It is called the Maker Revolution and its heart is the 3D printer. 3D printing is being hailed as the biggest change in the manufacturing process since the Industrial revolution almost 300 years ago. Not only are 3D printers changing how objects are prototyped and made but more importantly who can make them.
The Maker Revolution preaches that anyone can be a maker, so, recently I decided to put this mantra to the test and signed up for a 3D printer build challenge.
Once my team unwrapped the Ultimaker Original 3D printer kit it came together remarkably quickly. The instructions were clear and easily followed and the electronics thankfully required no specialist knowledge of circuits. Hammers and screwdrivers were the primary toolkit. The forty teams in the 24-hour Hackathon adhered to the Maker Revolution ethos of collaboration and constantly swapped tips and helped each other. I was particularly chuffed when, at hour ten of the challenge, we printed our first item – a robot named Marvin. I had assumed building the printer would have taken the longest but be warned, calibrating the machine to get a perfect print takes patience and even small items can take hours to print. Once it gets going, though, the 3D printing bug takes over and all sorts of applications and innovations start flowing. I have been imagining my own shoe collection ever since.
Makers are not revolutionaries from the typically oppressed masses but ordinary individuals, hobbyists and entrepreneurs from across the globe who have seen the opportunity to change how and where items can be made. They disrupt supply chain networks and the flow of production and provide a whole new exciting avenue for creative output.
Take for example a dodgy door handle on your cupboard that raises your blood-pressure. You can download free software and design a better one to replace it. 3D printers have reduced the cost of manufacturing your new door handle from thousands of euros to small change. Your design can be sent to the local 3D print shop, which makes it for a small fee and the cupboard door is no longer dodgy. You realize that your new improved awesome door handle is admired and your friends want to have one of their own. One small innovation is fast becoming a business opportunity. Previously the cost of this endeavor would have been prohibitive but a 3D printer of one’s own can be bought for €1000-3000 and the resulting items sold anywhere in the world online. Moving from idea to a viable entrepreneurial reality has never been this easy or accessible to an ordinary person.
At the core of this revolution is also an ethos of community and cooperation. Many 3D designs are uploaded for free for other users to download and print. If you have no desire to become a door handle developer you can easily upload your door handle design for free to improve doors everywhere. This positive ethos is important to sustain and develop the revolution and to counteract unfortunate consequences of the new technology such as the recent design for a 3D printed gun.
The good outweighs the bad, thankfully, and the revolution is quickly escalating and jumping through sectors as the amount of printing materials increases. Medical researchers are working on printing kidneys and organs and printing skin grafts directly onto patients with massive potential for healthcare. Fashion designers are designing gravity defying fabrics and shoes for the catwalks. 3D printers have been developed to print chocolate and other food. Even cars and bicycles are being designed for 3D printing. As costs continue to plummet for access to this technology the question is merely how long before everyone is downloading and printing out their own clothes, food, household items and transport. Manufacturing will no longer happen in a factory but in garages, living rooms and offices and will radically transform our relationship to material goods and the way we live.