The future is FABricated

So far the Internet and the technological advances that have followed its parade of possibilities (more lively and energised than the Rio carnival) have turned most industries on their heads. Dramatically changing the way we design, share, inform, collaborate and produce. These changes are being applied to a new movement that is now gathering mainstream momentum. A new ecosystem is in town, and the carnival crowds are heading for the factory walls. Beating their drums ready to bring down the barriers between manufacturer and consumer.

As Adam Greenfield noted in his Public Lecture ‘Against Smart Cities’, his rule number two in creating resilient communities of the future was ‘People Making Things’. Along with many others, Greenfield predicts that over the course of the next decade open fabrication will develop within a new network of collaborative production. With new manufacturing tools in the hands of a wider variety of people – the basic assumptions of industrial production, retail, and consumption are set for a serious shake-up.

Simon Riley (centre) from MakerClub
Simon Riley (centre) from MakerClub

As it is these days, the future is happening now. The suggestion that we will be manipulating the atoms of stuff—plastic, metal, concrete, glass, even biological matter, in our very own homes is totally conceivable. From global to local, DIY has a whole new meaning. Tools, processes and new manufacturing landscapes that are currently being developed, will undoubtedly transform how we reshape our material world. With the democratisation of manufacturing and production, new supply chain networks will allow local communities to take on the role of producer. Supply chains with all their social and environmental challenges could now be dismantled and reconstructed like a Scalextrics track. It’s easy to understand the excitement once you start to lay all the parts out on the table, open fabrications manufacturing ecosystem is the new maverick and it depends as much on social factors as it does on technological ones.


In the spirit of keeping things South Coast focused this week (as we fast approach TEDxBrighton where Mapify will be taking part in this years Ideas Lab), we spoke to Simon Riley to find out a little more about open fabrication and future learning. Simon is one of the masterminds behind Spark and a chief maker at MakerClub.

MakerClub aims to inspire and empower children to invent by teaching electronics, programming and product design. MakerClub are currently building an online platform that will take children on a journey of invention – encouraging them to come together to collaborate on their own projects. We asked Riley to explain the role that he sees maker clubs will play in the reshaping the future of education:

“There are a number of people who believe the 3D printer could revolutionise whole industries. Compare the extraction of raw material, production, waste, packaging and shipping required when replacing a broken plate, to the act of printing a new one, for example. This, combined with the possibility of printing using recycled materials, makes 3D printing an interesting proposition from a sustainability point of view. Our personal aim is to equip the next generation of inventors and engineers with the skills they will need to help tackle this ever increasing problem.”

Having worked with microcontrollers for years, and built a number of my own inventions, I wanted to share the enjoyment I got out putting things together and make electronics more fun and exciting than it was when I was at school. Mathematician, Seymour Papert, is a real hero of ours. His book, Mindstorms, is the cornerstone of what we are trying to do at MakerClub. He became obsessed with gears, by putting them together and playing with them from an early age he was able to build complex models based on this knowledge. Papert’s book promotes the notion that by working things out yourself, through play and by building, humans retain and understand much more than by being told. His work and ideas have set us on a path to inspire creation and learning through play”

Smartphone glasses at SPARK Festival (© Tilley Harris)
Smartphone glasses at SPARK Festival (© Tilley Harris)

MakerClub is on a mission to promote the many positive aspects of building and making things together and sharing them. Riley believes that the open fabrication movement is all about confidence building. At MakerClub they aim to give young people the space to be creative, teaching them skills that will instil a sense of pride and values for the materials that are used to make consumer goods by bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before. The growing disconnect between people and the things they buy and eat is probably the reason for societies staggering waste figures. WRAP estimates that around 600 million tonnes of products and materials enter the UK economy each year and currently only 115 million tonnes of this gets recycled.

Some say that advances in grassroots fabrication and greater access to 3D printing could actually encourage the production of substandard goods and frivolous production, reinforcing trends in mass consumption and wastefulness. Riley agrees that: “there are a number of people printing things just because they can at the moment, but the cool thing about these plastics is that they can be melted down, and turned back into filament to print something new. As pioneers in this industry, it is up to us to educate those new to printing and making, to do so responsibly.”

“We firmly believe that 3D printing in of itself is only half the story. When you add the power of programmable microcontrollers, such as the Arduino, which can control motors, lights, servos, the possibilities for invention are enormous. It’s these product design skills that we are most interested to teach and share, and my hope is that in the next 5-10 years the UK can become a real powerhouse in this sector.”

The Mapify team joined MakerClub and Long Run at the SPARK Festival yesterday as they explored what the future of education could look like.