The Maker Movement catches on in Australia

Adelaide Fab Lab and Mini Maker Faire

“It’s everything from engineers to artists and designers, craft people, people with a general interest in electronics – all kinds of people,” explained Karen Marsh, manager of Fab Lab Adelaide, when asked who used the facility, open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays.

The lab was opened last year in November, the first of its kind in Australia, though one of over 100 over the world. It gives visitors access to a laser cutter, milling, machine, vinyl cutter and a number of 3D printers. The Fab Lab is managed by Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and funded by the South Australian Government’s Department of Further Education, Employment, Science &Technology (DFEEST).

Earlier this month the Fab Lab hosted only the second-ever Mini Maker Faire in Australia. The Maker Movement got its title in 2005 from O’Reilly Media, publishers of the sub-culture’s bible, Make magazine. Its evangelical fans, such as former Wired editor and author of Makers (published in October last year) Chris Anderson claim it as a new industrial revolution. Others say it’s simply a group of people who’ve fallen in love with tinkering. Whatever the case, it’s starting to interest more and more people here.

“We had between three and four thousand people show up, which was way, way more than we ever expected,” Marsh told Manufacturers’ Monthly of the Adelaide event.

“We were anticipating 1,000 people but we got about four times that. So it was fantastic.”

It’s not quite the 100,000-plus that attended the Bay Area Maker Faire in May last year, but it far outstripped the first Australian Mini Maker Faire, held at Swinburne University’s Hawthorn campus in January last year.

The Maker culture puts emphases on sharing knowledge and one’s creative efforts, with what’s made both super-modern and occasionally the opposite.

“We had lots of digital, high-tech stuff, we had loads of 3D printing, we had a whole 3D printing atrium, we had about 30 3D printers going throughout the day,” said Marsh.

“Some really cool high-tech stuff, some traditional stuff, some spinners and weavers, the traditional blacksmiths, we had a tinsmith outside, just making traditional stuff, we had painting on silk, we had Daleks!”

Getting started is simple

Marsh believes that, although we’ve been slow to officially celebrate the Maker subculture, Australians are natural born Makers.

“I think there’s a real tradition of fixing things and making things and doing stuff in our shed. I think Australia naturally is a nation of Makers.

“I don’t think we’ve termed ourselves that before: it’s been words like tinkerers or that kind of thing, but the term Maker is fairly new. I think we’re Makers anyway. We have a culture of – particularly people in country or remote 

areas, they have to fix things… They need to fix stuff and mend stuff and naturally we have a tendency towards being fixers and menders and tinkerers.”

3D Printing Systems sponsored Australia’s first faire, and its CEO Bruce Jackson believes that the Maker movement has been slow to emerge in Australia, but is now growing strongly, with hackerspaces (or makerspaces – open community labs with equipment for users to realise their projects) starting to crop up. 

3D printing is becoming more affordable and user friendly ,  meaning its use by hobbyists is becoming more appealing.

“We try to aim for the user experience that you’d expect with an HP or an Epson or Brother printer,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“Now there’s two types of users. There’s the type of user just downloads, and there’s so much out there that downloading is good enough for a lot of people. And you’ve got your people who download and design. I’m probably one of those people.

“And then you get your designers who are really hardcore into their 3D design. They can virtually design and physically make.”

Individual creation, broader relevance

Websites like www.thingiverse.com provide a smorgasboard of design files to be punched into a 3D printer and made into a real product (generally fabricated out of ABS plastic – the same material used to make Lego) .

For design whizzes, like Jackson pointed out, you can dream up your own 3D creations with CAD software. Or you can just get an app like Autodesk’s 123D Catch, use your phone as a 3D scanner, and then do what you want with the file. Don’t have a printer of your own? Visit a makerspace or outsource the task to a site like Shapeways, have them do the task for you, and get the result sent out in the mail.

Some of the momentum around the Maker movement and the technology associated with it has people excited.

When SA industry minister Tom Kenyon opened the Adelaide Fab Lab, he mentioned the facility’s role in, “promoting and demonstrating the potential benefits of 3D printing for local manufacturers”, and Marsh said it’s allowed a number of potential commercial users to try before investing in the technology.

Anderson’s thesis is that the democratisation of digital manufacturing technologies and the collaborative model of the Maker movement will lead to things such increasingly brisk innovation, the onshoring of industry, and an overall “bottom-up transformation of manufacturing”.

Is making manufacturing?

Not everybody believes the Maker movement will do anything so revolutionary. Many argue that, though it’s interesting, it’s not, strictly speaking, “manufacturing”.

“Is manufacturing making one-offs, or is manufacturing making multiple copies? “ Asked Jackson, adding that the trend towards greater customisability, however, would change what manufacturers would have to do to keep their markets happy.

“I probably see the future of products – your iPhone or whatever – as customised, really customised products. So moving into the future you’re going to buy your own Nike shoe with your name on it, with whatever colour design you want – and this is happening now, this has started to be available from Nike, for example.

“So the whole mass manufacturing is going to change for the consumer world. So if you want to buy something it’s going to be made personally for you, manufactured on the spot and delivered to you from a local centre.”

 

Images: 

http://www.makerfaireadelaide.com/ 

Jess Gunn