A new model of democratized production is turning consumers into innovators, entrepreneurs and manufacturers. Powered by “makers” (creative individuals who employ do-it-yourself methodologies to develop unique technology products), this new world of digital fabrication leverages machines such as 3D printers and laser cutters to innovate in sectors including education, health and water.
Using the power of Internet and open-source principles, products designed with digital fabrication tools can be instantaneously shared, modified and created among collaborators anywhere in the world. Items (machine parts, electronics, housewares, etc.) no longer need to be shipped long distances between producers and consumers; equipped with the right machines – whose costs are decreasing exponentially – makers simply download these products’ digital files to fabricate them locally and affordably. The product’s design can also be customized depending on the availability of local talent and materials and the needs of local customers, on-demand. The implications are promising: the same pair of leather slippers with a laser engraved image of President Obama, designed in Japan, can be manufactured in Kenya with a laser cutter using local materials within a day, turning into a present for President Obama’s grandmother. (Click here for the video and article)
Maker communities already exist in most countries, and they collaborate with a wide variety of people – including architects, engineers, designers, educators, students, and even kids – on innovations to drive positive change. One of the main places where makers get together is a “Fab Lab,” a concept that originated 10 years ago at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center of Bits and Atoms. Today the global network of Fab Labs (including potentially inactive labs) – about 350 in over 40 countries – share projects, talent and know-how among each other.
The Fab10 Conference
In order to encourage and learn from this growing movement, the World Bank’s Transport and ICT Global Practice team was one of the sponsors of the 10th International Fab Lab Conference and Annual Meeting in Barcelona from July 2-8, organized by the Fab Foundation and Fab Lab Barcelona. The conference surfaced various local innovations and provided an opportunity to learn from the makers themselves about how they were approaching problem-solving with their clients.
The Fab Lab approach can be used not only in manufacturing for different sectors but also for supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, commercialization of research at higher education institutes, evolution of smart cities, waste management, and local industry development and entrepreneurship. Sajitha Bashir, Sector Manager of the Education Global Practice (Eastern and Southern Africa) at the World Bank also presented to the makers some of the key education and employability challenges, especially in Africa during the conference.
Watch: The World Bank at the Fab 10 Conference