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.

von Busch, Otto, 2008. Fashion-able: Hacktivism and Engaged Fashion Design. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, School of Design and Crafts, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

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.

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.

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.

Sinclair, Matthew, 2012. The specification of a consumer design toolkit to support personalised production via additive manufacturing. Doctoral dissertation. Design School. Loughborough University, UK.

Dexter, Matt, 2014. Open Design and Medical Products. Doctoral dissertation. Sheffield Hallam University, UK.

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.

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.

Kyriakou, Harris, 2016. Collective Innovation: Novelty, Reuse and their Interplay. Doctoral dissertation. Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA.

Bakırlıoğlu, Yekta, 2017. Open Design for Product/Part Longevity: Research through Co-designing with a Focus on Small Kitchen Appliances. Doctoral dissertation. Industrial Design Department, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.

Rozas, David, 2017. Self-organisation in commons-based peer production: Drupal – “the drop is always moving”. University of Surrey, Guildford, UK. 

Boisseau, Étienne, 2017. Open-Design: Modeling the open design process in the development of tangible products. Doctoral dissertation. Paris Institute of Technology, l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers.

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.

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.

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.

Wong, Garry Chun Yang, 2011. Open Source Hardware: The history, issues, and impact on digital humanities. Humanities Computing. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

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.

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.

Gardner, Alec J., 2013. The Architecture of Mass Collaboration: How Open Source Commoning Will Change Everything. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Cincinnati, USA.

Bagiński, Jan, 2014. Budynek wielorodzinny otwartego kodu [Open Source Housing]. Master’s thesis (Polish). Architecture and Urban Planning. Warsaw University of Technology, Poland.

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.

Harrison, Peter Hugh, 2017. The participatory design of a human-powered shredder for urban farmers in Soweto. Thesis for Master’s of Technology Industrial Design. University of Johannesburg. Available on ResearchGate:

Doctoral Dissertations: Making and makerspaces, maker culture, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

Applin, Sally A., 2016. Disrupting Silicon Valley Dreams: Adaptations through Making, Being, and Branding. Doctoral dissertation. School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, UK.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kyriakou, Harris, 2016. Collective Innovation: Novelty, Reuse and their Interplay. Doctoral Dissertation. Faculty of the Stevens Institute of Technology Hoboken, NJ, USA.

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.

Ramanauskaitė, Eglė, 2016. Technarium Hackerspace: Community-Enabled Informal Learning in Science and Technology. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Education, Vilnius University, Lithuania.

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.

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.

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.

Foster, Ellen, 2017. Making Cultures: Politics of Inclusion, Accessibility, and Empowerment at the Margins of the Maker Movement. Doctoral dissertation. Science & Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, US.

Moilanen, Jarkko, 2017. 3D Printing Focused Peer Production: Revolution in design, development and manufacturing. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Communication Sciences, University of Tampere, Finland.

Boeva, Yana, 2018. Break, Make, Retake: Interrogating the Social and Historical Dimensions of Making as a Design Practice. Doctoral dissertation. Science & Technology Studies, York University, Canada.

Cuartielles, David, 2018. Platform Design: Creating Meaningful Toolboxes When People Meet. Doctoral Dissertation. Faculty of Culture and Society, School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University, Sweden. 

Mazzilli-Daechsel, Stefano, 2018. Invention and Resistance: FabLabs against Proletarianization. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis. University of Kent, Universität Hamburg.

Smith, Thomas SJ, 2018. Material geographies of the maker movement: Community workshops and the making of sustainability in Edinburgh, Scotland. Doctoral dissertation. University of St Andrews, Scotland.

Braybrooke, Kaitlyn, 2019. Hacking the museum? Collections makerspaces and power in London cultural institutions. Doctoral thesis (PhD). University of Sussex, School of Media, Film and Music. 

Krebs, Vaughn M., 2019. Making Experts: An Ethnographic Study of “Makers” in FabLabs in Japan. Doctoral dissertation. University of Kentucky, Department of Anthropology Theses and Dissertations–Anthropology

Torres, Cesar Armando, 2019. Hybrid Aesthetics: Briding Material Practices and Digital Fabrication through Computational Crafting Proxies. Doctoral dissertation. University of California, Berkeley, USA.

Menichinelli, Massimo, 2020. Open and collaborative design processes: Meta-Design, ontologies and platforms within the Maker Movement. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Media, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Espoo, Finland.

Balamir, Selçuk, 2021. Unsustaining the commodity-machine: Commoning practices in postcapitalist design. Doctoral dissertation. University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis. 

Priavolou, Christina, 2021. Towards a Convivial Built Environment: Developing an Open Construction Systems Framework. Doctoral dissertation. Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia.

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.

Heltzel-Drake, Ryan, 2012. Technocraft: Community Fabrication in Rainier Beach. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Washington, USA.

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.

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.

Sherrill, John T., 2014. Makers: Technical Communication in Post-Industrial Participatory Communities. Master’s thesis. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.

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.

Weinmann, Julian, 2014. Makerspaces in the university community. Master’s thesis. Institute of Product Development. Technische Universität München, Germany.

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.

Faller, Nicholas L., 2015. Networks of Making. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Washington, USA.

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.

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.

Oates, Amy, 2015. Evidences of Learning in an Art Museum Makerspace. Master’s thesis. Museology. University of Washington, USA.

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.

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.

Sturmlehner, Marlene, 2017. Entrepreneurship education in action: How FabLabs influence entrepreneurial intention. Master’s thesis. Universität Linz, Faculty of Social Sciences, Economics and Business, Institut für Innovationsmanagement.

Lachner, Valentina, 2018. The Sweater Work / Shop. Master’s thesis. Product and Spatial Design Master’s Programme, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Espoo, Finland.

Sherer, Samantha, 2018. Objects that Create Community: Effects of 3D Printing and Distributed Manufacturing beyond Circular Economy. Master’s thesis. Interdisciplinary Art Media and Design, OCAD University, Canada.

Sirelä, Minni-Maaria, 2018. Makeable design: Designing and sharing DIY furniture. Master’s thesis. School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland.

Adeegbe, Joshua Muyiwa, 2019. A System Supporting Analysis of Prototyping in Fab Lab Education. Master’s Thesis. University of Oulu, Degree Programme in Computer Science and Engineering.

Park, Goeun, 2019. Rethinking social acceptance of renewable energy. Master’s thesis. Creative Sustainability Master’s Programme, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Espoo, Finland.

