time is the most valuable currency. It may even turn out to be insurance against the rebound effect in our quest to dematerialize our economies.