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The Big Idea: Using new technologies to bring manufacturing and making into the public sphere.

Bruce Newlands FRSA, Director of MAKLab, writes:

"We are at an exciting moment in the history of ‘making’. New approaches to manufacturing are set to take hold over the coming decade. Technologies like CNC Routing and Cutting & Drilling have been around for decades in industry but it's only now that young people, creative start-ups and ‘ordinary’ people are getting access to these technologies.

These technologies have been steadily transferring from centralised industry to the garden shed with a burgeoning tech shop scene in the United States and the development of a making culture through hackspaces, fablabs and other institutions dedicated to nurturing making in the UK. The emergence of affordable 3D printers offer the prospect of mass customisation and potentially the democratisation of design that breaks free from traditional assumptions of designer and client and perhaps introduces new ethical dilemmas about design responsibility and originators.

The technologies however are only the platform on which this paradigm shift is based on.

A new generation of small makers promises to bring these sophisticated means of production into the home, applying it to everything from making furniture to printing jewellery; from making toys to 'printing' whole houses.

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It is this sophisticated networked 'making culture' that is at the heart of the change. This is a culture sustained through social media networking, swapping, sharing, co-operating and collaborating. Their practices and techniques are embedded in the powerful concept of a global village of local makers, an aspect of the circular economy that is increasingly attracting interest from government and educators.

Notions of intellectual property are being challenged through approaches such as the ‘open source’ movement, where you can build on someone else’s work in return for publishing your work under the same license and sharing back any changes. ‘Hacking’ clubs that encourage people to dismantle, understand and ‘mod’ existing products with new and additive functions offer shared environments for innovation. These are ideas that suit the nimbleness of being innovative and small, of embracing the power of a network whilst demonstrating a healthy 'autodidactism' that challenges our current linear economies. They offer opportunities for technology to be taken in new directions, as different makers in different contexts find different ways of utilising the resources available to them.

MAKLab is Scotland’s first open access digital fabrication workshop looking to address some of these issues. We are open to the public and designers alike to access these technologies and for them to be trained on how to use them to turn their ideas and concepts into reality. We were recently awarded £100,000 by Google in their Global Impact Challenge that will enable us to expand this concept to other UK cities in partnership with others.

We’re excited by the prospect of developing a decentralised network of fabrication facilities that with the assistance of local creative networks will provide the platform to explore 21st century entrepreneurialism with tangible local and global community benefits. Learning from this decentralised experience of making and doing will have value for the future of collaborative working, helping to create vibrant innovative communities finding solutions to shared challenges."

Get Involved

MAKLab are working closely with RSA Scotland, and the wider RSA, to develop and deliver a programme of events and projects around the topics of manufacturing and making.  Details for the events, which will hopefully include a programme around support young people into enterprise and work connecting older people to new technologies, will be shared with Fellows in Scotland in the near future.  If you are outside Scotland and would like to know more, please contact Jamie Cooke.

At its core, MAKLab is about open access to the technology and skills, so if you are in Glasgow take the chance to visit their facility at the Lighthouse, meet the team and see the equipment in action!  It is open to the public, with specific activities available at the weekend, and they will be delighted to see you.  MAKLab are also exploring opportunities to develop bases in other parts of the country, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Fellows to engage with this innovative work.

Jamie Cooke is Deputy Head of Fellowship, with responsibility for the Specialist Programme team.  You can follow him @JamieACooke or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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