Akter Nasrin, 2020. System-Supported Instructor Feedback on the Students’ Design and Prototyping Processes in Fab Lab Education Context. Master’s thesis. University of Oulu, Degree Programme in Computer Science and Engineering.

Daly, Henry, 2020. Design for hacking & repair: A practical experiment. Master’s thesis. School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland.

Kliuciute, Simona, 2020. Upcycling Textiles. Master’s thesis. Master’s Programme in Contemporary Design, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Espoo, Finland.

Trashlab (repair café)

Hooray! Trashlab is back! This time in Vallila.

What is Trashlab? Trashlab is…

DSCF5366_sm DSCF5381_sm

… helping others to fix their broken things …


…getting your hands dirty…


…breaking broken things to fix them…


…needing tape, needing glue…


…needing more light…


…needing fuel…


…giving up with some things…


…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’.

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

The male gaze is alive and well in 3D printing

Can someone please enlighten me?

How are these things different?


sexist car ad lexus


or this:

sexist mercedessllow


or this:

sexist car ad


different from this:

3Dprinting girl March2015

or this:

3Dprinting figure March 2015

or this:


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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. 

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.

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.

More on MIT-Fablab Norway

Last year I was blogging for Aalto University’s Living+ site (connected with the World Design Capital events), and I wrote this post on one of the first Fab Labs ever created, the one in Lyngen, Norway. (See this one too.)

Earlier this year a fellow Fab Lab researcher was also there, and she wrote about her experience and interview with Haakon here (in French).

I’d like to reproduce the text here in English; the translation is imperfect and stiff in places and may contain errors. I’ll correct them as I find them!

See the original site for nice photos as well as the links (I didn’t include the links in the translation):

and see more images here: under ‘juin 2013’

(extra note made on 2 Oct: Camille says the Strabic site is temporarily down but back up soon)


MIT FabLab Norway: where it all began

MIT FabLab Norway is one of the few FabLabs in the world to include the MIT acronym in its own name. Its birth in 2003 involves a motley evolution of a farm at the edge of the Lyngen Fjord, engaging leading researchers in engineering from Boston and local and rural development of artificial insemination techniques on sheep. Let’s return to the early hours of MIT FabLab Norway with Haakon Karlsen Jr., one of the pillars of the movement.

Above the Arctic Circle

Getting to MIT FabLab Norway requires a long journey from Oslo to Tromsø and finally Lyngen. It is a great, long chalet, on a large plot whose entrance is flanked by two flags: those of the region and the United States. It is surrounded by smaller buildings for accommodation. Each year about 600 people pass through the door of the FabLab.

When we arrive, around 21.oo, it’s raining lightly. We put our bags in the entrance of the FabLab, take off our raincoats and shoes, and meet Haakon Karlsen Jr., his wife Gunn and the little dog Junior. Two other women are in the kitchen and out of the oven has just come a huge plate of fish caught that morning in the fjord. Without further ado, we are asked to sit for dinner. Haakon is seated on one of the chairs designed specially by Jens Dyvik, a globe-trotting young designer who recently did a world tour of FabLabs doing projects here and there.

Haakon is a gentleman in his early sixties. He was born here and, after training as an engineer, spent his youth working with sheep insemination in the region of his family farm, which is located just down from the FabLab. He’s an unmissable figure in the region; he has also been successively a teacher and farmer. He owns several houses and land at the edge of the fjord. For ten years he’s been a pillar of the FabLab movement whose contours he’s contributed to drawing in collaboration with MIT.

The vast vault of the FabLab gives the effect of a strange chapel, in which we talk softly, silence is allowed, and the sound of the wind is heard blowing gently outside, where the light in summer never fades.

“The first FabLab in the world is here!”
Interview with Haakon Karlsen Jr

Strabic: Let’s go back a little before the creation of the FabLab. What determined your involvement in this project?

Haakon Karlsen Jr: It all started a little before the year 2000. There were many diseases and it was necessary to boost growth in some herds. In 1994, the Norwegian government was asked to establish a laboratory for artificial insemination of sheep, deer and goats. With some farmers and shepherds in the region, we got surprising success rates of up to 94% instead of the usual 10%. We quickly realized this was due to two farmers we were working with who knew their animals well and knew how to inseminate at the exact moment of ovulation. To succeed, it was necessary to know when the females were in heat. I suggested that we imagine for ourselves a technical tool to measure hormones.

It was the meeting point between a pragmatic necessity on the farm and your engineering skills …

Yes! We tried to detect different hormones to see what could be learned. We finally developed a small machine that captured the temperature and sent a message to warn the farmer about the time of ovulation. It was based on the female brain activity curves. Then we created a program to educate shepherds about the tool. Later, with farmers, we thought about a possible use for the rest of the year. So we put an accelerometer in our little machine to capture the movements of the sheep. To test this feature, we created a system that calls home after fifteen minutes of inactivity for the sheep, saying, “I’m dead”. We then put in a GPS, which allowed us to get the geographical coordinates of the sheep sent to the farmers. The Electronic Shepherd project was born as well: it helps locate flocks of sheep in the mountains to protect the animals from wolves or unstable ground.

The FabLab did not exist yet, but you had the electronic equipment?

We worked in the laboratory, on the farm. It had everything to do welding … That’s where we got the idea for the sheep phone. But it was difficult to get the signal from the mountains to the farms. We worked with Telenor (a Norwegian telecommunications company) for one year.

It was with this project through the National Science Foundation Grant that MIT spotted you …

There was an innovation competition launched by MIT globally to develop local projects. MIT sent some of its best teachers to Norway to find a suitable cooperation project. They found us through Telenor, who told them: “There is this crazy guy lost in the fjord who devised sensors for his animals ….” We enjoyed a great year of cooperation with MIT in 2001 and we were invited to Boston to present and develop this project …

Who was part of the project team?

Jurgen my son who works at the firm and myself. It was fantastic, but after years of collaboration we had to terminate the project. We had a discussion at MIT in Boston and we decided to do something to further enable this kind of adventure, something we would call … a FabLab. A Fabrication Laboratory. The decision was taken on 18 October 2002, I remember. We first decided to launch three FabLabs. One in Pune with a man named Kalbag, from Vigyan Ashram, south of Mumbai, and another in a poor neighborhood of Boston called South End Technology Center, with Mel King. And the third here in Norway.

What was the project, when you first spoke of what a FabLab could be?

