Fabbing: what’s happening, what’s exciting

Any ‘blogging time’ has been diverted to keeping up with my big interest area as so much is happening around ‘fabbing’ with mega developments in this community: it is all very much about ‘making’, and the power of 3D printing, fabbing, for exploring, playing, inventing and creating. It’s about ‘ownership’ and democratisation of this whole way of doing and experiencing. I am reading Cory Doctorow’s book ‘Makers’ which I am thoroughly enjoying. His vision of how this could all pan out in the near future is fascinating as he begins with fabbing a few years down the line.
Right now, the developments in 3D printing are encouraging more non-professionals to engage in fabbing. The first is that companies like Shapeways (http://www.shapeways.com/) are making direct access as easy and as low cost as possible, catering for different groups: those who want to and can design their objects, others to customise existing designs to be printed in different materials, and those who just order a design they like from the online shop. Similarly UCODO (http://www.ucodo.com/), which is being launched by DigitalForming, will provide “an online platform for ‘Mass Customisation’ and Co-Design’ of lifestyle products”.
My long-standing favourite is Ponoko (http://www.ponoko.com/) in New Zealand who started by providing an online facility and shop for the digital making community for 2D designs and is now going global and moving into 3D. There is tantalising news about something for Europe.
Most encouraging of all is how ‘build-it-yourself’ 3D printers that are available at very affordable prices are ‘replicating’, spreading and developing. In the UK, there is Reprap (replicating rapid prototyping, http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome) as downloadable instructions, and the Rapman (www.rap-man.com) in both kit form and already built and ready for off. In the US, the equivalent is Fab-at-home and Makerbot. These BIY 3D printers are developing fast through open source protocols and collaborations and because these systems can replicate many of their component parts.
The aim of 100KGarages in North America is to offer a network that brings together those with a digital design with those who have the capability and capacity to manufacture 2D and 3D components. By directing the designer’s design to the nearest appropriately resourced ‘garage’ to the purchaser the carbon footprint is kept as small as possible.
There are sites such as Thingiverse where non copyright 3D digital objects and designs can be freely downloaded and/or re-modelled for printing and writing on 6th Jan 2010 The Product Bay states that “RepRap and other 3D printers are the future. There’s no question about it. With the proud tradition from The Pirate Bay, we want to take all of this to the next level. TPB will be TPB, but for real life objects. For now, visit Thingiverse who already understands this. We want you to download those new jeans. We want you to share those new shoes. It’s possible, let’s make it happen.”
This part about jeans and shoes is, I presume, a reference to the quote from the CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos: “Before long,”user-generated content” won’t refer only to media, but to just about anything: user-generated jeans, user-generated sports cars, user-generated breakfast meals. This is because setting up a company that designs, makes and globally sells physical products could become almost as easy as starting a blog – and the repercussions would be earthshaking.”

My interest in this is both personal and commercial. As a designer I want to be able to earn a living from what I do well. So where do I stand on these ‘free everything’ developments and pressures? How might we achieve a balanced and equitable playing field? The music industry is one sector to take heed of for ways to advance. Others are all the many opensource projects such as Linux, OpenSim, applications for mobile phones. Some things can be free, ‘lost leaders’, samplers. Certain products and objects is fine and ‘just good enough’ and do not require complex design knowledge and skills to achieve.

My concerns are the damage caused by churning out ‘quantity’ that gets quickly dumped. Will BIY, by creating ‘ownership’, slow this down and change our materialistic attitude? As many more people become creators and makers I think respect and appreciation will continue for the expertise and talent that underlies well designed, well made, aesthetic and visionary objects that take flair and dedication to achieve. There will continue to be a demand for the know-how of designers, applied artists, craftsmen and artists particularly as they are pretty good at taking on new tools, technology, and processes and bending them to their own purposes.
As water finds it own level designers and creatives find their own states, make decisions about how they make a living, whether they charge for their work, whether they copyright all or some or none, whether they charge for providing services. We should learn from musicians and bands, how they have up-ended this issue, exploiting technologies on all levels, using freebies as a lost leader for attracting audiences and engaging with them in different lucrative ways.
Read Cory Doctorow’s book.