At first we did not really know what we were doing. The definition at MIT was “rapid prototyping”. But since then, things have changed and other places are born with other definitions. In my opinion many FabLabs now exist that just have the name FabLab … My definition? “A global network of people who want to work together and share their knowledge.” That’s all.

Who was at the table when the word FabLab was spoken for the first time?

In my memory there was Gershenfeld, Kalbag, Mel King and me. Mel King is an old fellow who was a professor at MIT and Kalbag was an old Indian who had many projects in the community. He came into contact with MIT through links with the Indian government. A bit like here, he had created a local system for watering different plantations and was spotted by MIT. Melvin King is a very special man, who has been fighting for human rights. His FabLab has an interesting history. It was located in a very poor neighbourhood of Boston. Mel had pitched many tents in the city, he called it “Tent City”. After a few years of struggle, Mel King and his followers won the battle and built apartments for the poor, who still live there. This is a fantastic man who is 94 years old now.

Advancing in time gradually … How did the complete installation of MIT FabLab Norway come to be on this land?

In 2004, we built this house. All equipment came from Boston, free. Why here? Good question, ultimately. We must ask Gershenfeld or Sherry Lassiter. Initially, the Lab was down on the farm. I am not an architect, but I made all the plans. When the house was built, we installed all the machines here. Then MIT sent other machines and some students. Neil came, his wife, his twins, as well as Sherry Lassiter and Amy Sun. Engineers, researchers, who were there to install the machines with my son and me. It was great.

How long did it last, this first introduction? How did it go?

At first they stayed three weeks. And they came back several times. They then went elsewhere, to go to other places. They travelled a lot. Everywhere. But they always say: the Norwegian FabLab is really special. It was not only done for MIT students, it was a very big project, to see how we could change the world …

FabLab as a “community centre”

Haakon now believes his FabLab is more of a “community centre” than a place for prototyping: “It has even held a wedding celebration!” The layout of machines, tables and workstations in the main room of the chalet can be seen immediately. All technology is now on the periphery of the place, on the sides, along the walls. In the centre, a large meeting table and videoconferencing, a huge fireplace, several dining tables and chairs occupy the space. The open kitchen is itself important. Haakon jokes:
“When Neil Gershenfeld of MIT came to see the finished chalet and saw the kitchen, he told me that it was useless, that I had made a mistake, that it was not planned! The result proved that I was right. A FabLab is people, not just machines.”

Coffee, various teas, muesli, biscuits – and aquavit – are available. There are plenty of tables, some of which are there to accommodate any visitors who want to stay in the area for a few days to go hiking or other outdoor activities. The FabLab at the moment is a kind of lodging as well as a place for prototyping and manufacturing. This is precisely what guarantees a good part of its funding.

When FabLabs go green

Symptomatic of the state of friction between the rural and technological worlds, the huge digital milling machine is not in the main FabLab chalet: it was installed on the farm. It is hidden behind a door in a small shed at the back of a cluttered barn, from whose ceiling a wooden kayak is suspended.

In winter, when the sheep return, they rub against the milling machine in a great disorder. The milling machine does not give the impression of being used regularly. Access is difficult, the room is not arranged. Although Haakon does not confirm it directly to us, this machine is fairly representative of the level of daily activity in MIT FabLab Norway. It is mainly in the Boot Camps that are held or during the international workshop sessions that this place is really effervescent.

A video shows precisely what the FabLab is like in operation: one sees particularly Gershenfeld, perched on a mezzanine, slumped on a bench working with his computer on his stomach.

There is also Tomas Diez and Alex Schaub, from FabLab Barcelona and Amsterdam Waag FabLab respectively, isolated in this large wooden temple in the fjord and conducting several projects.

The rest of the time is definitely more like the days that we have experienced: the machines are stopped, Haakon is sometimes at home and sometimes in the FabLab at the computer, and people come to drink coffee, keep abreast of the status of the herds, or fix something.

In some respects, Haakon Karlsen’s story may seem far removed from MIT’s official version. At Fab9 – the large annual meeting of FabLabs held in Tokyo in late August – we were able to interview Sherry Lassiter about it: “Haakon is a great storyteller, what he says is not false but he surely has his own way of presenting things.” The FabLabs, in the narrative of their genealogy, appear as objects with multiple versions and multiple interpretations, in which the heroes are not necessarily the same …

Article written and interview conducted by Camille Bosqué.


3D Printing hype

Especially after the furore created after Defense Distributed created a 3D-printed gun (or rather gun components), there seems to be a huge amount of confused discussion about this technology (or technologies), its benefits and limits, its trajectory, and its actual current role and impact, including who is using it.

I get a bad taste in my mouth when I read enthusiastic rah-rah articles about what people have been 3D printing, especially the ones with a technology determinist bent where materialist progress is the sole measure of a successful society. The most distasteful thing is how these articles usually present utter crap as their representational images. 3D printed plastic shoes, printed badly, no less? Oh, yeah, that’s going to save both the world and the global economy.

But neither do I have any sympathy for the people wailing and gnashing their teeth about the evils of 3D printing. This is because I believe it betrays a vast ignorance of what is actually going on and where the threats and opportunities actually lie. And hey, I’m no expert either, but I think I can detect an expert voice when I hear it. (And here I don’t count the ever-increasing numbers of fora and seminars and platforms for discussing the ethical, social, axiological sides of distributing production – as long as they arm themselves with the facts.)

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. There is a world of difference between digital manufacturing and personal (digital) fabrication, and 3D printers belong in both worlds – but do completely different things. Yes, personal FDM machines are becoming cheaper and easier to use, and people might buy them and print out some plastic crap and then forget about them, but do you really think this poses significant environmental risks when compared to the whole of consumer material flow in mass production? (And I’m pretty sure you can’t print out gun components successfully on a RepRap or Ultimaker.)

So let’s call this world DIY 2.0. Then we have Factory 2.0 where companies are using additive manufacturing technologies (let’s just use the media shorthand of ‘3D printing’ here) in various applications. This has existed for decades, by the way. Especially for prototypes and models but increasingly we’re seeing a shift in terminology from Rapid Prototyping to Rapid Manufacturing. And the most useful applications here seem to be in the biomedical field. I see no Chicken Little The Sky is Falling danger here, culturally, environmentally, socially – but I’m under no illusions that this new method of production is any panacea. I’ve said before that the biggest problems seem to be related to the unknown elements of the materials themselves, especially their toxicity which will have environmental impacts all through the life cycle, including End of Life. And I’m concerned about the ability to mix and fuse elements in additive fabrication (e.g. embedding electronics), which also complicates design for disassembly. But does design for disassembly, design for repair, design for reuse, etc. exist in mass produced consumer products? exclamation point. If we detect the problems beforehand, and especially identify the leverage points, we can (try to) prevent many of these issues from becoming issues.

There have been a couple of recent Economist articles on 3D printing that mention this difference between the consumers/hobbyists and industrial production – focusing especially on what is happening in China and in certain industries such as aerospace. The second article especially clarifies *what* 3D printing is suited for and where it sits in relation to conventional manufacturing. That’s important to remember, and something that is usually neglected in the hype-and-furore. This includes remembering what kinds of activities these are. Are they B2B, or B2C? Becoming C2B?

What is interesting (for me) to monitor here in terms of environmental impact is the change in supply chains, if any. Will production become more local after all, if the Chinese move towards additive manufacturing and mass customization? Will we be able to prevent pre-consumer waste (as we see in the fashion industry) as stuff will be produced according to what customers order, rather than the current model where massive volumes of stuff produced are then pushed onto consumers – and shoved into landfill if the customers don’t want it, or even before it hits the shops?

OK, let’s go back to DIY 2.0. Terry Wohlers is *the* turn-to guy on 3D printing, and he’s not predicting a huge revolution in personal fabrication. He, like a lot of Americans in the field, focuses on education and the role of ‘making’ in promoting math and science education and understanding as well as a new generation of entrepreneurs. But what about entrepreneurs today? The more inexpensive 3D printing and rapid prototyping technologies are, and/or the more access independent designers and creatives (or any other entrepreneur, for that matter) have to them, the more it can help them. I’ve seen this myself in Fab Labs. Nothing wrong with a little distributed, grassroots, niche innovation, even if it doesn’t grow expansively and turn into the next Nokia. (Ah – sorry, the updated Finnish example is now Rovio or Supercell.)

Wohlers also points out another important thing in the Forbes article, the services that are popping up around the Maker Movement. This means that both the entrepreneurs *and* the hobbyists can turn to businesses like Ponoko and Shapeways and iMaterialise to get things made in better quality and better materials. For consumers/hobbyists, this is the fuzzy in-between area between DIY 2.0 and Factory 2.0. Another hype-and-furore thread I find quite amusing / ghastly is directly related to this development: the horror (expressed by professional designers) that people without design training might design their own products. My opinions on that would need a different post on another day, but again, let’s re-examine the scale of this in relation to the dominant consumerist mass production paradigm. Is it really going to grow into a threat, especially in the next, say, ten years? I doubt it.

Designers are also concerned about the legal issues, and this is something quite fascinating to monitor. Regarding concerns over protecting IP and design rights, in this day and age, I laugh heartily in their general direction. (Admitting, all the while, that I make my money from design research and not designing products.) More intriguing, Motherboard (among many others) points out that some laser sintering patents are expiring next year and how Makerbot emerged from the expiration of FDM patents. So something interesting could be on the horizon. In addition, the industry is consolidating. Makerbot was bought by 3D Systems while RepRap remains open source and firmly in the grassroots, experimental, p2p hacker/maker community. These two threads, the commercial and proprietary developments and the open source ones, will be worth following. Open source and open design will always have a role to play in environmental, social and economic sustainability, but that is also a discussion for another day.

If you are keenly following this development, then there is nothing new or surprising here. At any rate, check out the ‘expert voices’ in the links. Some useful stuff there.


‘What Works And What Doesn’t In 3D Printing: A Talk With Terry Wohlers’, in Forbes: . See also ‘3D Printing Misinformation’ by Wohlers:

‘Next Year, 3D Printers May Finally Make Something You Want to Keep’, in Motherboard:

‘From dental braces to astronauts’ seats’, in The Economist: . (Read the comments too, just for fun.)

‘3D printing scales up’, in The Economist:

environmental studies on Additive Manufacturing II

Now I’ll continue with the subject of Additive Manufacturing with a few more studies that address sustainability. The first part of the listing can be found here. Unlike the first list of studies, which mainly involved quantitative data and experimental testing, from my perspective the studies listed below represent much of the research to date on distributed production: i.e. conceptual explorations and theory building with little empirical data or direct testing in the real world. It’s important to note when these papers are conference papers, as conferences are a good forum for testing and hypothesizing, publicizing interim project results, and doing preliminary studies, sometimes in preparation for a later journal paper. But even some of the journal papers tend to be conceptual discussions that mainly rely on secondary data and/or the literature.

Another useful thing to note, at least for me, is how the authors represent the role of the individual (consumer, end-user, etc.) and what input she is ‘allowed’ to contribute. In mass customization planning this would rather coldly and engineering-ly be referred to as the ‘decoupling point’; in the most visionary conceptualizations of design-for-sustainability where co-design and co-creation are the be-all-and-end-all, non-designers are given much more agency to influence the final output. Or so we are given to think. (A cynical mind might suggest that participatory planning can be used as a foil, to co-opt a populace into accepting a decision that in essence had nothing to do with what the populace wanted, a little thing I like to call ‘participation-wash’. Anyway, moving on, let’s leave this cynicism aside for now.)

There also seems to be a common tendency in the literature on distributed production (including mass customization) to assume that co-creation simply is sustainable: co-design = social sustainability just as meeting exact customer needs through customized products via additive manufacturing = environmental sustainability – without delineating why or how. I’d say we need both more data and better argumentation. Still, all these studies are a good start.

Oh, and hey, I know this isn’t a full list. I started by focusing on specific conferences and journals to gauge the coverage in those platforms and to these audiences in particular. I will add useful and representative studies/articles as I find them in other journals. The first one below is a good example, and something I would have expected much earlier. Hopefully it’s a signpost of more to come.


Huang, S.H., Liu, P., Mokasdar, A., Hou, L., 2013. Additive manufacturing and its societal impact: a literature review. Int. J. Adv. Manuf. Technol. 67, 1191–1203.


This is an article I’ve been waiting for! It’s a bit of a continuation from what Drigo and Preza started in 2006 with their review article. (Check the previous post.) There just seems to be too little discussion of this kind in fora where it might make a difference. (I’m pretty sure that online rants about how 3D printing is going to ruin our precious world amount to preaching to the converted, and the rest of the world carries on regardless.) So I’ll spend a little longer on this article summary.

Huang et al. stick to the roots of additive manufacturing (AM): i.e. the producer viewpoint, the mainly B2B world of digital manufacturing, and not getting into the whole issue of personal fabrication and desktop 3D printers. Section 2 gives a good summary of the various AM technologies themselves and then lists the perceived benefits and drawbacks of AM compared to conventional manufacturing methods (in technical/production terms). The authors don’t give any explanation of how they conducted the literature review itself but somehow they have decided on three main categories, categories that do make sense given their theme of ‘societal impact’ and knowing what we do now about where AM is currently most used.

“Abundance of evidences were found to support the promises of additive manufacturing in the following areas: (1) customized healthcare products to improve population health and quality of life, (2) reduced environmental impact for manufacturing sustainability, and (3) simplified supply chain to increase efficiency and responsiveness in demand fulfillment.”

So sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 discuss these areas respectively. Section 3 (Impact on population health and wellbeing) sums up the studies and applications in this area, but it’s not as interesting to me as section 4, Energy consumption and environmental impact. Here the authors cite a few studies trying to conduct environmental analyses, LCA and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) on AM processes – studies that either examine the methods themselves or try to get meaningful results. One study found challenging trade-offs: “new manufacturing processes” could “produce products with longer useful life and/or lower energy consumption during the use phase”, but “make more use of high-exergy value materials in very inefficient ways”. I’m quoting Huang et al. here; this article further quotes the study* itself: “the seemingly extravagant use of materials and energy resources by many newer manufacturing processes is alarming and needs to be addressed….”.

*The study quoted is Gutowski TG, Branham MS, Dahmus JB, Jones AJ, Thiriez A (2009) Thermodynamic analysis of resources used in manufacturing processes. Environ Sci Technol 43:1584–1590.

The authors conclude this section by summarizing a few studies that have examined especially the energy issue, which seems to be the most problematic in comparison to traditional manufacturing, but remind us that too few studies have been conducted to be able to draw firm conclusions. Just before this, the section reviews a few other environmental comparison studies and gives us a couple of useful tables. Table 1 is based on Luo et al. (1999)* and compares traditional machining and various AM technologies, where in the latter we see e.g. less material mass, less pollution, avoidance of other bad stuff entailed in machining such as cutting fluids in waste streams. A few other studies are cited also comparing AM to machining and concluding overall much lower environmental impact from AM. (They’re refs nos. 52 to 55 in the article’s references list.) Table 2 summarizes the conclusions from the ATKINS project report**, a document (and project and research group) that deserves its own section in this write-up. The general conclusion is that, if we compare AM to conventional manufacturing processes “in terms of energy usage, water usage, landfill usage, and the use of virgin materials”, AM has clear environmental advantages in everything except energy consumption, which concurs with pretty much everything else Huang et al. examined. If you don’t check out any other reference or study, do at least have a look at the ATKINS report. (And if you want to know what studies were actually reviewed, check the article’s references list or ask me in the comments to post the references. By the way, I haven’t checked the studies myself so I’m not going to comment on their methods or system boundaries – and I don’t have the expertise to identify methodological problems.)

*Luo YC, Ji ZM, Leu, et al. (1999) Environmental performance analysis of solid freeform fabrication processes. The 1999 IEEE Int Symp on Electron and the Environ. IEEE, NY, pp 1–6
**ATKINS (2007) Manufacturing a low carbon footprint. Accessed 16 February 2012.               > The link in the reference seems to be obsolete; try .

OK. Section 5, Impact on manufacturing supply chain, is also interesting to me in terms of monitoring if we are actually moving towards a distributed production paradigm from mass production. (In this context others would prefer the term ‘distributed manufacturing’, but I’m still going to use distributed production to keep the door open to fabbing and making. If I may make yet another diversion, did anyone else notice the disappearance of the ‘Distributed production’ Wikipedia page? We now get redirected to a ‘Distributed manufacturing‘ page, which is much shorter and, I could say, more ‘practical’. Not only that, there was some editorial dispute over whether the page should be deleted altogether. The decision was to keep it, so there it still is. I haven’t yet figured out how to access the now gone Distributed production page.)

Where was I? Oh, yes, supply chains. So the general consensus is that AM processes would change the traditional supply chain, require fewer stages in it, and be thereby able to remove the environmental footprints and impacts of those stages. In this review, researchers tell us that AM technologies are not yet incorporated into especially spare parts supply chains, so two studies cited propose a few approaches or business models for better integration. Another study described four consumer product businesses where consumers order their own customized AM-made stuff. It seems the paper lays out the operations and probably describes the supply chains but doesn’t get into any environmental impact discussion. So this still seems inconclusive, and even fewer studies are being done regarding supply chains.

Section 6 examines Potential health and occupational hazards. This is the hot spot and red light for me, personally, and I regard the authors’ Table 4 (Occupational and environmental effects of different chemicals used in AM processes) to be the best contribution of this paper. They sum up what researchers have concluded in references 67 to 74 (again, ask me in the comments if you want details on these) with regard to human health hazards and biodegradability. They also cite the Drigo and Preza paper (which I mentioned earlier) and state worrying things like:

“Since the majority of the chemicals are long-chain molecules, their biodegradability is very poor and the materials remain in the environment for extended periods of time. Poisonous gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides are found to be emanated after the breakdown of these chemicals. It has also been predicted that noxious halocarbons (CFCs, HCFCs, CCl4), trichloroethane (CH3CCl3), nickel, and lead compounds might emerge from the operations of AM machines.”

Since other people will surely, eventually, take care of the problems of worker exposure, there’s no clear incentive to tackle the environmental problems, related to emissions, biodegradability, etc. that may differ from the health hazards. Especially when AM materials start to enter maker spaces in institutions and people’s homes, I’m sure we’ll start to see some awareness raising. Yesterday I attended a 3D printing event in Helsinki and asked an AM expert about the toxicity issues. He said, first of all, that in biomedical applications biocompatibility is obviously considered and his team works with medical doctors and similar experts. With other materials and AM applications, he admitted that there isn’t much research on it. He did add that his team also works with the occupational health and safety authorities in their research, though, so this could be (should be) best practice for any digital manufacturing development team. Note to self: interview this guy later this year.

Ah, I can’t resist yet another diversion. The event I attended was this Audi ADDLab thing, and ADDLab has one of those mcor rapid prototypers that uses ordinary A4 paper and ordinary glue to cut out 3D forms. This does seem to create a lot of paper waste, but the waste AND results can be put into the ordinary paper recycling process (and would not seem to have other unforeseen toxic effects associated with other materials). One of the ADDLab researchers said that, of all the 3D printers they have, and they do have quite a few, they are still exploring with this one to see what it could best be used for. Since it’s subtractive, not additive, you wouldn’t be able to get the complexity of shape as was coming out of the Bits from Bytes behind me, he pointed out. But things like architectural scale models and other types of prototypes seemed obvious and possible: the researcher said that a computer mouse prototype had been done for e.g. ergonomic testing. What is even more interesting is that Staples is using this solution to offer prototyping in their stores, or at least a pilot. I hope someone does a study on their customers and what they do with this service. Ordinary people have office paper recycling in their everyday habits (at least in Finland); they do not have easy access to recycling facilities for Ultimaker, MakerBot, etc. filaments and failed 3D prints. (And this project shows how tricky re-using plastic in a RepRap can be.) (and in English)

OK, returning to Huang et al., the last thing I’ll point out is that the authors are associated jointly with two Chinese universities and the University of Cincinnati. More environmentally responsible digital manufacturing in China could mean a big shift…


Diegel, O., Singamneni, S., Reay, S., Withell, A., 2010. Tools for Sustainable Product Design: Additive Manufacturing. Journal of Sustainable Development 3, 68–75.


In this article, additive manufacturing has clear environmental benefits and enables much better practice for especially designers but also the consumers they design for. The authors propose that “sustainable product design” needs to focus more on ensuring product longevity in order to combat the environmental problems currently exacerbated by “the consumerist’s ‘throw away’ mentality” and “planned obsolescence”. They allow that in such an emerging field a quantifiable link between product longevity and personalization/customization has not yet been established but anecdotal data seems to indicate this direction. The paper is therefore a conceptual discussion, maybe even a ‘position paper’.

Writing as designers for designers, they offer additive manufacturing technologies and mass customization as increasingly necessary (or inevitable) ‘tools’ in a designer’s toolbox and ways to ensure longevity. They argue that in design, not only the “technical quality” of a product is important but also “the less tangible ‘desirability’ of a product, ‘pleasure of use’ of a product, as well as the ‘attachment’ of a user to a product”. These characterize “design quality”, a notion they argue is neglected in design-for-sustainability. They further argue that mass manufacturing also compromises design quality, through technical compromises that need to be made in design as well as the generic nature of mass-manufactured products.

Therefore, the authors propose, additive manufacturing holds potential to both ensure design quality and better conform to sustainability principles, by lessening the need to compromise and offering a truer realization of the “designer’s vision” (i.e. enhancing design quality from the perspective of professional design) – and by offering mass customization possibilities that can impact the desirability and hence longevity of the product (i.e. enhancing the customer’s perception and reception of design quality). Moreover they wish to support an individual designer’s need for professional development, self-fulfilment, and continued employment; they highlight how product designs must reflect how they are fabricated and that digital technologies will produce new design typologies. The authors conclude by summarizing new considerations when designing for additive manufacturing and indicating future directions for research: the potential need to adapt current design-for-sustainability tools to fit the “new paradigm of on-demand manufacturing” and even possible revision of “some of the frameworks about what constitute sustainability”.


Fox, S., Li, L., 2012. Expanding the scope of prosumption: A framework for analysing potential contributions from advances in materials technologies. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change 79, 721–733. 


This is an intriguing article that approaches additive manufacturing from the perspective of materials. The authors aim to examine prosumption (note the explicit use of this term in an engineering context, not a sociological one) through a technological forecasting exercise, putting forth an analytical framework for roadmapping material technologies: their fundamental characteristics and by implication their potential to contribute to the advancement of certain socio-technical practices such as prosumption. In other words, certain materials are restricted by their nature to large processing facilities with significant capital investments and are thus less conducive to distributed production. (Think of steel processing.)

The authors introduce the term “authority” over design and production to describe the agency individuals have to provide design and/or production inputs; they contrast the ability of individuals to acquire original, one-off goods with many mass customization processes that merely offer the ability to “configure from a range of pre-designed components”. Prosumption is referred to as an “important social change” influenced by both technology push and market pull; the underlying, unspoken premise seems to accept prosumption as a positive development worth fostering. The authors use their framework to elucidate the bottlenecks and channels of potential for prosumption development, as linked to current and emerging production and material technologies, cost (i.e. ‘economy‘), and production times, and to subsequently identify areas of promise for material research. Because prosumption patterns just might correlate with a localization of production and/or materials, the authors do mention the environmental benefit of lower transport emissions.

The authors see both entrepreneurs and regional development authorities as targets for their framework, a tool to support local economies in “developing countries” as well as post-industrial contexts. The point of the framework is to enable analysis/comparison of manufacturing methods that would hit an optimal combination of ‘authority’ and ‘economy’: people would get personalized stuff at a non-prohibitive cost. In the analysis examples the authors provide, additive manufacturing technologies play a prominent role in this authority/economy trade-off.

“In particular, DMLS [Direct Metal Laser-Sintering, to produce one-off, personalized watch casings in this example] makes contributions to meeting key criteria for expanding the scope of prosumption, because it better enables safe and simple production of person-specific/location-specific geometries.”

Their choice of language is difficult to understand without reading the whole article, but person-specific/location-specific geometries is what distributed production is all about. In sum, prosumption is great! We want it. The people want it too. If you want to succeed at it, get the right material technology going, this very well could be AM, and we might just see some environmental benefits too, associated with localizing production. Craft and artisan skills in production will decline because they’re too expensive, but that’s another story.


Pearce, J.M., Blair, C.M., Laciak, K.J., Andrews, R., Nosrat, A., Zelenika-Zovko, I., 2010. 3D Printing of Open Source Appropriate Technologies for Self-Directed Sustainable Development. Journal of Sustainable Development 3, 17–29.


This paper is an interesting comparison and contrast to the previous one on advanced material technologies. It’s a conceptual exploration of additive manufacturing as an “appropriate technology” (AT) for economies in the global South. Environmental sustainability benefits are not explicitly described but are embedded in descriptions of socio-economic opportunities enabled through additive manufacturing technologies – especially when offered in local, small lab and peer-to-peer operations. Moreover open source as a philosophy for design and development can allow access to and evolvement of appropriate technologies. The authors therefore focus on two open source additive technologies (two small-size 3D printers), describing their attributes and potential applications. In particular, 3D printing is appropriate for components that are

“i) small,

ii) highly customizable,

iii) expensive to manufacture/ship,

iv) difficult to transport,

v) have a large lead time,

vi) do not require precise machining and can handle small imperfections, and

vii) can be made from available, cheap, and technically viable feed stocks.”

The authors then list the functional requirements needed and barriers to overcome to truly fulfil 3D printers’ potential to be an open source appropriate technology. This paper is unique in being one of only few I’ve found to take truly peer-to-peer relationships into account as an option to design and produce solutions. Like the Diegel et al. paper above, it’s not an empirical study per se but more of a conceptual exploration.


The following papers discuss – not necessarily additive manufacturing but – other digital manufacturing technologies common in making and fabbing.


Steffen, D., Gros, J., 2003. Technofactory versus Mini-Plants: Potentials for a decentralized sustainable furniture production. Presented at the MCPC03: 2nd International Conference on Mass Customization and Personalization, October 6-8 2003, Munich, Germany.


These authors write from the point of view of championing small furniture businesses that come from a crafts trade tradition. The (conference) paper reports on a research project that sought to strengthen the position of these skilled trade businesses. These companies have the opportunity to combine their traditional skills and offerings with digital tools and production processes, differentiating themselves from industrial players that are beginning to also offer customization services through their existing high quality craft and trade competence. The authors present a vision they call “neo-craft” and post-industrial, where they list the economic and environmental benefits of their model: locally available and customized products and services, high quality materials and processes, and designs incorporating possibilities for repair and adaptation, all of which encourage product durability. The project involved actual company partners and was therefore the first steps in realizing what would be needed for such a neo-craft vision of “technofacture”, from the perspective of regional development. If their audience is the field of mass customization, this is one of few papers in that realm that recognizes and boosts the concept of virtual products, where immaterial product designs become as important as material artefacts. Like Diegel et al. (2010) above, they also mention how the technology dictates the design and designers and/or artisans should learn how to design and craft for digital fabrication. But also like Diegel et al. (2010) the professional designer is still in control: they explicitly adopt the term “co-designer” to “express the increasing influence of the customer on the design”, meaning the measurements, materials, colours and surface design elements, but this seems to denote a limited range of design input predetermined by a design team and post-realized by a producer.


Black, S., Eckert, C., 2007. Developing Considerate Design: Meeting Individual Fashion and Clothing Needs within a Framework of Sustainability, in: Mitchell, W.J., Piller, F.T., Tseng, M., Chin, R., McClanahan, B.L. (Eds.), Extreme Customization. Proceedings of the MCPC 2007 World Conference on Mass Customization & Personalization. Presented at the MCPC 2007 World Conference on Mass Customization and Personalization, October 7-9, 2007,  at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Black, S., Delamore, P., Eckert, C., Geesin, F., Watkins, P., Harkin, S., 2010. Considerate Design for Personalised Fashion: towards sustainable fashion design and consumption, in: Suominen, J., Piller, F., Ruohonen, M., Tseng, M., Jacobson, S. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Mass Customization & Personalization MCPC 2009, Helsinki Oct 4-8, 2009, Publication Series B 102. Presented at the Mass Matching – Customization, Configuration & Creativity, Aalto University School of Art and Design, Helsinki.


These two (conference) papers seek to link environmental responsibility with local business development, augmented by digital technologies and personalization strategies, in their Considerate Design Project. This project emphasizes design more than regional development, by developing and testing tools for fashion designers. It, like the furniture project above, justifies its target and scope as supporting an economically and culturally significant industry – and it involved company partners – but sets its rationale more strongly in combating the negative environmental impacts of the fashion industry. The authors therefore maintain the representation of sustainability as an interlinking among the economic (jobs, company revenue, product pricing, etc.), the social (personal identity, product meanings, the designer’s ability to perform, etc.) and the environmental (pollution, emissions, waste, etc.). Personalization of products is seen as holding potential for more sustainable behaviour and production/consumption patterns, enacted through consumer input (personal preferences and/or body measurements), and enabled by body scanning and rapid prototyping technologies that are taken as the default operating environment in which designers will work.


That’s all for this post; more and more studies seem to be coming out and I’ll summarize what I find in a future post.

On libraries, librarians, and having a narrative brain. Oh, and making. (And ugly buildings.)

A few weeks ago Geoff Bowker was in Aalto ARTS lecturing in Lily Diaz‘s Spring School. Along the way he mentioned the contrast of database versus narrative (à lá Manovich), which lit up a few bulbs of insight and understanding in my head – including the way I myself seem to organize and convey certain types of information. If I tend towards narrative forms, it would explain why I’m having such a devilish time with a literature review I’m now writing: trouble with the categorizing, trouble with the order of presentation and hence trouble with the analysis-through-writing. Nevertheless I struggle on – as I do with all kinds of other database problems in my life. What tags and categories should I use for this blog? What tags and notebooks should I use in Evernote? What folders do I have in Zotero for my references and why do they differ from the ones I established earlier in my ‘Design Research’ folder in my laptop? Why did my logic and keywords change? (Is it merely the semantic shifts occurring in a rapidly developing research field or a deeper shift in how I understand the field and the ones surrounding it?) How should I best order all the other files and folders in my laptop? And what about my email folders? It’s never-ending.

So maybe it’s good I didn’t decide to become a librarian. My narrative-favouring brain cannot entirely grasp what all librarians do and what libraries do and can offer, but luckily I seem to live in one of the best cities in the world for public library innovation. This slide show from the Helsinki City Library Director in 2011 gives an indication of how far Helsinki public libraries are (and are heading) from the traditional notion of well-thumbed books and the Dewey decimal system. In Helsinki, “users can be suppliers too, ‘prosumers'”. This idea of increased peer production offers both opportunities and challenges. Check out slide 25 on the Central Library project: a building coming to Töölönlahti in the city centre in 2018. “New information search, participation and knowledge creation practices.” “Development of new information aggregation business models.” “Multiscientific and multicultural laboratory of change.” “Open learning living lab in the center of the metropolitan area.” Isn’t that exciting!? We live in exhilarating times.

Central Library project

Screenshot from library presentation. Copyright Helsinki City Library










Slides 26 and 27 are equally compelling:

Drivers of library development

Screenshot from library presentation: Drivers of library development. Copyright Helsinki City Library

Drivers of library development

Screenshot from library presentation: Drivers of library development. Copyright Helsinki City Library



















This column written by an American librarian sums up the traditional versus evolving library discussion from the librarian’s point of view. (Hmmm, maybe we need a new word for that profession.) She lists a few services her library offers including various types of courses and classes and – here it is – maker spaces.

Michel Bauwens of the peer-to-peer foundation says he used to be a librarian himself and gives a talk to librarians as audience here (video). If you know his work, have heard him lecture, and/or know p2p discourse then there’s probably nothing too new here, but if you *do* want to know more about peer-to-peer theory-building-in-action do watch his lectures online and explore the p2p foundation website. In this talk he gives the basics of peer production: peer property and copyright, peer governance versus command-and-control hierarchies, from open software to open design (at about 19:44), the relationship between open design and sustainability (from about 20:21), digital production and reproduction, where the money is, and the sharing economy (from 34:26).

At 37:05 he starts talking about making and personal fabrication, paralleling it with the earlier miniaturization and distribution of the personal computer – a significant development that put production back into our own hands and made us ‘craftsmen’ again. Now we are seeing the rise of “distributed material production” that he sees as key to solving the problems posed by the industrial mass production paradigm – built as it is upon a foundation of cheap oil.

And finally (at about 48:34) he gets to libraries’ role in constructing knowledge as opposed to just storing knowledge: a place to find not only support for this new knowledge creation and peer production but to actually provide the infrastructure and physical space for these cooperative activities. Pretty much what we see in the Helsinki library slides.

Well, if you’re in the library field or following maker culture this is old news. When looking for that Bauwens talk I came across this blog entry from the same year (2011) reporting on the first library to open a maker space. (Wow, 2012 just sped by, didn’t it?) Again, new types of literacy, new ways to support and serve communities. (For the narrative brains: similar stories. For the database brains: same keywords.)

So back to this new central library. Why Helsinki is all abuzz about #libraries is that the architectural competition has concluded and the winner has been chosen. Here it is in English and see also this short news piece on it.


‘Käännös’. Source of image:

This library will also have a maker space and to that end a small pilot space having a couple of 3D printers is already up and running and collecting feedback (the link is in Finnish). A team of us were also asked to contribute to this knowledge building – about what making will be like when the library is ready. Five years forward in maker culture could see radical changes in practices and technologies, and it isn’t useful to plan a space based on technologies and trends prevalent in 2013. Professor Sampsa Hyysalo therefore planned a workshop partly based on ‘Lead User’ workshop tactics and partly on principles borrowed from Participatory Design – in order to most effectively collect ideas from a diverse community: those that are living that maker future already now, as well as those that are likely to be key users of the library maker space and facilities. This ensured varied views and expert opinions on everything from the practical and technical considerations to legal issues, community-related aspects, and ethico-philosophical concerns. Lead User research experts Pia Helminen and Samuli Mäkinen came in as facilitators and will contribute their perspective on the workshop as an information gathering tool in future analyses. The sustainability issues in 2020 maker culture were also crucial for a public actor, who must be seen as acting responsibly. Therefore also addressing sustainability in the workshop yielded double benefits: fruitful information for the library and data for my doctoral research.

One write-up after the workshop can be accessed here. The library people jumped into the data immediately and found relevant trends and solutions to keep in mind for their current pilot space now as well as that future maker space.

Finally, a few words on the Central Library competition winner. It’s a building that not only heralds a new era in our conception of public libraries, it’s one located in a contentious area of Helsinki, the Töölönlahti. Those of us who have been active in grassroots art and cultural activities in the area shed tears as we see the urban cultural diversity, biodiversity and architectural fabric desiccate, bled away in what we see as a worrying favouring of private development and corporate interests. Corruption in Finland takes on its own special aroma. [1]

Will the new Central Library enhance the Töölönlahti milieu and become the city’s living room, as promised, or contribute to the High Culture, High Government, High Capitalism monumentalism currently holding sway? The building trend and over-designed plan for Töölönlahti now completely weakens the spirit of the place – but it does not emasculate it, if this verb means to weaken; to the contrary, all that testosterone means too much masculus and not enough femininus in my view.

Some Facebook comments show mixed feelings (apologies for the bad translations):
“I think no central library should be built at all.”
“I think so too, but at least that wood thing could cover up those horrible office buildings.”

“Alvar Aalto spirit, but is that good or bad?”

“It’s very masculine. There’s no natural light coming in, except maybe to the upper floor from the ceiling, even though the wood itself is a great element – as in it’s great looking, as for the practicality I don’t know. … And it is nice that Töölönlahti will be something accessible to all.”

“I think this building could save the Töölönlahti environment. Now the buildings look like peripheral small-town airport terminals.”

“I think it is gorgeous. Although architecture is like a human being. A stunning exterior is nothing if it does not work.”

“I am now excited about this library! The great news is that the financing seems to be arranged. This is an excellent use of tax money. Culture is important, and the library is a facility that reaches a very large part of the population. Finland’s libraries’ perfect and unique functioning can now have a well-deserved figurehead. And I’m with Arhinmäki [Finland’s Culture Minister] regarding the fact that we need a non-commercial meeting space, comfortable, open, and free, in the city centre. And this will certainly serve this need just fine. Today’s best news!”

This newspaper survey reports its readers (i.e. the Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest daily) mainly think the library is ‘necessary’ and ‘beautiful’ as opposed to ‘unnecessary’ and ‘ugly’ (see all the dots in the top right corner). You can see the reader comments (in Finnish) by scrolling over the various dots. For example: “Not exactly ugly but too massive.”


Käänös. Source of image:ällä/a1305687271507

As you can tell, I’m quite impassioned about the Töölönlahti area, as well as the potential of the Central Library. But this becomes a whole other topic (one I will address in a separate project in my free time outside my doctoral research).

In the meantime, we have made the first steps into the maker 2020 workshop data analysis (and there’s a lot to consider) and the results will be both transmitted to the library and into journal articles to different academic audiences. Watch this space.

By the way, ‘Käännös’ – the library building name – means ‘Translation’. Sink your little analytical teeth into that one, database and narrative brains.


[1] That was so strongly worded I’d better put in an addendum. I DO not mean that there is corruption in the dealings between city officials and real estate developers/corporate head offices in Töölönlahti. There IS corruption in other areas of society where Finnish politicians and businessmen don’t understand responsible use of power, to the dismay and surprise of a trusting populace. In both cases the business sector and the role of money in measuring value have too strong an influence, but in the latter this has crossed the legal/illegal line (to the probable dismay and surprise of the politicians charged).